How can marketers borrow techniques from improv comedy to inform their content marketing?

That was the question Kathy Klotz-Guest tackled in her presentation, “How to Create Unforgettable Content Using Techniques from Improv Comedy.” Klotz-Guest is the founder of marketing consultancy Keeping It Human, Inc. and author of the forthcoming book, “Stop Boring Me! Improv-Powered Techniques to Create Kick-Ass, Engaging Marketing Content.”

So in spite of some anxiety about whether or not I could be funny on demand, I became part of Klotz-Guest's improv team for the duration of the presentation. 

Improv Goes Beyond Comedy

While “improv comedy” is the finished art form, “improv” refers to the elements, beliefs and routines that create the comedy. 

Improv comedy includes essential elements: spontaneous, supportive and encouraging, as well as certain rules: 1) make your partner look good and 2) use the "yes, and" versus "yes, but" method of response.

Great comedy can come when you combine all of these elements.

How Does Improv Apply to Content Marketing?

Go find 10 blogs or websites that cover your industry of choice. Chances are, nine of the 10 produce similar content. 

By using techniques from improv comedy, your content team has the potential to write the one blog that stands out from the other nine. 

Let’s take a look at improv techniques covered by Klotz-Guest and how they can be applied to content marketing.

'Yes, and': Encourage Idea Generation

An improv comedy scene begins with a basic premise that one of the actors kicks off with an action or statement. The other participants expand upon that statement with a “yes, and ….” 

"Yes, and" is useful for open-ended idea generation. According to Klotz-Guest, "You don't have to marry the idea. Just take it out for a few drinks." In other words: generate a list of ideas, then whittle it down to a few you’d actually want to implement.

In business settings, we’re quick to trigger the opposite of the “yes, and,” which is the “yes, but.” A common refrain is, “Yes, but we tried that before and it didn’t work.” 

“Yes, but” curtails conversation and stifles creativity.

Klotz-Guest worked with a volunteer to demonstrate the difference between the two:

  • Klotz-Guest: “For the next Meetup, let’s invite clowns to be the presenters.”
  • Volunteer: “Yes, and let’s have them wear funny clown costumes.”
  • Klotz-Guest: “Yes, and let’s move the Meetup to Hawaii.”
  • Volunteer: “Yes, and I’m sure we’ll have yummy island snacks to enjoy.”

This stood in stark contrast to the 'yes, but' approach:

  • Klotz-Guest: “For the next Meetup, let’s invite clowns to be the presenters.”
  • Volunteer: “Yes, but people find clowns a bit creepy.”
  • Klotz-Guest: “Well, let’s try one clown and see what happens.”
  • Volunteer: “Yes, but no one is going to show up.”

We went from yummy island snacks with clowns in Hawaii, to nothing. “Yes, but” made the conversation run out of steam, while “yes, and” led to some interesting ideas.

How to apply this technique: Brainstorm ideas for new content with a teammate (or teammates) using the “yes, and” process. Allow numerous cycles of “yes, and” to flow. Write down all ideas, then take a second pass to determine which to pursue.

Unexpected Combinations: Combine New Elements to Spark Ideas

In the next exercise, Klotz-Guest had us pair up. Each person picked a passion. The pair then combined the two passions to come up with as many new things as they could. My passion was blogging, while my partner’s passion was mountain biking.

ideation for content marketing using improv comedy techniques

Ideation for content marketing using techniques from improv comedy

My partner and I arrived at the following:

  • A brain-scanning device that reads your thoughts while biking and turns those thoughts into written content
  • Cameras and related recording equipment to capture the biker’s surroundings while on the ride. The video, audio and images would be added alongside the written content
  • Wearable tracking devices would record metrics like blood pressure and heart rate and insert them in the content
  • All of this content would be “live blogged,” and the resulting post would then live on as longform content

How to apply this technique: Pick a partner. Instead of a passion, each select a reason why customers purchase your products. Combine the two to see all the different ways you could create new content about this combination.

Create Contrast: Place Your Product in a Different Time Period

In this exercise, we each picked a product and put it in a different time period. What would people do with the product? How would they interact with it?

One group selected a digital camera as their product, then took it back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. They imagined the camera being positioned on a tripod. When it was John Hancock’s turn to sign, he’d walk up to the camera and say, “Hi, Mom!” 

We collaborated as a group to think of how a digital camera maker could use this in a content marketing campaign. They could create a series of posts or videos about the signing, and incorporate references to the future (e.g. “This is a #momentous occasion in our history. I will #TBT this photo years from now.”)

How to apply this technique: Take your company’s product and put it in a different time period. Brainstorm stories about how people in that time period interact with your product. Side note: jump on this one quickly, as once the idea catches wind, it won’t be quite as innovative.

Let’s Partner Up to Create Great Content

My biggest takeaway had nothing to do with comedy, and everything to do with the collaborative nature of improv. We can create great content by partnering up with collaborators inside and outside the organization. These improv techniques can open our minds to new possibilities, taking our content to places it’s never been. 

Are you ready to make the leap?

I hope you answer with “yes, and ….”

Title image Brooke Cagle