Improvised Marketing

Chicago is home to many iconic offerings – deep dish, the Cubs (or the White Sox, whatever floats your boat), and of course, CG Life!

Another hometown legendary offering is the art of improv. We have world class theaters and training centers including The Second City, iO, and The Annoyance. These institutions have been the launching pad for many famous comedians – from Farley to Fey.

That said, there’s a common misconception with improv. Many people think that improv is just a bunch of comedians making sh*t up on stage – but that’s simply not true. Improv is working with a team – using a set of best practices and guidelines – to come up with a compelling story.

That’s why improv lends itself so well to corporate training. Many of the big improv schools, and independent improvisers, have their own corporate programs. Companies even send their employees to take basic improv classes for professional development (many of my peers have been lawyers, ad execs, doctors, entrepreneurs, and any other occupation under the sun), because so many elements of improv relate to the professional world – especially improvised marketing.

Here are some of my key takeaways from my last two years at the Second City Training Center and CG Life, and the takeaways for your improvised marketing strategy.

Yes, and, because…

One of the most fundamental rules of improv is ‘Yes, and’.

It’s the notion that when one of your teammates throws out an idea that establishes who you are, where you are and what you are doing – you not only agree with them (yes), but you move the scene forward (and).

For example, your teammate says,

‘Claire, your new brine recipe is exceptional. This batch of pickles is going to put us on the map.’

Your teammate established that your name is Claire and the two of you are artisanal pickle makers trying to make it in the competitive world of pickling.

If following ‘Yes, and’ – you then don’t say, ‘My name isn’t Claire, it’s Jessica – and we’re dancers.’ You say something like,

‘Thanks, John! I’m just so nervous about our distribution meeting with Whole Foods. I hope they pick us up!’

You not only agreed with the premise that ‘John’ set-up, but you moved it forward by establishing you have a distribution deal in the works.

The game changer for me was when one of my improv teachers added to the idea of ‘Yes, and’ by throwing in ‘because.’ Really good improv doesn’t just move the scene forward – it moves the scene forward with purpose.

If following, ‘Yes, and, because,’ your conversation would go something like this:

‘Thanks, John! I’m just so nervous about our distribution meeting with Whole Foods. I hope they pick us up! It was Mom’s dying wish that we’d start a business together. She’d be so proud if we land this.’

Now you’ve agreed with the premise, moved it forward by establishing you have a distribution deal in the works, and added purpose by showing why we should care about siblings John and Claire landing this deal.

This fundamental rule of improv is applicable to the stories we tell in marketing – the good stories – emphasizing the because; the why I should care.

Yes – we provide next-generation DNA sequencing technology – and – it’s more rapid, accurate and scalable than anything else on the market – because – we know you need the most advanced tools for the work you’re doing in cancer research which will fundamentally change your understanding of the disease.

Not all ideas are good ideas, but they’re all worth exploring.

Starting a scene in improv is called ‘initiating.’ You or one of your scene partners need to start off by saying something to establish the who, what and where of the scene.

I’ve watched and participated in many a scene where the initiation was a bizzaro idea. But with plenty of quality yes, and, because-ing from other members on stage, it turned into a surprisingly beautiful, heartfelt and hilarious story.

Marketers like to say that they think outside the box—but oftentimes, especially in life science and healthcare, it’s easier to pass on the disruptive creative and stay with ideas that are ‘safe.’

I often catch myself saying, ‘There are no wrong answers in brainstorming!’ Because even some of the most out there, unsellable ideas can trigger a good one.

I’m not recommending running with the first idea someone throws out in a brainstorming session, but I am recommending you don’t dismiss it completely if it’s not ‘quite right.’ Because when exploring your improvised marketing strategy ideas further, you can find a way to refine and mold it to work for you in a fresh, new and unexpected way. And, remember if you feel initially uncomfortable about an idea, it has made an impression.

I got your back.

Before we go on stage for improv shows we go up to each member of our ensemble, look them in the eye and say, ‘I got your back.’

It’s a reminder to each other that if we’re struggling on stage, we have a team of other people behind us ready to jump in and help.

It’s an encouraging sentiment, enabling you to dig deep and take risks – knowing you have a team backing you up.

That’s how we work at our agency, too—and ultimately how we all should work in any office. We may work in different departments, but we are all members of the same team.

When I win, you win. When you lose, I lose. So let’s go out there together and win.

I got your back.

We got your back.

For more creative ideas to add to your marketing, PR or content strategy, see how we bring science to life.