Reality Marketing

    “Risin’ up, back on the street
    Did my time, took my chances
    Went the distance now I’m back on my feet
    Just a man and his will to survive
    So many times it happens too fast
    You trade your passion for glory
    Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past
    You must fight just to keep them alive.”
    –Survivor, “Eye of the Tiger”

All I ever learned about marketing I learned from watching reality TV.

Well, not really, but I really liked the way that that line sounded. Seriously, though, the “Survivor”-style reality shows can provide valuable lessons for marketers picking their way through the blasted desert landscape of the post-apocalyptic dot-bomb era. Like the eternally photogenic contestants, we’re all engaged in a struggle against a harsh and unforgiving landscape, and like the contestants, whether we’d like to admit it or not, we are pitted against each other for the grand prize. There are only so many online advertising or e-commerce dollars available out there, and there’s not enough for everyone to survive.

Watching reality TV can help hone your “co-opetitive” (co-operative/competitive) skills for your daily game of survival. So, without further ado, I’m proud to present the top 10 marketing lessons that you can learn from reality TV:

10. Build alliances.

Nobody, no matter how big and powerful, can be successful without the help of others. Netscape made the mistake of ignoring this rule. Rather than building alliances with Microsoft’s rivals, Netscape’s management (whose arrogance had been licked to a fine sheen by the adulation of the mainstream media) alienated the companies and software developers that were dying to take on Microsoft. If you want to be successful, find some friends you can work with. Fast.

9. Conserve your resources.

Whether it’s your venture funding or your supply of rice, you have to conserve your resources. We live in a Malthusian world, folks, where there isn’t enough of anything to go around — even Webvan stock certificates! Conserving now can help you avoid paying a painful price for resources later on, whether that price is diluting your stock or giving up your only tent.

8. Choose your allies wisely.

You have to be selective when you build an alliance — if your best buddies on the island or in the Valley are dead meat, so are you. Back in the early ’90s, IBM and Motorola decided that they needed to take on Intel’s monopoly on PC CPUs. As a result, they formed the PowerPC alliance with Apple to produce a new generation of faster, more efficient processors. IBM and Motorola are still producing PowerPC chips — for the 5 percent of the PC market that Apple has managed to maintain. Meanwhile, Intel continues to reign supreme alongside its ally, Microsoft.

7. Pick your spots.

You can’t go all out all the time. To be a successful marketer, you need the discipline to save your best efforts for your most important campaigns. Like life in the outback, life in the dot-bomb desert is a marathon, not a sprint, and marketers who know how to pick their spots will beat those who do not. Those of us who still have money left to spend are reaping the benefits of a buyers’ market in online advertising.

6. Make yourself valuable to others.

Whether you’re fishing or marketing mission-critical software, you have to make sure that your product or service is valuable to others. And not valuable in an “it’ll boost your ROI by 25 percent” kind of way — it’ll take six months to close that kind of sale, if you’re lucky. You need to make your goods valuable in a “without food, we will all starve and be forced to resort to cannibalism” kind of way.

5. Keep your big mouth shut.

Your job as a marketer isn’t to get press for your company, it’s to generate profits, directly or indirectly. Even during the dot-com bubble, there was an economic reason to generate hype. I call it the Jim Carrey principle: Hype allowed you to raise wads of cash from inexperienced venture capitalists (“dumb”) or the public markets (“dumber”). These days, with most investors’ wallets tighter than the leather pants on an aging rock star, PR has to help your company generate partners, customers, or sales.

4. Only the paranoid survive.

It’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you. Think that the tribal council is out to get you? You’re probably right. Think that your competitor is going to launch a competitive product? You’re probably right. Want to survive? Move faster, and backstab the backstabbers before they have a chance to backstab you!

3. Do one thing, and do it well.

Maybe it’s fishing. Maybe it’s low-cost electronic customer relationship management (e-CRM). Either way, focus on your strength. This will help you make yourself valuable to others, pick your spots, and conserve your resources. ‘Nuff said.

2. Avoid making enemies.

If you’re out to win at the game of “Survivor,” for goodness’ sake don’t go around telling people that’s what you’re going to do. Instead, try to be as innocuous as possible, and bide your time. Let the flashy and ostentatious clobber each other — the meek (or at least those who appear meek) will inherit the Earth. Even Bill Gates and mighty Microsoft learned this lesson. After once calling banks “dinosaurs” and driving them into the arms of competitors such as Intuit and CheckFree, Chairman Bill (or “Trey” to those who know his father, William Gates II) realized that domination was a dish best served cold. I’m betting that after years of cozying up by Microsoft, the banks won’t even feel it when Bill and Ballmer slip the knife into their backs.

1. Be prepared to eat anything.

Roasted rat may not be your idea of comfort food, but it is food. In this new tight money era, marketers have to be prepared to get sales by any means necessary, and from any source necessary.

And if all that doesn’t work, try walking around naked. It might not help your marketing, but it’ll make you feel better about yourself.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.