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7 Things Marketing Can Learn from Improv

Marketing is both an art and a science. Throughout the last hundred years, marketing has ebbed and flowed between these two disciplines, never quite finding the elusive balance between them. In the last five years, the marketing industry has become increasingly infatuated with the science side – for very good reasons. Thanks to the rise of digital and social media, we now create approximately 2.5 quintillion bits of data daily according to IBM, and last year the number of marketing technology vendors doubled to over 1800 firms across 43 platform categories. This prolific technological rise requires the modern marketer to possess a more intense analytical focus and mature STEM-oriented skillset, with those that do so seeing their organizations enjoying visibly stronger ROI and overall business performance year-to-year.

But what about marketing’s art side? While not so cut and dry, the creative arts are equally vital to the success of the overall marketing mix. However, the process and cultural framework one needs to employ for superior creativity and innovation has not always been as clear – until now.

The rise of comedic improvisation introduced a new discipline that changed everything. Since the first half of the twentieth century, Chicago artists and comedic actors have carefully cultivated an approach to better creativity, collaboration and a change-oriented mindset – we know it today as The Art of Improvisation. What started out as a new method for teaching acting through simple parlor games has evolved into a world-class art form through the development of The Second City, Saturday Night Live and other improvisational communities.

Second City Improv Class

Author, Michelle Batten with her fellow improvisors at their Improv Graduation Level E Show in 2014

A few years ago, I decided to try out “improv” – mostly as a fun, creative outlet, plus I had heard from a few others that “doing improv” could also help improve my presentation skills. I signed up for a Level A Beginner class at Second City and soon discovered there was much, much more behind the gift of improvisation. Games were truly only the beginning of my year-long transformational journey from spectator to improviser, and I soon fell in love with my fellow improvisers, teachers and the craft itself. My experiences throughout A-E class levels fundamentally reshaped my views and approach to marketing and innovation. Improv offers an invaluable framework for individuals and organizations to continuously remain fresh, go bigger and bolder and capitalize on failures that add value, which everyone can appreciate and benefit from in the long run. While many marketing fundamentals like the four Ps remain true, the process and culture surrounding them for many brands have become stale and flat.

So, how can today’s marketers embrace their inner improv spirit? Look no further than the leaders of Second City itself. I recently picked up a copy of “Yes And’ – Lessons from the Second City” which highlights seven building blocks that marketers can draw from to put a little more zip, zap, zop into their brands:

1 – Yes And Attitude

Concept – Affirm, build and heighten ideas – suspend judgement and see what evolves first, use no sparingly.

Improv Muscle Building Exercise – “Word at a Time”

2 – Ensemble Mindset

Concept – Tight-knit, high-functioning group where the members perform as one through art of give and take

Improv Muscle Building Exercise – “Pass the Clap” and “Zip, Zap, Zop”

3 – Authentic Response

Concept – Funny is always grounded in the truth, call out the truth even when it’s hard to hear

Improv Muscle Building Exercise – “New Choice”

4 – Follow the Follower Approach

Concept – Leadership and expertise become dynamic, empowering individuals to bring their own ideas to the task

Improv Muscle Building Exercise – “Last Word”

5 – Listening First Habit

Concept – Much like “deep couch sitting”, deep listening also keeps you in the moment, not looking backward or three steps ahead

Improv Muscle Building Exercise – “Gibberish”

6 – Co-Creative Spirit

Concept – Dialogues push stories farther than monologues, partner up to develop the best ideas

Improv Muscle Building Exercise – “String of Pearls”

7 – Failure Fearlessness

Concept – Mistakes are the gift, they are a necessary and even interesting means to an end

Improve Muscle Building Exercise – “Bippity, Bippity, Bop”

A few brands have already embraced the world of improvisation to rock their brands – Progressive Insurance with sassy Flo and her ensemble of name your price characters are among the most well-known in the industry. While the creative more than speaks for itself, Progressive’s improv investment has also paid off handsomely in growing its Facebook and other social media fan base into the millions along with solid industry brand recognition in a very crowded field of fierce competitors.

Flo_Progressive_image_14JAN16

Improv will change your life too. I highly recommend taking at least the Level A Beginner class at Second City Training Center. For more information on available classes, go to http://www.secondcity.com/courses/chicago/adult/. You can also learn more from these great reads to improve your team building and personal leadership style ala improv:

Yes And’ – Lessons from the Second City by Kelly Leonard & Tom Yorton

The Second City Almanac of Improvisation by Anne Libera

The Second City Guide to Improv in the Classroom by Katherine S. McKnight & Mary Scruggs

I will leave you with three of my favorites from the Yes And’ authors “One Last List” epilogue:

Be Curious. Applaud Others. Love Your Work.

 

About Michelle Batten

Michelle Batten is a seasoned digital marketing & advertising leader. She has spent two decades in the interactive arena, working with Fortune 1000 brands + start-ups to define and execute their digital initiatives. An emerging media visionary, Michelle is currently serving as Head of Global Marketing for Mobile & Innovation Intrapreneur for Amadeus, a global travel technology company. She is also the President for the Chicago American Marketing Association. Her passions include culture + tech evolution, mentoring, experiential travel and foodspotting.

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