At WordCamp last month, one of the seminars I attended was called “5 Secrets of Tech Marketing” (as it was pointed out in the introduction, this seminar wasn’t “THE 5 Secrets,” just “5 Secrets”). The final point of the presentation focused on the idea that Good Marketing is people-centric. It shouldn’t be about you and making yourself look good, nor should it be about one-upping your competitors. Good marketing is about other people- your customers.
And then the presenter brought to my attention a term I’d never heard of before: “American Idol Syndrome.” She described it as what we frequently see with contestants on American Idol- those who have overcome significant adversity in their lives tend to get the most attention on the show. With a business, this syndrome translates into “Unless you’ve got a great background story, no one will care about your brand.” This type of marketing pulls the focus away from the product/service, how you can actually be beneficial to customers, and, most importantly, it can affect your authenticity. When you’re focusing your energy on creating some sort of adversity for yourself, your actual business measures are most likely going to suffer somehow.
Another definition for American Idol Syndrome is wanting to get famous without any of the hard work to get there, i.e. becoming an overnight sensation. This is a similar idea with marketing certain products or services. You hear about people pushing their new app or phone or what-have-you, but this person comes off as incredibly showy.
Either way, American Idol Syndrome is lame as a marketing technique. Here are some ideas to focus on instead:
Do it for the People. Like the Seth Godin quote below says, if you are creating products and trying to force them on people, you may want to reevaluate your approach. As a business, you have a whole group of people (your clients/customers) looking to you. Ideally, they trust that you’re going to give them the best advice and service that you can. If you’re trying to come up with a new product or service to offer, your first thoughts shouldn’t be “What product can I devise that will make me a zillion dollars STAT,” or “What’s going to land me on the front page of Forbes in the next two seconds.” Sure, those are lovely goals to have in mind, but in order to create quality stuff, think about what your people need. What can you create that will make their lives better?
Quality (or, Talent). With the American Idol analogy, this equals the quality of a person’s raw voice, without the instruments or amplifiers, or the showy costumes and back up dancers (are there back up dancers? I watched American Idol for one season, and I vaguely recall backup dancers). Sure, bells and whistles are fun and make a great show, but don’t be overly reliant on them. When you’re focused on the show rather than the song itself, you risk cheating your audience. They came for music- if they wanted to listen to someone playing auto-tune they would’ve downloaded the app and stayed at home. Quality (and sheer talent) isn’t something you can just phone in. If you’re doing something, and doing it well, people will notice. A little razzle dazzle is nice, but don’t blind people with glitter and showiness.
Not all stories need to be comebacks. That may come off as a bit insensitive, but I’m talking brand stories, here. Your brand story doesn’t have to be all Forrest Gump or Rocky Balboa, as long as it’s authentic to your business. Being unique is great, and adversity builds character, but if it isn’t true to you, then it’s cool to bypass.
At the end of the slideshow, the presenter said, “Good marketing equals people. So, be a people.” This resonated with me because a) I felt like she was speaking my language, and b) it really is that simple. If you are trying to connect with someone as a corporate entity, chances are you won’t make a successful connection. When was the last time you identified with a corporation? Oh, Wal-Mart, you just get me! File that under things no one has ever said. When you are marketing, just remember, it’s a conversation among human beings, not a “Hey watch me on national television and cast your vote” contest.