What Can American Idol Teach Us About Internet Marketing? – Part 2

by Bill Hibbler

As my wife, Lena, and I tuned in this week, we were talking about the personalities of Idol’s three judges, Paula, Randy and Simon. It occurred to me that our businesses face a similar panel of judges in the form of our friends, our peers and our customers.

Before Paula Abdul was a pop star, she was best known as a Laker girl and she plays a similar role on Idol. Unlike the other judges, Paula knows what it feels like to face the critics and a fickle public that every pop star deals with. So, she’s the cheerleader, offering light criticism at times but reluctant to say a harsh word about anyone. She’s more concerned about not hurting anyone’s feelings and being supportive.

Isn’t this the same kind of support we get from our friends? Having support from our friends is important but we usually shouldn’t rely on them for criticism. So where do we usually turn for honest feedback? Let’s take a closer look at another Idol judge.

Randy Jackson started out as a bass player playing for artists as diverse as Journey, Cher, Joe Cocker, Bob Dylan and Maria Carey. His list of recording and production credits is incredible. He’s well respected both as a musician and a producer but he was never a star himself.

On Idol, Jackson’s shtick is fairly predictable. ‘What’s up Dawg? It’s cool, it’s cool, you did your thang, Dude. I hear ya. You started off kind a slow but you finished strong. You had some pitch problems here and there.’

Randy may like or dislike a particular contestant and while he often has useful advice, it tends to be centered on the vocal performance as opposed to the whole package. He tends to look at the artist strictly in terms of musical talent but that’s only part of what makes a star.

Isn’t this kind of like our peers in marketing? Ask for a product or website review on a marketing forum. You’ll get good and bad reviews but doesn’t it seem like your peers are all evaluating you using the same ‘marketer’s checklist’? Headline, offer, graphics, guarantee, bonuses, sign up form, etc. These things are important but isn’t that perspective somewhat limited?

Let’s move on to our final judge, the eternally grouchy Simon Cowell, the artist manager of the group. Simon only cares about finding the right blend of image, talent, personality and the ‘it factor’ that make a potential pop star.

Simon is not concerned with hurting anyone’s feelings and he says exactly what’s on his mind. He often gets booed for that and, granted, that’s an image that the show’s producers wisely promote.

But isn’t Simon really saying the same things most of the viewers are thinking? I mean when someone at home sees a lousy performance, what do you think they say? A) "Well, she gave it her best shot" or B) "my dog could sing better than this girl"?

Do you ever notice how no matter how much a particular contestant may seem to dislike Simon, his opinion matters more than any of the other judges. If Paula or Randy give them props, they smile and nod but then, every time, all eyes are on Simon. No matter how non-chalant or defiant they may act, they would all give their eye-teeth for his approval. They know that a compliment from Simon is honest and hard-earned.

Isn’t Simon a lot like our potential customers? They care about what’s in it for them. They don’t care about hurting our feelings. Nobody is going to boo and hiss if they don’t buy from you. They don’t consciously care about how good the headline, header graphic or our conversion ratio is. They either vote for your by whipping out their credit card or they move on.

One of the three reasons Idol is so popular is the mix of the three judges. Just as the show needs Paula and Randy, it’s important to have our friends’ support and feedback from our peers. But at the end of the day, the vote that counts most is, just like Simon’s on Idol, the one cast by our customers when they hit ‘Click here to order’.