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Marketing Lessons From the Comedy Stage, Part I

Marketing

Comedy and marketing have much in common. Well, comedy is marketing, really. And some marketing is pretty comical, intentionally or not. Comedy is a priceless education. In addition to 20 years in marketing, my many years in sketch, stand-up and improvisation have provided a number of critical business lessons, especially in the “ballsy” department!

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I can’t put a price on the joy, frustration and lessons I’ve learned 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 and focuses on “tribe.” 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?”), sketch (short skits such as the type in ‘SNL’) and standup (read: stand-up!)

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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. Comedy like marketing is about knowing and concentrating on your “tribe.” Chris Rock is an excellent comic with a penchant for edgy material. A number of 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. Know your audience and know their needs, desires, human challenges inside and out. Start there and go deep.

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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. When writing “funny,” we spend hours only to end up with minutes of kick-butt 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.

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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 14 of hard work and failure, followed by 4 years of fame. 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.

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Risk-taking. Safe is the new risky – in marketing and in comedy. 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.

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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. In marketing, you must take risks with content, strategy, campaigns – everything – to discover what works. If you are doing the same things over and over, they lose their novelty and ability create a “pattern disrupt” that grabs attention. Years ago, I was performing open mic nights at a well-known South Bay club. A very prominent political comedian from the Bay Area showed up one night and pulled me aside, “You’re very good. But I’ve seen you three times (note: I would have been very nervous had I known!), and your material is the same. You haven’t done anything new. Why the hell not?” He was right. I was playing it safe – and that is the risky: complacency. It’s a trap for the marketer as well. I was looking for the formula that I could replicate. And marketing, like comedy, is mostly art, not science.

What are your critical business lessons? Let me know: Kathy(at)KeepingitHuman(dot)com.

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