Mark Twain said it best: “Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.” Yet of all the emotions we experience on a day-to-day basis, humor seems to be the one lacking the most from business communications. Some business leaders may see humor as too “risky” or “off-brand.” Marketers may feel that humor is ineffective considering their product, or that it will fall flat with technical buyers.
To that I say: poppycock! Humor has proven to be successful in B2B marketing when executed correctly. The trick to creating humor in more technical content is to know how to get buy-in from your team, correctly execute, and prove the value of humor in your content marketing efforts.
Businesses tend to avoid risks — and the larger the business, the less risks companies are willing to take. This is a simple explanation for why using humor is easier at a small start-up than a mega corporation. Proving that humor is not risky — but effective — is a major hurdle you will need to jump over before you can even begin down this laugh path. Tim Washer, former SNL writer, stand-up comedian, and master of humorous content at Cisco, has a few tips that make gaining buy-in a lot easier:
Start small: By starting with a small, off-the-radar project, you’ll be able to prove humor can work. According to Washer, the benefits of starting small include less risk, and the fact that projects can typically be carried out without a committee.
Start internal: Internal-facing projects also are a great way to begin. For example, Washer was able to introduce humor into the IBM culture by beginning with an internal training video. The video was so successful it opened the door to using humor in more places.
Don’t be stopped: Washer has heard many businesses say, “We’ve tried humor before.” This is common, and these attempts most likely failed because they didn’t follow the rules of comedy (outlined in the next section of this article). If you can follow these rules and go out on a limb, albeit a small one, you can likely prove that using comedy correctly will work.
Show other successes: Trying to show the value of something you have never done before is hard, but showcasing other company’s successes can be a powerful persuader, especially if they’re in your industry. Here are some great examples of humor done well and the returns companies have seen:
Taulia used comedy to market their financial software to accounting professionals and saw amazing results. Their comedy videos have influenced more than $100 million dollars in pipeline, and 45 percent of all customers have watched one of their videos.
used comedy to market their financial software to accounting professionals and saw amazing results. Their comedy videos have influenced more than $100 million dollars in pipeline, and 45 percent of all customers have watched one of their videos. Epuron used comedy in their video to build more of a brand presence for wind energy. Their single video has been played more than 3.8 million times, and has remained a consistent driver of leads for more than six years.
used comedy in their video to build more of a brand presence for wind energy. Their single video has been played more than 3.8 million times, and has remained a consistent driver of leads for more than six years. Kronos, a workforce management software company, uses a weekly comic to engage with their audience. Their comics are consistently shared on LinkedIn two to 10 times more than their corporate blog posts.
There are different types of comedy — comics, improv, videos, and humorous writing, just to name a few — but they all have rules that dictate what makes them funny. Both Tim Washer and Tom Fishburne have made a living introducing comedy into (what some may consider) “boring” industries, and have some basic rules you should follow to start building humor into your content.
Find the story. Washer gives some great advice in his view of what is funny. He feels products themselves are never really that funny, but the stories around how they’re used, the environment they’re used in, the people who use them are. All of those elements can be turned into a very funny story with the right angle. He gives the example of a microchip. It is not funny on its own, but if you imagine a microchip being made in a clean room, with an engineer tracking in mud on his boots, that can create a funny situation around the product. Pain can be funny. We all experience pain, and it can be funny in the right context. Why do we laugh when people trip, fall, and wipe out in YouTube videos? Probably for the same reason that ABC has devoted an entire show to wipeouts (appropriately titled Wipeout). Similarly, comedy in business content is usually around the pain that we all experience with bosses, committee meetings, TPS reports, cubicle culture, and anything else we might loathe about going to work. Washer suggests finding the pain points your prospects are experiencing and using that as inspiration for your humor. Heightening. This is a technique Washer was taught in improv school, and has used when writing comedy for years. It revolves around the concept that everything is a gift, and everything builds off itself. So take each piece of the story and build humor on top of it by exaggerating the pain, or making a scenario even worse. Take it to an extreme in order to find the humor. Contrast. Contrasting environments are funny, according to Washer. Take a look at his highly acclaimed “Valentine’s Day” video, where he used a Cisco ASR 9000 Router in contrast with traditional gifts of love to use humor to break through. Surprise. Tom Fishburne believes surprise works because it is unexpected. You want to take your audience down a path, then instantly veer off into humor. Catch them by surprise.
Comedy isn’t always easy to execute, but here are some tips from the pros on how to do it correctly:
1. Ditch the committee: Washer says the committee is the killer of all comedy. When trying to build comedy, leave it in the hands of funny people. The reason committees usually get involved is to mitigate risk, and to keep the message in line with brand. If you can begin small and prove you can be funny (and show results with it), you can usually keep them at bay.
2. Get some help: Comedy isn’t always easy to create, and this means you may have to get some help. Here are three easy places to go to find it:
Local comedy club: Your local comedy club is going to be a goldmine of funny people. Many of them also have multiple jobs, and would love to pick up some extra cash on the side.
Your local comedy club is going to be a goldmine of funny people. Many of them also have multiple jobs, and would love to pick up some extra cash on the side. Agency: If you have an agency, ask them if they have done something with humor before, or if they have some resources they currently work with already. You may find they already have the connections you need, and can easily bring humor into your work quickly and easily. This will usually cost more money than your local stand-up comedian, but may prove to be more effective.
If you have an agency, ask them if they have done something with humor before, or if they have some resources they currently work with already. You may find they already have the connections you need, and can easily bring humor into your work quickly and easily. This will usually cost more money than your local stand-up comedian, but may prove to be more effective. Internal people: You likely have internal people who are secretly (or maybe not so secretly) hilarious, so give them a shot! Remember, you don’t have to use it if it’s not funny, but you may be surprised at what they come up with.
3. Put your budget in the right place: If you have proven the value of comedy in your content, you should consider taking it to the next level by increasing your spend.
Just be sure to heed Washer’s advice: If you can get budget, make sure you spend it on the correct things. Rather than investing in paid promotion, it may be better to spend it on a comedy team. Consider hiring a comedy writer to write the script, a comedy director to direct the video, and actual comedy actors to star in your performance. Washer suggests an investment in the quality of your content is much more impactful than the investment in its distribution.
4. Know where it belongs: Comedy does not belong in all aspects of your marketing funnel. In fact, it works best at the top of the funnel, or early in the buying cycle. As prospects get closer to a decision, they tend to be more serious and find humor to be less helpful when it comes to actually answering their questions.
If you’re lucky, you will have clients send you praises on your content. Bhaji Illumaniati, senior marketing manager at Taulia, said they recently had a customer tell them, “After I saw the Most Remarkable Man videos, I said to myself, I need to do business with this company!” Thirty days later, he was a customer! That’s instant ROI!
Unfortunately, the more likely scenario is that you will need to provide metrics to back up your tactics, so consider the following techniques to prove the value of using comedy in your marketing efforts.
Compare it to content without comedy: This is the easiest way to show the value of comedy in your content. If the content you create is watched, shared, and engaged with more than your other content, you can prove the value in its ability to reach more people with a positive brand impression.
Conversions: Taulia displayed a form at the end of each video, both ones with humor and ones without, allowing them to show the conversions and the reach of each video. In their case, 67 percent of all videos using comedy drove a form completion at the end of the video.
Track its influence: You can track marketing content’s influence with many modern tools, marketing automation being the most common. Showing your comedy actually influenced closed won deals is another easy way to show its value. You can compare this with other types of content to see whether or not it has had a larger impact on your closed won deals.
For example, when Epuron launched the “Mr. W” video, they probably didn’t foresee such long-term success. Over the past six years it has consistently driven more than 500,000 plays per year, accumulating more than 3.8 million views total. Tracking the video as a lead driver via marketing automation will allow them to show the influence of this video on each prospect and closed won deal. They can use this data to make a case for using humor again.
The new year will bring a lot of new content. There will be new campaigns, new products that need to be launched, and new ways to tell the same story. Consider dipping your toes into a humorous approach this year. It has proven to be a great tool when used correctly.
As you begin, remember that the trick to creating humor is to know how to get buy-in from your team, how to correctly execute, and how to prove the value of humor in your content marketing efforts. Good luck, and please share any humorous examples of content you have created in the comments below.