What does The Apprentice have to teach us about business?

by Tony Fannin, President, BE Branded

I’m a fan of The Apprentice, mainly the first several seasons. One of the things that attracted me to the show was that the task for each team in the competition was focused on business basics. The tasks showed who understood the basic fundamentals and who didn’t: setting a vision that everyone can believe in, motivation, and accountability. The show also highlighted the importance of sales. For Donald Trump, as a leader, it’s all sales, all the time. The one thing that stood out for me in just about every season is how important marketing was to the success or failure of each task. It seemed like each assignment was tailor-made for someone with deep understanding of marketing and advertising. I believe that if you were in advertising and marketing, you probably wouldn’t be allowed on the show because of the huge advantage you would have.

This brings me to my point, which is the importance of marketing. The Apprentice is considered by many to be the best-ever business TV show, with unequaled ratings and commercial success as proof. One of the things that made the show a huge hit was the educational purpose that was deliberate from the beginning. Trump and co-creator Mark Brunett stated from the start they wanted a show that was educational and not just about conflicts and drama, like most reality shows. They wanted a show that taught business principles, with one of the main principles being how important marketing and advertising is to the success of a business. In the vast majority of the tasks, the teams had to create a marketing campaign and they were judged on its effectiveness and ROI, as determined by sponsor clients such as Sony, Dove, and Levi’s. In fact, marketing and advertising agencies played a role in many of the episodes, from being the judges to actually being hired to assist in the team’s task.

Marketing and advertising are powerful tools that are vital to business success. Too often, I hear business executives say they don’t believe in marketing. They say things like, “Our product is so good, it will sell itself,” or “We depend solely on word-of-mouth.” Yes, there are a few brands that have been able to attain success though these methods alone. Starbucks has depended on word-of-mouth as it began its climb to Fortune 500 status. (One caveat is that Starbucks has used their free-standing stores as their marketing vehicle. If you can afford to put a store on every other corner in every major city in the U.S., then you won’t need marketing either.) Just about every major company that started with word-of-mouth has ended up needing mass marketing to help reach the next level or fuel growth. Even powerhouse Google has “resorted” to mass media advertising.

Here are a few main principles that The Apprentice teaches:

• Marketing is vital to business success
• Sales. Sales. Sales.
• Sales are made easier if the marketing plan is effective
• The leader must set a compelling vision for the rank and file to believe
• Share the glory
• Be accountable for the failures
• Did I say that marketing was the key to success?

Business is about marketing. Business is about sales. Business is about brands. These are the elements that make a successful business into a great brand. Who knows, if you get this marketing and branding thing right, you too can become the next Apprentice.



About Be Branded

Tony Fannin is of President of BE Branded, an integrated marketing firm who helps clients BE Somebody to their customers. If you aren't somebody, then you are commodity.

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