Lessons Learned from Watching American Idol

I’ll admit it…Over the last few years I’ve gotten pretty hooked on American Idol. While some consider it nothing more than a guilty pleasure or time-suck, if you look at it from an entrepreneur’s perspective there’s quite a lot to be learned.

That’s because Idol isn’t just a singing competition. They’re looking for a great singer who is unique, likable, marketable, and gives people something they want more of. In other words, they’re looking for a singer who is going to sell hundreds of thousands of albums.

The formula for that is no different from the one that lets you sell hundreds of thousands of any product or service…

1) Be different or be forgotten. When 12 people sing over the course of two hours, how many are you going to remember? The other night, my hubby and I were discussing that very thing and realized we could only remember a couple based on their singing. Then a few others because they were either really bad, or particularly interesting in some other way. The rest we forgot completely.

It’s telling that those same “forgotten” people are the ones being voted off first. You’ve got to find a way to be different in your business or you’re going to be forgotten too.

2) Consistent, authentic marketing is critical. Do this and people will begin to “get” who you are and what you bring to the table. If you try to be something you’re not, something to everyone, or you’re changing all the time, you won’t connect with anyone.

Just watch what happens to the Idol hopefuls who try to be a different kind of singer each week. They switch effortlessly from rock, to country, to show tunes instead of always being a rocker no matter what they sing (like Chris Daughtry, for example). The result is, no one connects with them or knows what “mental box” to put them in, so they’re not memorable.

3) Don’t just do what you like, give people what they want. Simon often says a performance was self indulgent. What he means is that the singer does all the things they think are cool or impressive or fun—or they’ve chosen a song they love but that won’t really resonate with the audience. While they need to work at singing well of course, making a connection with both the song and the audience is critically important.

The bottom line is…You can’t sell people what you think they need if it isn’t what they want. And you can’t create effective branding and marketing that it appeals to you but not your target market. People might look and even think “That’s cool (or interesting or whatever)”. But they won’t think it’s for them.

4) Be surprising. The same old same old doesn’t keep people coming back for more—on Idol or in your business. Last season, Adam Lambert singlehandedly revived the show because you couldn’t begin to guess what he would do next. I tuned in each week eagerly anticipating his sure-to-be-over-the-top performance.

The opposite is what killed Michelle Delamor’s chances this season…She had a big voice, nice personality and a great look, but frankly, I’ve seen and heard a dozen singers just like her. Who needs another, lesser, Whitney or Alicia when you can have the original?

Do something surprising or different in your business and you make people take notice. Do what others have done before and all you’ll get is a yawn.

5) Get an outside, expert perspective. The judges give a lot of terrific feedback even if it’s only in 30 second critiques. The contestants who understand and implement that feedback effectively usually do better the next week.

Having an expert coach or consultant can be a huge help in your business for the same reason… Sometimes you need that outside perspective.

6) Share your story. We all know people buy from (or vote for) people they know, like and trust. That’s why American Idol plays those personal clips of the contestants. Their stories humanize them and make them likable.

While it’s easy to think you need to be impersonal, formal and “businesslike” to be taken seriously, it just ain’t so. Be human. Be friendly. Be relatable. Share something personal. Give people a reason to like and connect with you and you make a huge difference in the success of your business.

7) A great voice (or product) isn’t enough—though it’s the place to start. Plenty of excellent singers never make it through the first few rounds of Idol because they lack something other than singing ability (think style or personality). Or you can’t quite figure out what kind of artist they really want to be. So they seem generic and forgettable.

The same holds true in your business. People might buy initially because they like the products, services or info you offer. But they’ll stick around because they like you or your brand.

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