This article of this two-part series outlines more ways that comedy—in this case, improvisation—can help marketers do a better job connecting with audiences. (Here's Part 1.)
Improvisation can hone your funny bone—no doubt about it. The true lessons of improvisation, however, are about so much more than just being funny. Here are seven ways improv can make us better marketers. (It has certainly changed my world!)
1. Experiment and fail—often
Social engagement requires experimentation. Even in a world of Big Data and analytics, marketing is still a hell of a lot of art. Improvisation involves taking creative risks and following our gut, not just our head. There's no way around it. Risk is a muscle: When you exercise, it grows. To evolve, marketing has to take similar risks. Sometimes, things won't work. The more you take risks and experiment, the more (and more often) you fail—and discover what works. As with improvisation, in marketing there is no way to know whether something works, other than one: doing it.
2. 'Yes, and' to co-create something better
Marketing means co-creating. "Yes, and" is the cornerstone of improvisation, as it is the building block for great scenes. In improve, if your on-stage partner calls you "Mom," then you are a mom, and you must build onto the reality your partner has created. When we "deny" an offer (if we say "yes, but" rather than "yes, and"), the scene stalls.
"Yes, but" someone, and watch the reaction. You'll notice "yes, but" (it's really a "no") kills creativity. Most of us do it every day, and it usually happens at a subconscious level. In cultures filled with people who "yes, but," very little co-creating happens. Great marketing involves "Yes, and"-ing your audience. Your customers define your brand in a way that is meaningful for them. As marketers, we shape it, yet positioning and the value proposition is ultimately in the hands of customers.
Great marketers recognize that successful marketing is an act of co-creation with others. Adding on to customers' stories and ideas makes your brand better.
3. Make your partner look good
Marketing is always about your customer. In improvisation, your goal is to make your stage partners look good by accepting their "offers" (the choices they present you). When you focus only on your choices, you compromise the continuity of the story you are creating together.
Great marketing requires empathy, because it is all about making your customers look good by making them more successful, delighted, and happy.
It's not about you. Drop the focus on your methodology, your jargon, and your baggage. Make your customer the hero of the story. Sometimes you are the Robin to your customer's Batman. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow; skilled improvisers—and marketers—understand that difference.
4. Get out of your head—and your own way
Marketing requires listening more than talking. One of the hardest things about improvisation is clearing your head so you can listen to your on-stage partner rather than thinking about what you are going to say next. Being present in the moment allows you to see opportunity and to react spontaneously.
After years of performing, I've gotten a ton better; and I'm still growing. Hey, it's a craft! So it is with marketing. When you listen more than you talk, you hear what your customers are saying about what they want and need. Knowing that allows marketers to react in real time to situations as we evolve toward a new reality of "in the moment" marketing. Those "gifts" from customers will surprise you and allow you to go in new, better directions.
5. Tell stories
Marketing—like improvisation—is all about storytelling. Stories bring laughter and inspiration, and they make us memorable. According to Jennifer Aaker at Stanford University, "stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone."
In improvisation, too many facts (instead of reactions that drive the story of the scene) can kill the scene—which is about people. The most important thing in improvisation is the relationship the players have with each other on stage and how they evolve or change. It is the same with marketing: Marketing has to connect with our hearts—not just our heads—and stories are what make those emotional connections so that we come to care about the brand.
6. Let go
Follow the customer's lead. In improvisation, players need to learn when to lead a scene, and when to follow someone else's great idea, to move the story forward. When the scene naturally coalesces around someone else's idea (that is, not yours!), it's in the best interest of the scene to rally around it instead of "driving" the scene back your way.
In marketing, too, you have to know when to let go and follow your customers' lead. Great marketing involves allowing our customers to shape those stories. Letting our advocates—our enthusiast customers—drive, allows us to learn what they need and how we can make them look good.
Improvisers learn to let go because the outcomes are usually far better when we build something together.
7. Craft a 'ditchable' playbook
Plan, yet always be ready to ditch the playbook. Marketing requires adaptability. Every day, unforeseen stuff—good and bad—happens. When stuff stops working, great marketers improvise. Failure is part of the improviser's motto. Improvisation isn't just winging it. It requires preparation, skill, and big values, such as trust. But once you know the rules, you can break them. The same is true of marketing. Marketers who prepare but are willing to adapt as needed will be the ones to succeed in a noisy world of rapid change, where rules are evolving and devolving all the time. Solid brands adapt more easily precisely because they are prepared, yet also open to change.
Marketing is a lot like jazz. Its beauty isn't in the predictable notes; it's in the improvisation. So prepare, be open, let go, and adjust.
And, yes, improvisation will make you funnier. Yet, the true gifts are about so much more.
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