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What B2B Marketers Can Learn from Stand-Up Comedy

Posted on May 25th, 2021
Written by Joshua Nite
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    Stand-up comedians need to make a connection with their audience. It starts with getting attention, then stoking interest, developing a rapport, and ultimately provoking a reaction. 

    To do it right, you need empathy, knowledge of your audience, creativity…oh, and a spark that makes you unique.

    B2B marketers: Does any of the above sound familiar? I’ve been a professional marketer and an amateur comedian for over a decade, and it’s surprising how much the two inform each other. 

    Here are just a few lessons that B2B marketers can learn from standup.

    Keep It Real

    In the early 19th century, standup comedy depended on wordplay and absurdism. For example: “Take my wife…please!” or “The other night I shot an elephant in my pajamas… how he got into my pajamas, I’ll never know.” 

    As the art form of standup has evolved, however, personal observations with a unique point of view (more on that later) have become more popular. Here’s a classic bit from Ellen Degeneres as she dissects the minutiae of her life:

    For marketers, keeping it real means being honest and sincere with your audience. It could even mean not being afraid to show flaws or own up to mistakes. Look for ways to bring the audience behind the scenes to meet the people behind the brand. 

    I like the way Stacey Marx from AT&T Business brings her personal life into her content, as in this post, “Gold Medal Advice: SMB Lessons from a World-Class Coach.” The personal touch elevates the content and makes it unique. 

    Adjust to Your Audience

    Telling a marketer to know their audience is like telling a comedian to… well… know their audience. It’s not a radical new technique; it’s part of the toolkit. At the same time, it’s easy to think of your own culture, background and thought processes as universal. That’s one of the reasons comedy can be so hard to translate. 

    One famous example is when Jimmy Carter told a joke to break the ice at a college in Japan. He was gratified when, after a brief translation from his interpreter, the crowd erupted in laughter! It wasn’t until later that the interpreter confessed that what he said was, “The president has told a funny story. Please laugh.”

    For marketers and comedians alike, the only way to truly get in your audience’s head is to do the research. Putting out the same message for audiences with different cultural backgrounds is a path fraught with peril. 

    This Jerry Seinfeld bit — a superbly clever American Express commercial — illustrates the point precisely: 

    Alternate Storytelling with Quick Jabs

    John Mulaney and Mitch Hedberg are two of my favorite comedians, and for wildly different reasons. John is the master at telling longer stories, taking a few minutes to set the scene, not rushing to a punchline. Here’s an example (with some strong language, be warned):

    On the other side of the spectrum, Mitch Hedberg is the undisputed master of the one-liner. “I don’t have a girlfriend. But I do know a woman who’d be mad at me for saying that.” Or, slightly longer, “One time, this guy handed me a picture, he said ‘Here’s a picture of me when I was younger.’ Every picture is of you when you were younger! ‘Here’s a picture of me when I’m older.’ Woah, lemme see that camera.”

    Just as there’s room in comedy for the Mulaneys and Hedbergs, there’s room in marketing for both long-form narratives and short, punchy taglines. Invest the same energy into each one, and you’ll resonate with a wider audience.

    Develop a Unique Voice

    In the ’80s, there was a brief stand-up fad of weird, extreme voices. For example…

    Thankfully, it was a short-lived trend, but it does illustrate how memorable a unique voice can be. Anyone who has heard Bobcat Goldthwait, Gilbert Gottfried, Judy Tenuta or Sam Kinison will never mistake them for someone else. On the flip side, the junkyard of comedy is strewn with the careers of bland comedians who were indistinguishable from each other.

    In marketing, it’s easy to slide into a kind of homogeneous, safe, “professional-sounding” corporate speak. Don’t make waves, use — I mean, utilize — the right jargon, and you can avoid offending anyone. The problem is, you’re also unlikely to avoid affecting anyone, too. Make your brand voice personable, lively and unique, and you will have something no competitor can copy.

    Serious Business Can Be Funny

    All of the above can help you as a marketer address, connect with, and affect your audience. But there’s one other thing that comedians do that marketers should do more often: Be funny. There’s plenty of room in B2B marketing for actual comedy, and those who do it well tend to be rewarded. And hey, if Intel can do it, so can you.

    Want more B2B marketing tips? Check out our report on the State of B2B Influencer Marketing.