At Second City, we sweat the details in customizing our message to our audience. After all, that’s what we do when we create our stage material. In our recent keynote address at the B2B Content2Conversion 2017, we wanted to connect with a message that was relevant to marketers in the cagey, crazy, data-drunk world of B2B Sales & Marketing. What we learned was something surprising: B2B Content Marketers aren’t so different from improvisers. The tools are different, their jargon is more expensive and they probably have better insurance, but here are three surprising similarities between marketers and improvisers that just might give you insight into the people paid to find insight:
Improvisers succeed on stage when they make it their focus to listen. They listen to their audience, listen to their scene partner, listen to the subtle cues from the music director. Improvisers give the appearance of being quick-witted on stage because they are building upon real audience truths moment by moment. Marketers trying to reach other businesses are also great listeners – gathering data, to be sure, but also taking the time to listen to the insight from the salesforce, their solution builders and anyone who can help them understand their audience. Before they get creative with the messaging, they get creative with how they learn about their customers: Buying data, harvesting from their CRM, sorting through research and peeping through windows. (Metaphorical windows!) In other words, they listen.
“It takes creativity to translate the data insight into human insights and then into engaging messaging.”
Is it creepy that their data can help them target you at the right place at the right time with a good guess as to what might be on your mind? Yes, but it’s also pretty cool. Improvisers don’t have huge databases in their back pockets, but they know about delivering the right message at the right time. That edgy material that works later in a show may not be appropriate early on. The audience isn’t on your side yet, not until you’ve gained their trust with a few killer scenes first. Also, that scene that works so well in Chicago might get a tepid reaction when it tours to a smaller market. Like great marketers, improvisers take note of how their audience responds to a message. They adjust their tactic and they try again. There is one important difference though: improvisers don’t spend much time crafting ‘customer personas.’ Unless you count “That weird laughter in the front row” or “Sour faced Dad on the aisle” and the many other types we talk about at intermission.
“As uncannily insightful as the data gets, it still takes human finessing to get the messaging just right.”
As uncannily insightful as the data gets, it still takes human finessing to get the messaging just right. The roads will be filled with self-driving cars long before algorithms and automation can replace the big human brains behind the B2B content. Data on its own is not the full picture, no matter how much that nerdy-cool data provider wants you to think it is. It takes creativity to translate the data insight into human insights and then into engaging messaging. On stage, improvisers do their own version of this. Some guy in the audience might scream “POTATO” as a suggestion based on the prompt “What’s a breakfast food?” The performers will certainly use this suggestion for their scene, but the real laughs come from the way they build on the ‘why’ behind the suggestion ‘’ Why did this guy yell out potato (and not eggs)? Why did his family look embarrassed when he screamed? Why did he scream it so enthusiastically? Why did everybody laugh at the way he said ‘potato?’ All of this subtle information, married with the intuition of the performers, feeds the real magic of the performance. So far, no robot can provide this creative umami. Likewise, B2B Marketing will always need the humans to make magic from the data and then to convince the sales team why the messaging matters.
A great improv show leaves the performers and the audience feeling connected. After all, you’ve just created something marvelous together. Our visit to B2B Content2Conversion 2017 left us feeling like we’d found some unlikely kindred spirits in our audience. We may not speak the same language – they might have cooler acronyms – but we’re both obsessed with getting our audiences to react. We both have an enormous capacity for endless conversations about our audience over drinks. B2B Marketers, we are your newest superfans!
(Now we just hope you accept our LinkedIn invite!)
About the Author:
Andy Eninger is a writer, director and performer based in Chicago in the great state of Illinois. For Second City Works, he designs and leads learning programs for Fortune 500 clients. He was the head of Second City’s Writing Program from 2011 to 2016.