Kathy Klotz-Guest

Everything I Learned About Marketing Came From Comedy

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Well, almost. And that’s a priceless education, of course, in addition to 18 years of actual marketing experience! Seriously, though, comedy has taught me many lessons that have carried over into my business. I can’t put a price on the joy, frustration and lessons I’ve learned (some painfully) in my more than 20 years of comedy training (standup, improvisation and sketch), including learning from failure (what entrepreneur doesn’t need that?!). After all, brilliant comics are also fantastic marketers, right? Jerry Seinfeld sold us a successful show about the mundane. The key is that all comedy starts with the truth. Below are just ten of the many business and marketing insights I’ve gained over the years that have been reinforced by the world of improvisation (Remember “Whose Line is It Anyway?”) and standup.
1. Segmentation. Decide who your audience is. You cannot be all things to all people. Choosing the right focus yields the greatest payoffs. The only way to increase profitability is by segmenting your audience. Chris Rock is an excellent comic with a penchant for edgy material. Several years ago, the star hosted the Academy Awards and received mixed reviews. Why? Rock’s brilliance is in the edgier stuff you can’t say on primetime television. His audience isn’t Middle America and when you have to water down your offerings for a wider audience, you dilute your differentiation and your chances of success.
2. Strategy. Comics have a game plan for how they develop material and are faced with the hard choices of cutting out OK opportunities to focus on GREAT material. Paring down is hard, but it forces us to make strategic choices about who we want to be. The same is true of marketing. Not all 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, talks about being at a crossroads with his act and making the choice to cut out all “safe” gimmicks in order to take his act to the next level.
3. Persistence. Marketing is a repeat interaction game. I’ve heard people give up after one or two marketing attempts didn’t deliver results. Remember it takes 7-9 impressions on average – that means your prospect has to hear you, see you, or talk to you many times – before you register as a provider on their radar. Martin writes that his “live” comedy career of 18 years was comprised of 4 years of fame, and 14 of hard work and failure. The good news is your marketing success won’t likely take that long, but you must keep trying to see what works and what doesn’t.
4. Risk-taking. The truly great acts – just like marketers – know that failure is not a dirty word. It’s imperative to try new things and to learn from what doesn’t work. Fear is normal. The only way to know if something works is to try it. It’s OK if it doesn’t work. You can now re-work it or go to plan B. Great marketing like great comedy requires honing. Ask any great comic how many times they failed before they killed. Chances are they stopped counting after high double digits. But the greats keep getting up because they know failure is about learning what works – and that brings them closer to success. The biggest laughs I’ve gotten when speaking and performing have come when I
followed my gut and took a creative risk. Some don’t work to be sure; but the upside far outweighs the “comfort” of playing things safe.
5. Truth and authenticity. 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 focus on generating authentic material that is based on who they are. Martin 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. Comedienne Ellen DeGeneres is a great example of authenticity. This also leads to an important sub-point about telling stories. Last Comic Standing Winner John Heffron is a master at telling stories based on real people and events from his average, “middle class” life. Great marketing also requires honest storytelling and transparency with customers. Audiences worth reaching are smart; respect them and tell them the truth. What could be funnier and more conversational than that?
6. Listening. 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, but if your regular (ideal) audience isn’t getting it, time to do things differently.
7. Gut. Great comics, like great marketers, develop a gut instinct by listening to their internal “voice.” It’s a muscle that you have to exercise to keep it in shape. Chasing opportunities that are easy may come back to bite. If your intuition tells you it won’t honor your brand, don’t do it. Honor your instincts, and they will honor you by not leading you astray. Sometimes the “right” things are not the “easy” things.
8. Preparation and commitment. 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 re-work. Marketers, too, must adapt their material as needed. They must know their audience, prepare their materials painstakingly, and adapt to the unexpected. Message and timing are critical. Moreover, preparation enhances confidence, and confidence is how you sell a joke or your business. Commitment is being fully bought in to your offering. If you’re not buying it, your audience isn’t either.
9. Innovation. Audiences change as do markets. Comics must constantly create new material. Innovation requires that comics take risks by trying new things. The same is true of marketing. As customer needs and economic climates change, great marketers push the envelope by anticipating changes in current markets, and by innovating new products and new markets. Dare to be different; forget what others are doing.
10. Passion and the value of play. Great marketing like great comic material requires passion, and a love of the game no matter how hard it gets. A genuine hunger to be better – not to get rich – drives passionate people. Good thing, too, because a drive for money doesn’t motivate people to grow personally. Striving for excellence, and not money, is how we find our better selves and success. Oh, yes, and most importantly – have fun! Comics love to play and are in touch with their most creative selves. You deserve to have fun, too. If you aren’t, neither are your customers. Fun isn’t just for you – it’s a powerful, contagious customer service tool. And, in the end, customer delight is what marketing is all about.


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