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Humor Me! Lighten Up Your B2B Marketing and Get Results

If you read my blog or any article I’ve written, you know this is mission of mercy for me. As a marketer, storyteller and comic improviser, I have seen humor deliver results online, offline, and across social media. Humor IS human and in a world of sameness, increasing noise and complexity (big data, blah, blah, blah), humor has the ability to start a conversation in a way that boring, white-noise messaging cannot. Make no mistake – the situation is getting worse. Take any press release for a high-tech company, cut out the company name, and you have messaging that sounds the same. Paradigm-shift, anyone? Sure you’re unique – just like *everyone else!*

Here’s the reality: “Safe” is the new risky. Whether it’s using humor or another method, b2b marketing needs a lighthearted, human touch if it is to stand out.

Last week, I had the one and only Tim Washer (marketer, comedian, corporate video funnyman) on my podcast , and we chatted about ways to lighten up your marketing (including b2b video), reduce some risk (there is no such thing as risk-free marketing!), and measure results. Most b2b companies are still struggling with ways to humanize their messages, so starting with humorous video on YouTube is a very high bar. Instead, here are some ‘digestible’ ways to think about diving in.

Think witty, not comedy. Your communications don’t have to result in audience spit-takes and howling laughter to make a difference. Sure, we’d love it if that happened. However, even making your audience smile is enough to make them remember you, rather than tossing your stuff into the circular file cabinet. So if you’re new and a bit unsure where to start, think ‘witty’ first.

Stories, stories, stories. Stories are the starting point for any great humor. If you are considering video, stories matter more than production values – every time. When was the last time someone forwarded a video, adding, “Hey check out the production values!” It doesn't happen! Always start with a great story - that's social marketing currency.

The truth is funny. Where do we look for great stories? Start with the truth. In improvisation, we call this “slice of life” stuff because it’s relatable –it’s the universal every day stuff. Comedy starts with the truth, and takes it to places that are goofy, even extreme. Where do you start mining for ideas for video or even for written material? Start with the pain points of your industry, your audience, and those of your ideal customers. What drives customers in your industry crazy? Probably vendors with bad marketing! Relationships can be a great way to explore the comical truth. Kinaxis has a very funny video that parodies the ‘awkward’ relationship between a vendor and customer. It does this by comparing this relationship to a romantic one – and it is! We can date companies and that doesn’t mean we’re loyal.

Vet internally. Forget marketing as science here, I believe in experimenting and marketing is a lot 'art.' Fail fast, cheaply, and internally first. This does not mean getting lots of people involved in the process. Creativity by committee rarely happens and that will kill humor quickly. Rather, this means test your content internally before you go externally. Tim suggests sales conferences and organizations as a great place to start. Salespeople love to laugh and you’ll know pretty quickly whether your material works or not before you invest more time and money into something that won’t work outside the company. And if people don’t laugh – don’t rationalize it. Either it’s viscerally funny or not. Humor is a feeling, not a justification. If people don’t laugh, you have your answer, and it’s back to the drawing board.

Get thee to a great ‘writery.’
Seek help from the more experienced. Humor is a craft – just like any other. Hire someone who understands storytelling, and joke writing. And you don’t need a big budget. Tim suggested contacting your local university and asking for their creative, communications, or scriptwriting departments/classes. Finding students who specialize in these areas is a great way to get talent without having a large marketing agency budget. And, just because marketing agencies understand marketing doesn’t mean they will understand how to write with humor. It’s a skill; so look in the right places.

Measure the ‘right’ things. Unlike with consumer products, b2b organizations sell products and services that have a longer, more complex buying cycle involving more risk. Humor isn’t going to drive direct sales. However, humor, as with any campaign, can have a tremendous indirect effect. Tim, who has created funny videos for IBM and now for Cisco, has used this content to cut through the messaging crapocalypse and gain the attention of press, tradeshows, and influencers. That gave the trade press a reason to write about these products – the message was fresh. The videos are also conversation starters for salespeople, who use them to grab attention from uber-busy prospects. Humor is a way to jumpstart conversations, have more of them, and enable quality conversations with the right audiences: prospects, key influencers in your industry, and trade press, generating PR and traffic.

Start Somewhere, Even if it’s Small
Humor can be daunting to any marketer, especially those who work for big, conservative b2b organizations, where humor doesn’t have a track record. Rather than with a large video campaign, start smaller. Think witty, not ‘comedy,’ as a starting point. Create content for internal consumption, vet it, and then re-purpose externally. There is risk in any campaign, whether humor is used or not. Get over it.

Being in b2b is not an excuse to not be human. Safe is the new risky. In age of increasing amounts and complexity of information, your audience is hungry for meaning and connection. Humor is a conversation starter. And it can drastically change public perception because of the surprise element. One of the reasons the video series from IBM that Tim worked on – The Art of the Sale – was so well received was that it shattered the company’s previous image as being stodgy and out of touch. And, no one expected that from IBM – it was the preemptive element of surprise that changed the conversation. That difference in perception is an invaluable creator of value because it is a critical precursor to bottom-line results.

So humor me, yourself, and your audience. Humor is human and it’s one of the most powerful and universal ways to connect. If you cannot connect with an audience, you won’t be heard.

So if funny is scary, just start with fun. You can’t get to funny without ‘fun.’ Really! Try spelling it.


Join The Conversation

  • Candace Robinson's picture
    Jul 5 Posted 3 years ago Candace Robinson

    Great article! I had a chance to meet Tim Washer and hear him speak about the power of humor. I am a huge advocate of using humor, especially when it comes to social media. My question is how do you use humor when it comes to companies that provide things that aren't that laughable? Any thoughts?

  • Qnary's picture
    Dec 12 Posted 4 years ago Qnary

    Interacting with your followers is a great way to keep them happy. Followers and customers like it when a company acknowledges a complaint, question, or piece of positive feedback. Don't always post about the same topics; vary it up so that your followers don't always know what to expect.

  • Dec 12 Posted 4 years ago lmb1962

    Being funny is one of the hardest things to do, because what's funny one day to someone often isn't funny at all in a different situation to someone else. I really like your advice to start with witty--gotta walk before you can run.

  • Kathy Klotz-Guest's picture
    Dec 11 Posted 4 years ago Kathy Klotz-Guest

    So true, Robin. Sometimes we just have to outsource things we're not good at: like haircuts and taxes (for me)!  If writing isn't your thing - get the "write" help!

  • Robin Carey's picture
    Dec 11 Posted 4 years ago Robin Carey

    I love this post.  It's always a danger to tell someone to "be yourself," since what if that person is a tin-eared jerk?  But the key point is to "get thee to a writery."  Especially if you are a bore.

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