4 Lessons Brand Marketers Can Learn from Improv
My journey in improv comedy began a little over a year ago. Since its beginning, improv has been intrinsically connected to social media. The improv community thrives because it's exactly that: a community. In fact, the strength, enthusiasm, support, playfulness, and fierce loyalty found in improv are all tenets that enterprise brand marketers should strive to develop in their customers. At its core, brand marketing is an art form—just like improv. Let’s examine how four major pillars of improv can inform your brand marketing strategy.
From the outside, it would appear that improvisers are incredibly quick on their feet, or that they’re naturally so hilarious that they’re able to simply toss witty lines back and forth. The truth is, the best improvisers are actually the best listeners. While physical comedy certainly shouldn’t be forgotten, the majority of laughs in an improv scene come from players intently listening to one another and playing off of what they’ve just heard. In an improv scene, not only must the players listen to each other, but in order to have a successful (aka hilarious) show, players must also tune into the laughter and the silence from their audience.
Brand marketing is no different: you wouldn’t begin to draft a brand strategy without first defining your audience and listening intently to what makes it tick. As far as listening is concerned, brand marketers have an edge over improvisers because they have a moment to pause, think, and then respond appropriately. Improvisers typically have a 20 minute set, and there’s no time to take a break to process what they’ve just heard.
The truth is, the best improvisers are actually the best listeners.
What this means for brand marketers: Use the pause to your advantage. You’ve done a great job doing preliminary listening to your audience. You know what they like and dislike. Now it’s up to you to take a moment to reflect and make the best possible choice after weighing the variety of possibilities.
2. Find the Game
In its essence, finding the game of a scene in improv can be boiled down to establishing funny patterns. These repetitive sparks of humor drive laughs in scenes and are even more delightful to see recur in later scenes. Similarly, finding the game in brand marketing means looking for patterns in previous campaigns that led to success and utilizing the strong foundation that has already been built by those patterns. For example, if previously a character in a campaign was beloved by the target audience, deriving characteristics from that character or finding authentic ways to bring that character into future campaigns is a smart way to show your audience that you care about what they care about.
At the core of any successful brand love campaign is a focused view of what your audience wants and needs from your brand. In the same way, the most enjoyable improv shows create an environment where the audience feels like they’re in on the inside jokes being created on stage. In fact, I would say the only difference between a hilarious game and a game that flops on stage is the degree to which the audience feels included in the joke.
What this means for brand marketers: Brand marketers have the unique opportunity to develop campaigns and methods of interacting with their audiences that feel sincere and exciting. When done well, these campaigns can ultimately produce life-long brand fans.
3. Jump and Justify
One of the first lessons any improviser learns is to “jump and justify,” or to “follow your feet.” After a bit of experience, most improvisers develop an innate sense of when to enter, edit, or offer something new and bold to a scene. This new sense carries with it a physical element as well. Once mastered, your feet meld with your gut and propel you into new territory (and up on to the stage). What’s more important than spending time analyzing whether or not to trust your intuition here, is to simply “jump” into the scene when you feel the timing is right. You (along with your fellow improvisers) will figure out a way to “justify” the choice you’ve just made. It might seem like a stretch to say that this is a wise tactic to use when developing and strategically enacting brand marketing campaigns, however, once you’re an expert in your brand’s voice and strengths, it’s possible to be incredibly effective with this technique. By honing in on opportunities like the “Bow Wow Challenge,” brands like Target make a name for themselves (or continue strengthening that name) by staying culturally relevant, despite the content’s likely last-minute nature.
What this means for brand marketers: Following the gut instinct to utilize an opportunity that displays both a sense of humor and a pulse on current events keeps big brands on the minds and lips of their consumers, which ultimately fosters an even deeper love for the brand.
4. Yes, And…
“Yes, And…” is perhaps, the most important pillar of improv. One of the most encouraging and exciting moments that happen in improv (and life) is when you present an idea and—no matter how ridiculous, difficult, or goofy it is—your scene partner immediately jumps to your side and says, “Yes, And...” By adding the “and”, you demonstrate how committed you are to the cause, and show your partner that you’ve got their back. How can we “Yes, And…” as brand marketers? By creating a social strategy that says, “Yes, And…” to your audience members. You already know the people you’re marketing to; you’ve spent time thoroughly listening to the events, causes, and products that they’re passionate about, and you know what they won’t tolerate from your brand. From there, it’s time to take it to the next step, meeting them halfway with the, “and.”
What this means for brand marketers: By implementing both “yes” and “and,” you’re not only showing them that you care about them, but that their voices as consumers are heard and that you’re actively working to deepen the degree to which they influence your brand.
Creating a brand marketing strategy that not only engages your audience but keeps them coming back year after year as consumers is not an easy task. It is filled with the fluctuations of our ever-changing world (and social media platforms), and is an endless world of incredibly creative and talented strategists. While no one-size-fits-all brand marketing strategy exists, we can all stand to take a risk, embrace these four improv pillars, and watch the magic of a successful campaign unfold.