I recently finished my first level of improv classes. Three hours a week for eight weeks, I stepped on stage with a group of 15-some strangers and learned the techniques needed to establish a foundation for improvisation.
In the end, I realized I acquired skills that transferred off the stage and into the office. Here are eight lessons from improv that content marketers can apply to their practice.
1. Support the Group
One of the first things our instructor emphasized to us was: as improvisers, we were in this together. Everything we do on stage should be in support of one another. If someone has an idea, no matter how out there it may sound, we should agree and go with it.
Improv is a team sport and so is content marketing. Ensuring alignment of different departments, such as sales and marketing, will help seed solid content ideas and offer valuable perspective on the needs in the market.
Empower teams with the resources to make suggestions for new content topics and provide feedback on current pieces. Content marketers must clearly communicate that their initiatives are supporting shared goals of the company and that the support of the group will make strategies more successful.
2. Yes AND
An improviser supports teammates by saying yes. But, agreeing isn't enough. The improv mantra is "yes and..." ¬This provides a way to move a scene forward. Contributions from players help build on an idea, turning that idea into a scene.
The greatest content ideas are usually derived from discussion and collaboration. Oftentimes one suggestion will spark another tangential thought, allowing ideas to build and morph into something new and exciting.
Disruptive and engaging content is achieved by taking risks, not by holding back. Marketers should come to the table ready to share, and in the brainstorming stage, all ideas should be welcomed and encouraged.
3. Be Honest
Improv isn't about being funny. In fact, trying to be funny will most likely backfire and not work. Real emotion is derived from the truth, and honesty should be the guide on stage.
Content marketers are storytellers. Successful content is compelling and offers a personal touch to draw the reader in and make a connection.
Authentic and relatable content resonates, so marketers should draw from experience and observations. Transparency builds trust with an audience and helps turn prospects into customers and customers into advocates.
Whether on stage or waiting in the wings, the best thing an improviser can do is listen. Since dialog isn't scripted, improvisers must be able to adapt and react quickly to what's being said. If a player tunes out, even for a few seconds, he or she may miss a critical detail and the scene may stumble because of it.
Listening can be applied in two levels in content marketing:
- Internally: Content marketers should keep their ears perked to what's happening in the organization. By doing so, they may discover that new products or services are being offered and should be promoted or that a new type of consumer is being actively targeted.
- Externally: Listen to consumers and influencers – with what type of content and what topics are they actively engaged? These details will enrich content strategies and make them more effective.
5. Make Connections
Being a good listener enables an improviser to make connections. Lines heard in an earlier scene that the audience may have forgotten often make appearances later in the show. The magic happens when an improviser takes a seemingly mundane line and turns it into a memorable, recurring moment.
Marketers invest so much time in developing content, so they should embrace opportunities to repurpose it. Find ways to repackage existing content. Turn a detailed white paper into a digestible blog series or use it to inspire a webinar. The possibilities to extend the shelf life of content are endless!
6. People Before Plot
Scene work shouldn't be about advancing a plot; it should focus on the two people sharing the stage and their relationship. Within the first few seconds, the audience should get a sense of the mood on stage and the relationship of the characters, regardless of the "location" of the scene or what the characters happen to be doing. Relationships hook the audience and keep them interested.
Put customers at the center and develop content that speaks to varying audiences. Content marketers will benefit from devoting time to research and developing customer personas to help tailor messaging – no matter what the content topic.
7. Understand the World Around You
During our last class, our instructor left us with some parting advice. One of the more unexpected things she told us was to read the news and stay on top of current events. Understanding what's happening in the world makes someone a smarter improviser; topical references will resonate with the audience.
Marketers should not develop content in a vacuum, but rather, they should follow industry trends and provide commentary or education on emerging topics as relevant. Content should not be forced to fit timely news or events, but if marketers can find inspiration that fits their organization's brand, they should seize those opportunities. Anytime marketers can naturally align content with topics rising in search volume, opportunity expands.
8. Hone Your Practice
Week after week, I sharpened my skills by taking into account feedback I received. Debriefing a scene helped the group understand what worked, what could have been edited, and what other storylines and themes the scene could have inspired.
Additionally, I discovered that seeing other people do improv could help improve my game. I could watch shows with a more critical and acute eye and pick up on certain techniques the players employed in their work.
With time, content marketers can apply what they learn and refine their craft. Experience helps a writer find and develop his or her own personal style and point of view. Practice makes perfect so find opportunities to create content, even if small at first. And don't forget to keep consuming content – marketers can learn a lot from each other.
Be sure to improvise as you nurture your content development efforts. Just like learning any new skill, building a content marketing strategy requires patience and a willingness to try new things. Watch out as content continues to take center stage for brands in 2014 and beyond.