August is always a particularly important month in the world of live comedy, with acts — both new starters and established names — coming from all around the world to present their Edinburgh Fringe Festival shows at venues around the city.
Listening to The Comedian's Comedian podcast recently — in which Stuart Goldsmith interviews fellow comedians about their lives, inspirations, and comic techniques — has given me a sense of just how much unseen work goes into crafting a complete stand-up show. Comedians are faced with the challenge of developing an on-stage identity, perfecting their material, and delivering it in a way that seems conversational and off-the-cuff.
Although the differ in a number of ways, these are broadly the same challenges faced by many brands trying to get their message across to audiences. So, when it comes to finding solutions, what can brands learn from the world of comedy?
One of the most important parts of a comedian's process is simply trying out their act before an audience, and refining their material and style of delivery based on what works and what doesn't.
Similarly, the practice of A/B testing is often recommended to marketers as a way of determining how to optimise the performance of content (such as, for example, paid social advertising). In Hubspot's guide to A/B testing, Lindsay Kolowich describes it as
"A marketing experiment wherein you 'split' your audience to test a number of variations of a campaign and determine which works better. In other words, you can show version A of a piece of marketing content to one half of your audience, and version B to another."
Just as comedians experiment with varying the nuances of wording, timing, and inflection when working on their material; many businesses will run multiple versions of ads with slight alterations to hit on the combination of elements that resonate with specific sections of their target audience. Kolowich notes that, when experimenting in this way, it's important not to worry too much about failure.
"If the test fails ... you can make your next A/B test even more educated ... [in fact,] no matter how many times your A/B test fails, its eventual success will almost always outweigh the cost to conduct it."
And this is not the only way of gaining valuable insights from your audience. With social media analytics tools (both those available on the platforms themselves, as well as third-party tools such as Followerwonk and Twitonomy), it's easy to learn more about who your audience really is. Then, you can tailor your content to what your audience is interested in, as well as to smaller details such as the times when they're most active on social media.
As somebody who tends to have a six-month lead time when it comes to quick, spur of the moment witticisms, I often find myself in awe of how comedians train themselves to think on their feet and to respond to the variety of things that can happen during a live performance.
One marketer who has seen the value in these particular skills is Peter Mackey, who wrote for Marketing Week about how taking classes in improvisational comedy had benefited him personally, improving his team-working skills and sharpening his creative approach. As Mackey writes,
"There is no script, you think on your feet and you learn as you go ... Applying this to the workplace has helped me be more spontaneous and creative in the moment and given me the discipline to create more space to exercise my creative muscle, too."
It makes sense that Mackey's marketing career has been enriched by training in improv comedy. So much of online brand communication now, for example, depends on being able to stay relevant by reacting quickly to current (and rapidly changing) trend; and, when it comes to developing your brand over time, being able to use the brand's character and identity as a springboard for new and innovative ideas is crucial.
It goes without saying that a sense of humour is one of the key characteristics of a comedian; and, although it obviously isn't as crucial to brands and marketers, humour is definitely something that should be taken seriously as a tool.
There are many brands that have found ways to successfully incorporate comedy in a way that fits with their identities and aims. Look at Skittles' tendency towards whimsical and absurd ads, for instance, or something like Spotify's “weird 2016” campaign, for which the company delved deep to find the weirder aspects of their users' listening habits.
That's not to say that humour is the sole reserve of more 'fun' industries. As Tom Denari, writing for Ad Week, states:
"Plenty of brands in seemingly serious categories like insurance ... and financial services ... have achieved huge market share gains using humour to draw people to their brands. Their use of wit and silliness doesn't point to a lack of seriousness or business acumen, but instead demonstrates a healthy awareness that they may not be the most important aspect of a consumer's life ... [Conversely,] brands that take themselves too seriously actually risk appearing out of touch with the customers they're trying to serve."
The most important thing is to keep the tone appropriate. Where unabashed silliness is definitely an option for a confectionary or entertainment company; something like an insurance company or estate agent would probably be better suited to a more grounded, observational style of humour that reflects the problems that their target audience will want their help solving.
Take something like the 'Faces of Commisery' spot from estate agent, PurpleBricks, for example, which takes something as mundane as consumer remorse and exaggerates it through the use of slow-motion close shots and sensationally doomladen music.
Is there a funny side to what your business provides?
As with a good stand-up routine, the process of developing a brand and its content is one that takes a lot of time, a lot of thought, and a strong attention to detail when it comes figuring out what will resonate with your audience.
As creative marketer Danielle Trivisonno-Hawley recently said to The Drum, a comedic mindset is extremely valuable to brands looking to connect with their audiences, and produce content that can add something to peoples' daily lives:
"The world needs to laugh more ... humour represents humility and that's what connects us all, no matter what side of the fence you sit on."