When my friend, improv actress Katie Goodman, and I decided to co-teach a workshop, it felt like a natural.
She uses improvisation exercises as a life coach. I’m a marketing consultant who mainly helps small businesses and solopreneurs tell their stories.
What? That doesn’t sound like peanut butter and jelly to you?
I spent last weekend in Montana at an improv workshop Katie led that reconfirmed our connection. Many lessons of improv apply to marketing communication.
As you may know, improv is acting without the benefit of a script.
Through the course of the weekend, we partnered up to write poetry, sing songs and act out scenes totally created in the moment, based on suggestions from the audience — give me an object, an emotion, a type of location.
Katie directed us to listen closely to our scene partners, to be open to new ideas, whether they’re your own or other people’s, and of course to follow the best known philosophy of improv, to always build on other people’s ideas, instead of negating them, by using a “yes, and …” approach. All good advice in life, as well as on stage.
She also advised us to say what’s in our heads. You have to decide who you are, where you are and what you want, and communicate all three clearly or your partner doesn’t know how to react.
For example, we begin an improv scene and I just say “Sure is hot.” I might have an idea that we’re in a sauna, at the beach or standing on the surface of the sun, but my partner has to figure out how to react to me with almost no information.
If instead I say, “Wow it’s hot! I’ve been in this desert for a week and I ran out of water three days ago. Do you have any water?” I’ve given my partner enough information to maybe picture she’s got to get off her camel to share her jug of water with me.
When it works, it’s like watching skilled ballroom dancers. Partners appear to move together effortlessly, and though one is following and the other leading, the direction is invisible to the audience and both have equally important roles in their shared success.
How is improv like marketing?
I frequently see businesses creating content that doesn’t tell me who they are, where they are and what they want. As a result, I don’t know how to react.
Do you tell clearly me what you do? Don’t assume I remember what your business is or that I know everything you offer. So this isn’t just a one-time task but something you should think about with every communication. Develop a concise phrase or sentence you can recycle, such as “We have the biggest selection of whiskeys in Michigan” or “We capture family memories.” Connect everything you write or share with the way you hope I’ll spend money with you.
If you’re a store, spa, restaurant or some other physical location I might visit, you need to tell me where you are or I can’t visit you. It sounds basic, but too many websites make it a challenge to find a business’s location, hours or phone number. Don’t make me play hide and seek to give you my money.
And here’s the big one: What do you want?
When I open your marketing email, what do you want me to do? In marketing, this is known as the call to action. Sometimes it’s a giant blinking “BUY NOW!” button, but even when it’s subtler, you should know specifically what action you want your audience to take, make a clear request and make it easy to do.
Dan Zarrella, a social media data researcher, has studied the words and phrases in tweets that are most likely to get retweeted. On that list are “please,” “retweet,” and “please retweet.” When you’re clear about what you’d like people to do, they’re more likely to do it.
I had a boss years ago who asked me to write every email to him so he could answer it with one word — yes or no. That made me get crystal clear on what I wanted. I couldn’t just explain a situation and let him infer how he could help. I had to get specific enough on my recommendation or request so he could simply write, “yes.”
I think marketing communications should have that clarity. Declare who you are, where you are and what you want so you give your customer enough information to easily say yes.
Or in the case of improv, maybe that’s yes, and.