What Can American Idol Teach Us About Internet Marketing? – Part 4

By Bill Hibbler

Have you been watching American Idol? Unlike the previous three seasons, a couple of rockers, Constantine Maroulis and Bo Bice, have made it into the finals. Constantine got a lot of airtime during the auditions and I expected him to make it to the finals.

We hardly saw Bo at all during the auditions. But he’s quickly become my favorite. Surprisingly, the judges, including Simon who’s not a rock guy, have heaped praise upon him. This week, he sang the Allman Brother’s "Whipping Post", not your usual Idol pop fare.

If Bo wins, I’d seriously consider managing bands again. Nothing against the others but pop music doesn’t do much for me.

OK, so you’re wondering, "Where’s the marketing lesson here?" I’m glad you asked…

Before I answer, Let me ask you a question. If I could show you a way to find out exactly what your customers want, even down to the format, size, color and even the price they’re willing to pay, would you be interested?

If so, stay with me because I’ll show you exactly how to do it. But let me explain the marketing lesson in American Idol. 

Let me tell you about Idol finalist, Scott Savol. If you don’t watch the show or are outside of the U.S., you haven’t seen Scott. Physically, he’s about as far from your average pop star as you can get. He’s maybe 50 pounds overweight and doesn’t have the kind of face that makes teenage girls swoon. He’s a bit shy onstage but has improved. You can see his photo here.

Would you expect a guy like Scott to make the Top Eight male finalists? As judge Simon Cowell pointed out at the auditions, a guy looking like Scott would have been laughed out of any record company he approached.

Yet there have been successful rock and pop stars similar to Scott. Idol season 2 winner Ruben Studdard weighs over 300 pounds. Yet he’s been a, pardon the pun, HUGE success. 

What do Scott & Ruben have in common besides being overweight?

Both survived a successful pre-test. A pre-test is a form of test marketing that’s been around for ages. Smart marketers know that no matter how successful they’ve been, nobody guesses correctly 100% of the time. So the become fanatical testers.

When a company wants to release a new product, before going to the expense of manufacturing and promoting it globally, they first see how it does in a marketing test in one or two local areas.

They’ll manufacture a small quantity, go into a medium-sized market like Austin, Texas and buy radio, print and TV ads and see if the product sells. If it does well in Austin, they’ll usually go ahead and ‘roll-out’ the product to the rest of the country.

If the product does poorly, they’ll either shelve it or make changes based on feedback gained from the test and do additional testing.

In the music business, it works a little differently. Record companies monitor all the various local markets in the country. They put out feelers at local radio and with newspapers and weekly entertainment papers for unsigned, local bands that are performing well in those markets.

Before they’ll even consider signing a band, they expect that group to have sold 5-10,000 copies of a self-made CD. They expect the group to have a large mailing list and they want to see large crowds band’s live shows. And they want to see a buzz about the group in the local media.

Rather than risk a penny of their own money, the rely on the bands to pre-test themselves. If a band is able to be successful at the local level without outside help, they’re willing to gamble that they can do so on a national or international scale with the record label’s marketing muscle and distribution behind them.

For the music biz, American Idol is a one giant pre-test. It’s the most watched television program in the U.S. by far (and there are versions of Idol in almost every country around the world). 

AI eliminates the risk of signing a Scott Savol. They know based on the votes if the public likes him or not. If he lasts a few more weeks, which I don’t expect, (his vocals aren’t strong enough) record companies that would have slammed the door in his face six months ago, will be clamoring to sign him. Even making it this far will dramatically increase his chances of getting a record deal
because he’s getting votes.

With Internet marketing, we don’t have to worry about the expense of a roll-out. It costs no more to email 50,000 than 50 if we’ve got the list.

However, when it comes to product development the pre-test is still important. You shouldn’t guess what your customers want. Not when it’s your time and money on the line to develop products, write a sales letter and build a website.

Rather than guessing, wouldn’t it be better if your customers told you exactly what they want?

How do you determine what they want? Its simple.. Survey them.

I got an email from Marlon Sanders today asking me to fill out a 2-question survey. Some surveys can take 20-30 minutes and people hate them. But two questions? How long could that take?

First, Marlon shows you a list of 10-12 features he’s considering for his new membership site. He asks you to put a check next to the two you consider most important.

Next, he asks if you prefer to learn by a) Reading it on screen (PDF File), b) with printed material, c) downloadable audio files you listen to on your computer or portable MP3 player or d) audio CD you can play on your home or car stereo. That’s it.

With this simple survey, Marlon’s customers are telling him exactly what they want and how they want it. So Marlon can decide, for example, if his customers are OK with digital downloads or if he needs to invest in producing CD’s.

Marlon Sanders is one of the top names in Internet marketing. In his book, The Amazing Formula, he says, "Many people have wasted a fortune on a product because "everybody needs it!" But guess what? Not everybody wants to buy it… Here is a cardinal rule of my system: You MUST survey your market BEFORE you create your product or your promotion!"

I’ve often followed Marlon’s advice. For example, whenever someone buys my ebook, The Rudl Report, they get an email two weeks later asking them to fill out a brief survey. I always offer a free ebook as an incentive.

The results give me a ton of information. For example, the two primary benefits of The Rudl Report are the ability to get significant discounts on Corey’s offerings and honest reviews of his products and services.

Prior to the survey, I assumed that discounts were the primary reason people bought The Rudl Report. My ad campaigns all emphasized the discounts.

However, when I asked my customer’s the #1 reason they bought The Rudl Report, 62.22% said it was for the product reviews compared to 21.39% seeking the discounts. (The balance chose other reasons).

Do you see the value? Knowing three times as many people bought due to the reviews, I emphasized them in my advertising and have seen improved response in my Google and Yahoo campaigns.

Another thing I learned from my survey was that 26.11% of my Rudl Report customers were interested in one-on-one coaching from me. For a group of customers primarily seeking my opinion on Corey Rudl, that was surprising. But it led to me offer coaching and a site review service to my clients. That’s added another significant income stream to my business.

Without using surveys, I’d never have discovered it. You can do the same thing and discover exactly what your customer or subscribers really want.

Also, a survey can save you from writing an ebook or creating software that nobody wants to buy.  < /p>

So, how do you create a survey? If you’re a web designer, you can probably create your own survey form. But it’ll take quite a bit of time to put together. 

I use an online survey service which makes things very simple. First, I write out my survey questions. I try to keep my surveys short and sweet.

I then log into the service and fill out a quick, five-step survey form. I name the survey, add the questions, specifying if I want multiple choice, fill in the blank or other ‘essay’ type questions. Next, I choose  from a few different color schemes so the survey matches my site. Finally, I specify a download link if I’m giving away a freebie to participants.

When I’m done, I push a button and the HTML code for my survey is ready. From there, it’s a quick copy and paste into one of my web pages and I’m ready to go.

Later, I login to see the results expressed in percentages as well as actual numbers of responses. I can also see the names and email addresses of the participants.

The service allows a survey up to one year. So if you have a site without a lot of traffic, you can watch the results over time. Also, you can use surveys even if you don’t have a product.

Find an online discussion group or forum and ask members to participate in your survey. You can offer them a free report or ebook as a gift for participating. So you can find out what people want, create it and sell it to them.

You can use the same service I use (click here for details) or create your own form. Regardless of how you do it, you’ve got to start surveying your customers and subscribers.