Humor is human! Despite that, there haven't been many great examples of humor in B2B. I believe that is changing.
Moreover, according to a global Nielsen Survey of Trust in Advertising conducted in September 2013 of 58 countries, 47% of respondents said that humor resonates more than any content approach.
Laughter lowers the intellectual shield your busy prospects have up all day just to survive the messaging onslaught. Humor opens up a space for connecting because it disrupts the expected pattern.
Here are six types of humor that grab attention and generate conversation.
1. The Truth
The truth is funny and human. Talking about a truth (for example, a real problem) your audience recognizes shows that you get them and demonstrates empathy.
For example, relationships are funny. In 2012, I wrote about a supply-chain management software company called Kinaxis. It has a very funny video that parodies the "awkward" relationship between a vendor and customer by comparing it to a precarious dating one. And it is. The customer can dump a company at any time.
2. Extreme Exaggeration
Scofield Edit has a great video from 2009 parodying the client-vendor relationship much. I first wrote about this video back in 2009 when it was fresh. It still works! The company took a universal issue its customers can relate to—not being valued by some customers who want more for less—and took it to a humorous extreme. What if you went to your hair stylist and asked for a free haircut to "test drive?"
3. Incongruity and Contrast
Anthropomorphize your product. Now imagine a portable GPS, for example, with an identity crisis in the wake of competitive mobile apps! What if it was in a support group with dissimilar, equally obsolete products? What would it say?
Another great demonstration of comical contrasts is the Sprint commercial featuring actors Malcolm McDowell and James Earl Jones reading texts written by teens. Here are two award-winning actors doing dramatic readings of texts sent by teenage girls with a penchant for, well, teen-isms: "OMG. Adorbs…Totally Hottie McHotterson…"
Comedy is heightened by extreme contrasts.
4. Fun Eye Candy
Marketo did this successfully with The Big Marketing Activity Coloring Book. It featured 30 pages of pure, unadulterated marketing activity fun! And Kapost, a content marketing platform, has created a several great comic books (email registration required). They're great ways to generate conversation.
5. Real Stories
Real stories told in a fun way by real people get noticed. Leave the jargon-monoxide poisoning and "feature-speak" at home, however.
In this video series from December 2013 called Fast Innovation and The Slow Waiter, Cisco's Tim Washer (and the Cisco Voice of the Customer team) has fun conversations with real CIOs, including those from Safeway, Western Union, and Grupo Modelo.
Tim plays the slow and funny waiter who asks questions of the CIO over dinner about what they do and how Cisco technology helps them. By creating a fun, casual atmosphere for a real conversation, Tim and company allow the CIOs to shine.
The fun will come. Concentrate on having a human conversation that allows your customer to talk about how they make their clients look good. By doing so, you make your clients look good. Those conversations are something every B2B company can do.
6. Parody and Surprise
Recently, I had a credit union client needing to attract Millennials. The challenge: Many Millennials don't know about credit unions or have negative opinions of them.
To change perceptions, we created a campaign "When Millennials Rule the World!" We put twenty-somethings in bank VP roles and let them improvise how they would run a bank. We also asked Millennials to submit ideas online. The results were hysterical. This audience loves humor and the campaign successfully up-ended perceptions about this credit union being low-tech, boring, and old-school.
Parody surprises; it is a powerful weapon precisely because it can change expectations.
Start Small and Somewhere
"Safe" is the new risky. B2B marketing needs a human touch if it is to stand out. There is risk in any campaign. Rather than beginning with a large campaign, start with smaller content for internal consumption, vet it, and then re-purpose externally. In an age of increasing amounts and complexity of information, your audience is hungry for real connection. Show them that you are a different kind of company.
Be playful and start with fun. After all, you can't spell funny without it.