Productivity Booster

That’s Not Funny

In September it will be two years since the release of B2B Marketing Confessions. I spent the year after it was published on promotion and working on the audio version of the book, and then it was time to start the next big thing.

After writing about one of the most boring business topics of all time I was excited to get working on a concept that came to me before Confessions was done – the intersection of business and humor. The big ideas were clear – the question of why things are funny is a fertile topic, and the mirage of the “viral video” that every marketing department chases at at least once (if not dozens of times) is often ridden towards on the camel of humor.

After over a year of research I bring you… nothing.

Or, maybe this is a true gift, a blog post with a few good points as opposed to a 200 page book with 195 pages of filler. What I have learned that is important, but not enough for a book:

  1. There is no formula for funny.
  2. Like chess, there are some proven openings, but you have to do the hard work of filling in the details and there’s no guarantee you’ll get it right (in fact you won’t most of the time as you start). And get this – comedy case studies are useless, once the joke is out copycats are viewed with disdain.
  3. At the heart of comedy is the irony of us being woefully unable to deal with everyday life. For more on this, Steve Kaplan’s “The Hidden Tools of Comedy” is worth reading.
  4. Brute force does work. As a young person I thought Johnny Carson was just an amazingly funny guy, then I learned there are teams of people that drive the late night shows. I don’t know why this was so surprising to me, I was also amazed to hear about the same thing about This American Life, only about half of the segments that get made make it to the airwaves.
  5. Committees never work, it may be funny, but not funny enough to go viral. This is the bane of corporate humor. Pretty good for 10 people is not even in the same country, never mind neighborhood of awesome to 1. Even great to 4 people will probably be ignored.
  6. Humor never works when there is power disparity – making jokes when you are laying someone off is a bad idea. If you are the big boss you may be in for a rude awakening when you tell the same jokes and stories to people not on your payroll.
  7. Humor runs the risk of being offensive. As mentioned earlier, a lot of humor is about our inability to deal with life. That’s why there are a lot of victims in comedy and that doesn’t always mesh with political correctness or the PR position of your brand.
  8. Much of business is improvisation. I thought there would be a lot of material here. There are a bunch of books on improvisational comedy. 99% of it boils down to working well with your partners and some generally agreed to frameworks (again back to the chess openings). The other theme here that keeps showing up is: do a ton of writing.
  9. “Be funny” is like saying, “be charming, be empathic, be service oriented, be a great product designer”. Good advice at first listen, until you realize that there aren’t any detailed instructions besides “Listen well, and act appropriately”.
  10. To do one great video, create 10 maybe you’ll be lucky and get one hit. Doing projects one at a time guarantees failure.

Although there’s no getting the year back, I did learn a lot and it may have led me to the next idea. I keep coming back to the art and science of marketing. The big idea there highlights the weakness of comedy: comedy is an art and without the science of connecting it in some way to your product, it’s entirely possible to create something successful (even viral baby!) that drives ZERO sales. I get that zero sales feeling from Comedy & Business, so it’s time to apply some science.

Productivity Booster

Recent Marketing Resources

I caught up with a friend for lunch at The Merchant yesterday, which is a hot lunch spot right now. It’s always fun to watch the responses people give when the host informs them that unless they have a reservation they are out of luck.

I’m able to get advice from both a seasoned entrepreneur and parent, and he gets the benefit what’s come out of Marketing Over Coffee, distilled down to what tools or tech might be useful for specifically his business. And, when I start writing long winded emails full of links I figure I might as well take the general stuff and share it with the whole world.

Google Analytics is changing so fast it makes my head hurt. That’s disconcerting considering number of years I’ve worked with web analytics. I feel bad for someone digging in for the first time. The good news is there’s Training and Certification here, and some good ongoing stuff published here.

I haven’t gotten around to posting the transcript of my talk with Simon Sinek on his new book, Leaders Eat Last. That link goes to his book, and here’s one to his first book, Start With Why, which is fantastic. If you want to get an overview on both of them you can listen here on Leaders Eat Last, and here for Start With Why.

We’ve also been using Slack at Qrious and it’s great. Sort of like having your own private Facebook for work. If you know it’s like Chatter.

Anything new and interesting in your toolkit?


Daily Life

Why People Hate You for Talking Politics Online

This post has been in my draft bin since the last Presidential election. I was trapped in the loop of having to publish a post on politics about why it’s bad for your reputation to post about politics.

In theory all voters would make a rational decision and the best candidate would win. If all Americans applied the same logic, one candidate would get all the votes. Of course this never happens. Voters apply a value to each of the characteristics of a candidate and then ultimately choose a single candidate. These characteristics fall into 3 major categories based on significant research I did while driving home yesterday listening to a boring audiobook:

  1. The candidate’s stand on issues (taxation, abortion, medicare, welfare, ad infinitum)
  2. The candidate’s party (that has it’s own stance on both issues and ideology (how the Constitution should be interpreted, the role of Government itself, ad nauseam)
  3. The candidate’s personality (values, appearance, ability to look good on TV, if they’ve been caught as an outright cheat and liar, [#LatinPhrase])

Every voter does their own calculus to determine how to cast a vote. Some consider party affiliation most important and don’t have to think much. Others get wrapped up in mental gymnastics such as struggling with the relative value of a candidate being pro-choice being as positive, versus allegedly claiming to be Native American for preferential treatment when applying for jobs (especially when I didn’t have the stones to try that stunt on my own college applications).  Every person assigns different values to these factors, giving us an infinite spectrum of possible reasons why to vote for a candidate.

Another factor is the two party system – many polarizing opinions end up getting adopted by one party, with the counterpoint on the other. This gives you interesting logic puzzles that complicate the calculus – like justifying your opinion on abortion with your opinion on foreign policy (you might do anything to save a fetus, unless it is now grown and in some country we are at war with and needs to be killed).

You go through the exercise to determine what issues are important enough to swing your vote in one direction and cast your ballot. Here’s where you get burned – you’re thinking “These 1-5 factors are what I consider the most important, and I have cast my vote”. You feel you are standing up for your important short list, but to everyone that sees you brag about your candidate on Facebook they see you as against their short list. While you think you are standing up for your 1-5 things,  you are seen as standing against an infinite list of topics for the half of America on the other side of the aisle. Talking about your vote for the “Pro-Life” candidate causes you to be perceived by others as not only “Anti-choice”, but pro-mortgage crisis, pro-guns, pro-screw the poor, regardless of your actual opinions on those issues. Vice versa, posting about your recent “Pro-Choice” candidate vote immediately causes some to identify you not only as  “Pro-Death”, but anti-family, anti-church, anti-business hippie, pro-creating the fall of America through the welfare state, and any other thing the right is against that you are now the proud spokesperson for.

The short answer is – do you want to advertise that you are against what half of America considers most important? Your best odds are now 50/50 on your next sale or job interview, are you really looking to make your life tougher?

The candidates, the press, the pundits – all of them get paid for taking a side. What do you get for lending your reputation to a political party/candidate/issue? Remember the poker adage, if you are looking around the table and you can’t figure out who the sucker is; you just did.