The Latest from the ABM Experts
May 20, 2019
Does Your Business Need More Humor?
Written by Sangram Vajre
This week’s episode is with Tom Fishburne. If you’d like to listen to the full episode, you can check it out below.
Are people laughing at your business? Maybe you want them to.
Humor is not only a great selling tool, but a fantastic way to create internal cultural changes. But how do you get started?
Tom Fishburne started drawing cartoons on the backs of business cases as a student at Harvard Business School. His “Marketoonist” series now reaches hundreds of thousands of readers each week, and his cartoons have been featured by the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and the New York Times. He is the founder of Marketoonist, a content marketing agency focused on the unique medium of cartoons.
Here’s What We’re Covering Today:
- Fun Fact
- The Power of Laughing at Ourselves
- The Trojan Mouse
- Humor’s Best Target: Yourself
- The Four-Step Humor Process
- Sangram’s Summary
- A Challenge from Tom Fishburne
I’ve recently gotten into scenic design painting. I was working in business, and needed a creative outlet and that was cartoons. Now that I do that full time I need to have some other outlet. On the weekends I’m generally with a group of people working on stage sets.
I need to get out of my comfort zone. It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut. So I put myself in a position where I’m trying something new. It definitely comes back into the rest of my work. I find that when I go back to work after a weekend of doing something like that, I’m more creative.
The Power of Laughing at Ourselves at Work
Fishburne gave a widely viewed TEDx talk on the power of laughing at ourselves at work.
Laughing at ourselves lets us connect with other people on our teams and talk about disarming topics. It lets us be vulnerable. All of those things are very conducive to an effective work environment.
Mining those pain points for humor so that you’re all laughing together at some commonly shared experience makes the audience feel like “this company gets me.”
Some companies may be reluctant to try humor because it has the potential to backfire. Fishburne believes those concerns are overblown.
Long-term Fishburne customers include companies in workforce management, banking, and other highly regulated industries, such as pharmaceuticals.
While those companies have a high level of sensitivity, there’s always an opportunity to show some humor. You just have to find the right tone of voice.
The Trojan Mouse
How do you introduce humor into a fairly stiff corporate culture?
Instead of a big Trojan horse, Fishburne recommends what he calls the Trojan mouse.
The Trojan mouse is something that starts small, and you slide it under the gates and allow it to propagate.
It starts as a stealth project, a small miniseries that’s allowed to take on a life of its own before it gets to a larger point where it becomes an official campaign.
Most of Fishburne’s humor projects (about two thirds) are for external marketing, but a third are for internal cultural change. This is where Trojan mice can really flourish.
One executive in a larger organization wanted to drive some change, but she was concerned about the sensitivities. So she commissioned a small series of cartoons made to look like they came from the outside. She shared them around her office and said, “here’s something really funny, and I think it relates to us.” From there it turned into a branded cartoon series.
Humor’s Best Target: Yourself
Fishburne’s favorite target is himself and the struggles all marketers face. The cartoon above reflects something that was actually said in one of his meetings.
Half the time, when Fishburne is working on his own business marketing, he notes his own pain points and foibles. In humor, the more personal and specific it is, the more universal it is.
The Four-Step Humor Process
Fishburne has created a formal process around generating humor.
- The Discovery Phase: He does a deep dive to understand the target audience. He focuses on their pain points and struggles. He surrounds himself with source material.
- The Concepting Phase: Fishburne enforces a distraction-free work space for at least two hours every morning where he plays with ideas. Then he goes about the rest of his day. When he comes back to them the next day, his subconscious has moved forward on some of the ideas.
- The Editorial Phase: Like many artists, Fishburne separates his freewheeling content creation mornings from more critical thinking editorial tasks in the afternoon.
- Client Consultation Phase: After a few days of this process he has cartoons that are ready to rough up and share with the client.
- There’s power in laughter. When you do that, you connect with people at a much deeper level. Humor is shorthand for empathy.
- Humor starts from a place of making yourself vulnerable. You make it a little silly and people become less tense or stressed so they can get back to the most important things in life.
- You can inject humor into the workplace with a Trojan mouse, a small experiment or a test that first focuses on an internal audience.
In the vein of the Trojan mouse, one of the best places to start is how you communicate with your own colleagues on your team.
I recently got involved with a new Stanford Business School course that’s all about The Power of Humor and Business. They challenged everyone to find one email they sent over the last week that feels like they’re not talking like a human.
Very often in business conversation we can be very stilted and artificial because we use buzzwords, acronyms, and try to make ourselves look smart. We say things we would never actually use in a conversation.
I encourage everyone to find one email like that and rewrite it as if you were actually in a conversation trying to engage the person with a bit of humanity and humor.
Train yourself to have more of a conversational tone of voice that will eventually bleed through into your external marketing.