Well, almost. In addition to 20 years in marketing (yeah, that helped!), my many years in sketch, stand-up, and improvisation have provided many invaluable lessons, especially in the "ballsy" department! Comedy and marketing have much in common. Well, comedy is marketing.
After all, brilliant comics are also fantastic marketers. (Hey, Jerry Seinfeld sold us a successful show about the mundane!) Below are seven marketing "truisms" that hold true in comedy as well.
1. Focus on your tribe
Choosing the right focus yields the greatest payoffs. Comedy, like marketing, is about knowing and concentrating on your "tribe."
Chris Rock is an excellent comic with a penchant for edgy material. Some years ago, he hosted the Academy Awards and received mixed reviews. Why? Rock's brilliance is in the edgier stuff you can't say on primetime television. When you have to water down your offerings for a wider audience, you dilute your differentiation and your chances of success.
So know your audience and know their needs, desires, and human challenges inside and out. Start there and go deep. Social communities don't exist to buy your stuff—they exist around a sense of purpose, a common goal. Find your tribe.
2. Decide who you are
Comics have to make hard choices—cutting out OK opportunities to focus on great material. When writing "funny," we spend hours only to end up with minutes of kick-butt material. Paring down is hard, but it forces us to make strategic choices about who we want to be.
Not all marketing opportunities make sense with our limited resources, and we have to choose strategies that reinforce our brand. Steve Martin, in his book Born Standing Up, was at a crossroads with his act until he cut out all "safe" gimmicks. That's when his act took off!
Be novel; be you. Be consistently you. In social media marketing, the way to attract people who believe what you believe is to live your brand in every way.
3. Innovate boldly... or go home
Safe is the new risky—in marketing and in comedy. The truly great acts—just like marketers—know that failure is critical. The only way to know whether something works is to try it. Ask great comics how many times they failed before they killed it. Chances are, they stopped counting after high double digits. The greats keep getting up because they know failure is about learning what works.
If you do the same things over and over, they lose their novelty and their ability create a "pattern disrupt" that grabs attention. And marketing, like comedy, is mostly art, not science. Great marketers push the envelope by innovating new products and new markets.
Forget what others are doing. Go make your own template! There is no formula to replicate. Get over it! In social media, stop waiting for others to figure it out. Blaze a trail and understand that experimentation is part of the deal.
4. The truth is all you got
Truth makes compelling comedy. Great comics talk about what they know—the good, bad, and ugly. Hacks try to sell what's popular rather than generate authentic material that is based on who they are. Martin, for one, axed all "borrowed" material from his routine, and then became a truly authentic act that resonated with people. Bring who you are to your work, and your work will be better for it. Like comedienne Ellen DeGeneres, who is a great example of authenticity.
Truth also means having a definitive, unapologetic point of view. Marketing, too, must be purposeful, human; and it must offer an authentic voice. Using hack material on the stage is akin to BS-speak in marketing. Audiences know when marketers and comedians are full of it!
Stories are part of the truth. Great marketing also requires honest storytelling and transparency with customers. Audiences worth reaching are smart; respect them and tell them the truth. The truth is funny! What happens when we are open about our successes and failures? Being human builds trust with your tribe. And, hey, research shows that 92.3% of audiences are human!
5. Listen, damn it!
Like any great comic, marketers must listen. Customers will tell you what works and what doesn't. Great comics take responsibility for what they could do better rather than blame audiences for "not getting it." Sure, some audiences just aren't a fit, and some are drunk (it happens!), but if your regular (ideal) audience isn't getting it repeatedly, time to do things differently.
Clarity is the marketer's burden, not the audience's.
6. Always adapt
Comics spend years honing material into jokes that work with the right set-up, punch line, and delivery (timing). It is a craft that requires constant rework. Marketers, too, must hone their material. They must know their audience, prepare their materials painstakingly, and adapt to the unexpected. Message and timing are critical. Commitment means being fully bought-in to your offering. If you're not buying it, your audience isn't either. Comics are masterful marketers: When they "kill," it's because they "sold" it well. Confidence shows.
7. Exude passion and fun
Great marketing, like great comic material, requires passion and a love of the game no matter how hard it gets. So, most important—have fun! If you aren't, neither are your customers. Fun isn't just for your sake; it's a powerful, contagious customer service element and word-of-mouth accelerator.
And, in the end, customer delight and word-of-mouth are what marketing and comedy are all about.
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