In this article, you’ll learn…

–          The basics of improv comedy, and how they can be applied to marketing

–          How thinking like a comedian will inspire collaboration and creativity in your organization

By day, I am a Marketing Manager, and I truly enjoy what I do. After all, marketing has always been my passion, ever since high school. There is constant challenge in my work and a real sense of achievement when our efforts are successful. Still, it is difficult work, and so like many others I maintain a hobby when I leave the office, as a way to relieve some stress. As you may have inferred from the title of this article, by night, I am a comedian. It feels odd to classify myself in that way, for so long I considered myself just someone who was studying improvisational comedy. Yet at this point, after performing weekly for over a year, I guess I can say it with some confidence. I am a comedian, and I am a marketer. Initially, these two distinctions appear to be entirely unrelated to one another. However, as discussed in a recent NPR article, there is a definite relation between them. The basic principles of improv have not only proved useful in marketing, but in all other areas of my professional and personal life. So even if you are not willing to take up comedy as a side gig (it’s not as hard as it sounds, I promise!), I want to impart upon you the following five lessons that will make you a better marketer too:

  1. “Yes, and” – This is the first concept that you are taught on the very first day of improv training. It is drilled into you until it becomes second nature. What does it mean? Well, as improv actor and trainer Daena Giardella points out, too often in society (and business) do we hear the words, “Yes, but.” I’m certainly guilty of saying it. In a business setting, as in a comedy scene, the phrase “Yes, but” acts as an idea blocker. In using it, you are acknowledging that the other person has something to contribute, but then negating the value of that contribution. This (with some exception), does not fly in the improv arena. By adopting the “Yes, and” mentality, you force yourself to take into consideration what everyone is saying, and then building off of that to create something together, which is the basic objective of improv comedy. As a marketer, I have found it to be an exceptional technique for idea generation and brainstorming. Certainly, not every idea is going to be useful or successful, but by forcing yourself to be more open and collaborative, you will be amazed at the results.
  2. Let the Idea Breath – This one is directly correlated to the “Yes, and” concept. In improv, part of the great difficulty lies in knowing when to make edits to a scene. When should you enter, or exit, or change the scene all together? Often, actors will end a scene that had promise pre-maturely. When that happens, we are usually told to “let the scene breath.” In some cases, scenes start out shaky, but if given some time, turn into something truly hysterical! I find this concept to be particularly useful in marketing, because many times good ideas are shot down because of budget, or time constraints, or lack of resources, etc. All of those may be real issues to work through, but instead of killing these ideas, try finding other ways to develop them, or break them down into attainable objectives.
  3. Maintaining Perspective – An entertaining bit that often occurs during an improv show is when a humorous character is placed in an unlikely situation. For instance, if I am made to be a soldier from the Revolutionary War shopping at a Whole Foods supermarket. When involved in this kind of scene, it’s imperative that you maintain your perspective, even though your setting is changing. What might annoy someone from the 18th Century about today’s shopping experience? That is where the scene will find the most humor. As a character, it’s about consistency. In marketing, it is equally important to maintain perspective. This is most true when it comes to brand consistency. Especially today, when we are bombarded with so many different forms of both traditional and digital marketing, it’s even more important to maintain your brand, and your message (perspective), across all channels. Doing so will make your marketing much more impactful.
  4. Know Your Audience – All right, this one might seem obvious, but it really is not. In comedy, your audience will vary greatly with each show, both in size and attitude. As a comedian, you must captivate the audience quickly, because once you lose them, it’s nearly impossible to get them back on your side. Understanding what the audience wants from you will go a long way. The same works in marketing. Marketers focus too much on what they want the customer to know about them, and not what the customer actually wants to know about. Knowing who your audience is, and more importantly, what they are looking for, is the key to both a better performance and more effective marketing communication.
  5. Everyone Bombs – That’s right, even the greats! Who’s your favorite comedian? Guess what, he/she has had a terrible performance. It’s part of being a good comedian. Taking risks and never settling for the “safe” play is what makes a comedian great in the first place. My biggest fear when I first started performing was that no one was going to laugh. That would be terrible! Well, it’s happened to me, MANY times, and you know what? It’s not that bad. After the first few times, it doesn’t bother you as much anymore. In business, we are programmed to always succeed. We place so much pressure on ourselves not to mess up, that we are often afraid to take risks that could lead us to greater success than we could otherwise achieve (Disclaimer: Uncalculated risks are not wise, and will likely get you into some trouble). Just remember, that great marketers, just like great comedians, have to fail in order to grow.

Hopefully you find these tips useful, and you didn’t even have to get up on stage! What are your hobbies? I’d be willing to bet you could learn some workplace lessons from them as well.