Here are 7 lessons I’ve learned from improvisation classes that can take your marketing strategy to the next level:
Social engagement requires experimentation. In a world of big data and analytics, marketing is still a hell of a lot of art. Improvisation involves taking creative risks and following our gut (not just our head).
Risk is a muscle; when you exercise, it grows. To evolve, marketing has to take similar risks. Sometimes things won’t work. The more you take experiment, the more you fail quickly and discover what works. As with improvisation, in marketing there is no way to know if something works except one: doing it.
“Yes, and”-ing to Co-Create Something Better
Marketing means co-creating. “Yes, and…” is the cornerstone of improvisation. It’s the building block for great scenes.
For example, if your on-stage partner calls you “Mom,” you are a mom, and you must build onto the reality your partner creates. When we ‘deny’ an offer (yes, but…), the scene stalls. “Yes, but” someone and watch the reaction.
This happens every day at a subconscious level for most of us. You’ll notice that “yes, but…” kills creativity. In cultures filled with people who “yes, but” (which really means “no”), very little co-creating happens.
Great marketing involves “yes, and”-ing your audience. Your customer defines your brand in a way that is meaningful for them. As marketers, we shape it, yet positioning is ultimately in the hands of customers. Great marketers recognize that successful marketing is an act of co-creation with others. Adding on to customers’ stories and ideas makes your brand better.
Make Your Partner Look Good
Marketing is always about your customer. In improvisation, your goal is to make your stage partners look good by accepting what they offer (or what they choose). When you focus only on your choices, you compromise the continuity of the story you are creating together. Great marketing requires empathy, and you can connect with your customers by considering ways to make them more successful, delighted, and happy.
Drop the focus on your methodology, your jargon, and your baggage.
Make your customer the hero of the story. (tweet this)
Marketing requires listening more than talking. One of the hardest things about improvisation is clearing your head so you can listen to your on-stage partner rather than thinking about what you are going to say next. Being present in the moment allows you to see opportunity and to react spontaneously.
When you listen more than you talk, you hear what your customers are saying about what they want and need. This allows marketers to react in real time to situations as we evolve towards a new era of ‘in the moment’ marketing.
Marketing – like improvisation – is all about storytelling. Stories bring laughter, inspiration, and make us memorable. According to Jennifer Aaker at Stanford University, research shows that stories are remembered up to 22X more than facts alone. (tweet this)
Too many facts in improvisation (instead of reactions) can kill a scene. Remember: A scene is about people, and the most important thing in improvisation is the relationship the players have with each other on stage. It is the same with marketing. Marketing has to connect with our hearts – not just our heads. Stories make those emotional connections so we care about the brand.
Follow the customer’s lead. In improvisation, players need to learn when to lead a scene, and when to follow someone else’s great idea to move the story forward. When the scene naturally coalesces around someone else’s idea, it’s in the best interest of the scene to rally around it instead of ‘driving’ the scene your way. In marketing, you have to know when to let go and follow your customers’ lead. Great marketing involves allowing our customers to shape those stories. Letting our advocates, our enthusiast customers, take the wheel allows us to learn what they need and how we can make them look good. Improvisers learn to let go because the outcomes are usually far better when we build something together.
Craft a ‘Ditchable’ Playbook
Plan, and always be ready to ditch the playbook. Marketing requires adaptability. Every day unforeseen stuff – both good and bad – happens. When stuff stops working, great marketers improvise. Failure is part of the improviser’s motto.
Improvisation isn’t just winging it – it requires preparation, skill, and big values such as trust. Once you know the rules, you can break them. The same is true of marketing. Marketers who prepare and are willing to adapt as needed will be the ones to succeed in a noisy world of rapid change where the rules are changing all the time. Solid brands adapt more easily precisely because they are prepared, yet also open to change.
Marketing is a lot like jazz. Its beauty isn’t in the predictable notes; it’s in the improvisation. So prepare, be open, let go, and adjust.