Funny marketing is memorable, but it’s also not easy. What if there’s a framework to help you use humor in your marketing? My guest today will teach you how to be funny with your copy and increase conversions.
Today we have Lianna Patch, expert conversion copywriter and Copy Director at SNAP Copy. In this episode, you’ll learn how, where, and when to use humor in your copy, how to find jokes that resonate with your audience, and how to convince clients to take risks and get funny.
Listen to the episode:
- Is there any industry that’s too serious for humor?
- How to convince your clients to use humor
- How to research your customer’s sense of humor?
- How to make sure that the humor isn’t “off-brand”
- How to create a joke from customer reviews
- The improv’ frameworks you can use to produce humor on your copy
- How to codify humor in your company
- How to use humor in “high-tension” moment in the customer journey
- Why humor can increase trust
- What Lianna thinks marketers should learn in 5, 10, 50 years
- Learn Inbound
- Cards Against Humanity
- Michael Scott’s improv skit (The Office)
- Punchline Conversion Copywriting
- SNAP Copy
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour and welcome to another episode of EveryoneHatesMarketers.com, the no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founds and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host Louis Grenier. In today’s episode you’ll learn why, where and how to infuse your marketing with humor.
Louis: My guest today is kind of funny. I know that because I saw her speak live at a conference recently and I actually dislocated my jaw after laughing too hard. That’s not true, I didn’t. But I actually read a story of somebody who did. Not laughing at my guest or with my guest but laughing at someone and literally dislocating their jaw, so it could happen. Anyway, my guest today is a conversion copywriter and comedian. Her greatest dream for you is to make your customer’s pause, smile and click. As I mentioned, she speaks at many marketing conferences like Learn Inbound, Unbounce’s Call to Action, Content Jam, et cetera, et cetera.
Louis: That’s why I’m super happy to have you, Lianna, onboard, welcome.
Lianna: Thank you so much. It makes me want to do my own French accent, but I will save you from that.
Louis: Go ahead.
Lianna: French people really don’t like it. I used to date somebody whose dad was French-Israeli. I worked for him and he was always like, “Hey Lianna, did you send that email to the person that is supposed to work with use next week?” You have to shake your head while you do it.
Lianna: I’ll stop now.
Louis: From left to right.
Lianna: I’ll be done. I just had to get that out. I just felt that happening and it’s like [crosstalk 00:01:30]
Louis: It’s good. I’m actually impressed by your-
Louis: All right. We can do it in French if you want.
Lianna: No! I really don’t.
Louis: No worries. So it’s a weird thing about humor because humor makes people laugh, right?
Lianna: I hope so.
Louis: I was trying to think about this making people laugh. Isn’t laughing kind of a weird emotional… like human emotion or human reaction?
Lianna: Yes. And there’s… I don’t want to cut you off if you have more questions, but there’s so many ways this have been studied from the physiological angle, from the emotional angle. Some people have suggested that laughing is a response to winning an argument, so that it’s descended from the primal roar of victory. Other people it’s like, “Oh, it’s the physical expression of relief of tension.” Which obviously holds water if you’ve ever broken the ice with a joke and everyone’s like, “Oh, thank god somebody said something.” Anyway, yes, there’s a lot of ways to look at laughing itself. What were you going to say?
Louis: No, that’s it. It’s a weird thing and I was curious to hear what you knew about laughing as a human response. It definitely comes from a long, long time ago. I think I remember reading in a book about these monkeys showing their teeth as a way to show submission, and that laughing, smiling and all that is kind of a way for us to show submission to say that we’re friendly.
Lianna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: At least smiling, but laughing is another thing altogether. Anyway, I don’t want to go too far into that. I just wanted to take about it a bit to see if you knew anything about it, and you do so that’s good.
Lianna: You’re like, “I’m just testing you, how deep can we go?”
Louis: Yeah. I know that as soon as listeners looked at the title of this episode, they’re wondering, “Okay. Humor, that’s all good. That’s funny. Some people are funny. I’m not funny. I work in a shitty industry, B2B. Everyone is boring, they wear suits. They go to conferences and all. Can I actually be funny?” Let’s first answer this question, is it for everyone? Is it for a few people? Who is it for?
Lianna: Okay, so humor is for everyone. And even if you are not funny, you can learn principles that will make you feel and seem funnier. I’m not going to turn you from boring Joe Bob, whoever, into a famous standup because I can’t teach you social cues. If you’re not good at reading a room and knowing when your jokes don’t land, then I can’t fix that. But I can teach people improv and standup techniques that will make them better able to come up with humor in their marketing. So short answer, yes. You can learn to be funny, or-
Louis: What’s the most boring industry you’ve seen humor used in?
Lianna: I have been lucky to work with some really boring industries, and that’s actually my favorite type of work to do because the bar is so low, nobody’s expecting to get… I wrote some transactional emails for a company that sells sprinkler parts and landscaping parts wholesale. The feedback on the transactional emails was like, “This was great. Really unexpected. Made me laugh. I’ll definitely be back.” Because you don’t expect to get an abandoned cart email that’s like, “Jarred is under his desk. You left your cart. He can’t go home. He’s been here for days. Please finish checking out.” You’re like, “Maybe I would have expected that from Cards Against Humanity but not this sprinkler supply store.”
Louis: That’s a great example. Have you ever seen situations where it doesn’t land at all? It’s an industry so opaque and so serious that is doesn’t fucking land, don’t even try there.
Lianna: Honestly, no. I think before anybody in those industries tries it, somebody shoots it down. So somebody in the C-suite will say, “Well this just doesn’t feel right.” And that comes from fear. The only industry where I’ve seen people be super reluctant to even consider trying it is the funeral and death industry, obviously. But even there, there is room. I tell people about this ad that I saw a while back which was an ad for a funeral home. I think it was a British funeral home. It was an old lady in a wheelbarrow, and the title was something along the lines of, “Why pay For all the bells and whistles when you’re just going to be in the ground soon?” It was super dark and awesome.
Louis: Yeah, dark and awesome. But you mentioned the F-word. It’s interesting the F-word that you just mentioned because I actually was very curious about this. I feel that the reason why people struggle with this concept of humor and don’t try to be funny is because they’re afraid. You mentioned fear, right?
Lianna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: Before we go into the how-to of how to actually insert humor in your marketing, I know you have a few ways to do that, you have a course about it and all of that. How do you convince people who are afraid of actually trying something like that, which is quite edgy. Humor is not easy. How do you convince them to actually give it a shot?
Lianna: Yeah. I try to not have to convince too many people. I want them to be excited about it from the beginning so it’s easier for me to sell. That said, I point to the actually psychological impact, the emotional impact and the relationship that we’re trying to build, all of which have been studied by humor theorists and scholars, right? There are proven benefits to using humor to relieve tension, boost information recall, build a deeper and better relationship of whoever your person is, whether you’re trying to get them to sign up or buy or whatever, so that when you do try to make the sale, you have that understanding already built and you have that good feeling.
Lianna: I point to the actual benefits of it and say, “We’re going to work based on research. We’re going to figure out what your audience thinks is funny based on the same kind of qualitative research that we would do for straight conversion copy, regular conversion copy. We’re just going to focus more on what’s funny to them and bring that in strategically.”
Louis: Let’s take one step before that, right?
Louis: That’s the step where people contact you because they’re almost convinced that this is good for them, right? They’re kind of at the… To use marketing lingo, they are at the bottom of the funnel, right?
Lianna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: But what if you don’t know you need it, you know? What if in your marketing general you are kind of scared of taking risks and you are not really the type of person who likes to experiment so you kind of do boring. When everyone zigs, you zig as well type of marketing. What’s your way of shaking that feeling and saying, “You need to actually stand out.”
Lianna: I am usually just like, “Hey, let’s give it a try. Let’s perform a test in a controlled environment. If you have an automated email series, let’s replace one of more of those emails with a funny test version and see how that performs against the control.” And then if I get some buy-in like that, I’ll usually start with a test project for people who are a little more scared. That could be like an email or a product description or a B version of a landing page, or even just a headline somewhere. Usually we see both quantitative and anecdotal responses improve, like, “Oh, I really liked this email.”
Lianna: I get this all the time with my own email welcome series where people feel the need to hit reply even though it’s clearly automated. And they say, “I love these. Keep them coming.” That’s the feedback that I get most often. And then I have to be like, “Well, there’s 10 of them and then I will never email you again, so sorry about that.”
Louis: Give me an example of inside one of your welcome emails, one that seems to hit the mark pretty well.
Lianna: I think it’s the very first one that I send after people confirm. It says, “Hey, remember how yesterday you signed up for this email series? It’s awesome.” There’s a GIF of Steve Colbert high-fiving a hand that pops up from his desk. And then it says, “Here’s what you’re going to get from me.” And there’s some bullet points with what they can expect, so I’m previewing the rest of the series and then it’s like, “Eat your vegetables, get to bed on time and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” And people are like, “I’m so excited for this. It’s so different from other series that pop up in my inbox.”
Louis: Yeah. Yeah. That’s already much friendlier than I ever was in my email, so I’m kind of jealous right now.
Lianna: Oh, I doubt that.
Louis: But it’s okay. I learn from you. I learn from you. So actually learning from you is what we’re doing today together.
Lianna: Thanks. Hopefully.
Louis: In the premise of the episode I mentioned how to actually insert humor in your marketing. And I mentioned as well, you have a course live now because we’re recording this episode while it’s being pre-launched, but actually at the time the episode would go live it’s going to be launched.
Lianna: I hope so.
Louis: It will be. Now you have to. Let’s start from step one, right? You’ve decided as a marketer, “Okay. We’re going to add some humor into our life, into our marketing.”
Lianna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: I don’t know where to start. Where do you actually start? What is step number one?
Lianna: So step number one is always that research, right? You have to get to know your audience, your customer. You have to know what their “journey” is. I don’t know if that’s a dirty word, funnel and journey and whatever you want to call it.
Louis: Journey’s fine.
Lianna: Journey. Okay, journey’s fine. So you’ve mapped out the journey that you want them to take, right? One way that I like to teach people to look at it is by two states of mind that humans are always alternating between. This is where we come into some of the cognitive psychology of humor. We’re constantly switching between a goal orientated state and a play orientated state. So it’s telic, paratelic. Humor is what triggers us to shift between these, “I’m going to get shit done,” state of mind and the like, “Oh, I can browse Reddit and laugh at this teacup pig pushing a shopping cart full of beer.” Which is a thing.
Louis: Just random example. Just not specific at all.
Lianna: Has no one else seen that perfect image?
Louis: It is perfect.
Lianna: We were blessed with this image long ago on Reddit. So, if you’re mapping your customer journey, you know where you need people to be in that very focused goal orientated state because you know where you need them to do something for you; click or buy or add to cart or whatever. But you also know where they’re going to be a little bit more tense, where they’re going to feel a little bit more anxious. One of the examples I like to give often is under a call to action button, we’re asking someone to do something right? Well you have this opportunity under that button with some click trigger copy. We have the opportunity to assuage their anxiety, to give them a moment of relief. That’s one of my favorite spots to use humor because it’s like…
Lianna: Normally you see just straight objection reducing there like, “Your credit card information is safe with us. We’ll never email you more than we need to. We never share your email address.” Whatever it is you’re signing up for, I like to say, “We do ask for your credit card, but that’s just because we have a lot of online shopping to do.” Or like, “What’s behind this button? Who knows! Got to click it to find out.” Something that indicates, “Hey, a human person was here trying to connect with you. You can trust us.” I think that works better with certain markets and certain consumers than just the regular, “Hello, and welcome to our business site where you can click things and we will do things.”
Louis: Let’s go back to this principle. Let me make sure I understood properly what you said.
Lianna: Sure. I get excited and I kind of ramble.
Louis: So we have humans switch between two states. The playfulness state and the kind of goal orientated state, right?
Lianna: Yeah. Yeah.
Louis: What you want to do when they’re in a goal orientated mindset when they read your website because they want to get something done, you’re going to make them switch to a kind of a play mindset. You want to do that because you’re more likely to build a connection this way. You’re going to alleviate their objections by removing the tension a bit, yeah? Like you’re relieving tension
Lianna: Yeah, and there’s multiple benefits to putting them in that play orientated state depending on where you are in the funnel. You might be relieving anxiety, but you might also just be training to expect that whenever they come into contract with you it’s going to be delightful, so why wouldn’t they open your next email? Why wouldn’t they buy your next product? Because they’re already been trained that this is something different. This is something fun.
Lianna: It’s kind of a balance between not wasting people’s time, but also giving them a moment of joy that they might not otherwise experience “at work”.
Lianna: Or buying, or whatever it is.
Louis: And you started to answer my question by saying just do customer research, just start by research which is luckily enough what most people in this podcast say, which is great because it’s the trait of good marketers I believe. I don’t want to go too far into customer research 101 because we mentioned that multiple times, but I’m pretty sure you have some unique ways to get to know customers so you can understand the sense of humor and all of that.
Lianna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: What do you mean by this? How do people can do their research from the humor side of things from the evidence?
Lianna: Yeah, so people are already probably asking those important questions like, “What are your biggest problems? What brought you to consider our solution or our product today?” I like to just throw in a combination of questions about that user’s sense of humor and fun moments in the research process. If I’m sending out a survey I’ll add in… Hi cat, do you need something? Oh, she’s got a mouse. It’s not a real mouse, fake mouse. No animals were harmed in the production of this podcast.
Louis: I thought that was the question you were asking your customers, you’re not.
Lianna: Yeah, I’m like, “Hey cat, would you like to participate in a user research project?” She’s like, “No, I’m good chewing on this mouse.” Anyway, where was I? So if I’m sending out a survey and I’m saying, “Tell us all the meaty, juicy details about your problem. Give us your verbatim answer so that I can work those into the copy.” I’ll also say like, “If you had to pick between these standup comics, which is your favorite? Or if you had to pick between these ’90s TV shows, which one speaks to you the most?”
Lianna: I also get this a lot from talking directly to clients, because a lot of the time the voice or the personality that we’re trying to create, the sense of humor needs to feel genuine to the brand director or the founder, who ever it is. They don’t want to create a funny brand voice that has nothing to do with them. It’s kind of a hybrid of, “Hey, what TV shows and comics and cartoons did you grow up with? What do you think is funny? What kinds of things do people joke about in Slack? Do you have any customer emojis that you guys put in there?” So that you can make sure when you do make a joke, you have this library of references to pull from.
Lianna: We’ll know I shouldn’t reference Friends because nobody in this audience ever watched Friends, but they really like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, so maybe I should go a little bit more edgy and violent almost with the humor versus jokey and goofy. Does that make sense?
Louis: I’m smiling because… Yes. I’m smiling because you’re already revealing some sort of secret sauce I believe.
Lianna: Oh, I hope so.
Louis: But you’re not going at it 100% yet, so let’s get even deeper.
Lianna: Oh god.
Louis: You’re asking questions-
Lianna: Buy me dinner first Louis.
Louis: You’re asking questions like, “What’s your favorite TV show? Favorite standup comedian?” To the client you would ask, “Do you have any customer emojis or any recurring joke or stuff like that?” You want to know the intersection of the two. Basically the intersection of your customer’s customer’s sense of humor, and your customer’s sense of humor, right?
Lianna: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Louis: But are those all the questions you ask or do you like to ask more? Is there really the ones that you always come back to, the things that you always want to know from the customer and the customer’s customer?
Lianna: Those are some of them, but also these things just happen in conversation, especially if you’re doing one-to-one client interviews. If you get to a place where someone’s comfortable, they have a good rapport with you, you can try out a couple of jokes on them or just crack a joke here and there to break the ice or lift the tension like I was saying earlier. And then they come forth with something more honest than they were going to say.
Lianna: Those are some of the questions that I normally ask clients, but I also just do that normal research mining where I’ll go through and look at reviews or customer support emails and say, “What are people joking about? What are the common perceptions about the product or the business that we can play on? What is the topic that we can joke about here and how are people already doing it?”
Lianna: Is this making sense? It’s kind of a nebulous.
Lianna: And also this cat is screaming at me. She’s freaking out. Come here dummy. She says hi.
Louis: You would do review mining and normal customer research but do you apply the slant of humor into it? You don’t look for what the problems people mentioned necessarily or what typical conversion copywriter or copywriters are looking to or marketers are working to. You really look at it from a humor standpoint which is something I’ve never heard before, which is awesome. You really look at it, maybe on Amazon reviews, maybe some of the reviews include some sort of a joke, some sort of funny stuff and you get inspired by that, right?
Lianna: I’m looking at it for both. I want to say that the humor comes in more toward the end of the strategizing and writing process so it starts out with that research. If I come across a joke that somebody makes in a review or a support chat, that’s great and I’ll take note of that but there’s not enough of that to really base conclusions on at the beginning. It’s more like mapping that customer journey, listing out the pains and objections and then saying, “Okay, which of these are good and fruitful sources or joke material?”
Lianna: Like if somebody compares this email service provider deliverability like basically lobbing a brick with a note on it through a window. Sure, I’ll use that but what other jokes can we build around deliverability as a topic that will speak to the issues that people are having with other products so we can position ourselves against the competition while making a joke that makes the user feel understood. Like, “We’ve done the research. We understand what problems you have or potential problems you have. Let’s make a joke around those to show you that we understand them and that we’re thinking about them.”
Louis: That’s awesome. You are a conversion copywriter, but you have the specialty of humor but you still do the rest, right?
Louis: You still look at terminology, problems and what not?
Louis: And we’ve mentioned that multiple times in the podcast before. If you’re listening to this episode right now and want to know more about it just go to EveryoneHatesMarketers.com and search for conversion copywriting or copywriting. You’ll find plenty of episodes mentioning that exact thing, but the humor side is something we never really touched on before.
Louis: So, to go deeper into that. Now we have research, we have the basic conversion research. We understand with what they struggle with. We also understand their sense of humor, we understand our client’s sense of humor or our company sense of humor so we know the intersection of the two. But then you said something interesting, which is I believe something extremely difficult and you’re probably going to tell me that you can’t answer this question but you said, “Then you just come up with jokes.” Right? You just come up with jokes that are just related to that.
Louis: How does one come up with jokes?
Lianna: So that is kind of like… That is a brain training kind of thing. That’s where improv and standup, but mostly improv has been the most valuable for me because everyone thinks of improv as this, “It’s just a bunch of super funny people on stage making things up on the fly.” But in fact, it’s a bunch of mostly normal people who have trained their brains to think in certain frameworks to be able to immediately say, “All right, we’re on stage. Somebody says something weird. Somebody else says something. Let’s very quickly identify what the funny thing is here, how we can make it even funnier, who we are to each other and why it matters.”
Lianna: Those are the ingredients of a good improv scene. You start to apply that thinking to everything in your life. Congratulations, your life is ruined. You’re constantly thinking like you’re in an improv scene. But you’re constantly saying, “Oh, that’s funny. What would make this funnier?” How can I heighten this? What’s the “next beat” of the joke. And then as a standup, you’re thinking, “How do I phrase this for maximum impact?” There’s a lot of linguistic stuff that goes into that. There’s funnier sounds and numbers and words than others. You don’t want to end of a word that’s not the funniest, so you rearrange the writing of the joke so that the funny word is at the end. You get that punch.
Lianna: There’s an approach to it, and then there’s the actual workshopping and editing of it.
Louis: Repeat for us the actually mental framework that you have at improv. You said something very interesting there. What is it?
Lianna: Yeah. Well there’s a lot of improv principles that you will want to practice and learn, but three great questions. I’m tying these into copy in my course that I’m working on that “will be out by the time this comes out”. There’s three great questions that you have to ask in every improv scene which is who are we to each other? What’s the relationship? What’s the environment? Where are we and why does it matter? What are the stakes? If you are missing any one of these, your scene’s going to feel weird. You can have a great scene in a grocery store between a brother and a sister, but it’s not going to be as funny if we don’t know that, “The grocery store’s going to explode in 10 minutes and we have to choose a frozen peas Susan!”
Lianna: You have to have some sort of stakes, and if we’re in a grocery store and we know it’s going to explode but we don’t know who we are to each other, it’s just not as funny. You have to have those three ingredients.
Louis: I guess we could apply that to coming up with jokes, right?
Louis: Because what is at stake here is me to sign up to this account. It’s kind of the… what does it say? Relationship between us is I’m the company providing you the service, you’re the client.
Louis: And the environment, that’s a bit… What is environment in this scenario?
Lianna: You might want to emphasize one more than other at various stages of the journey. If we’re talking about signing up for a new account, maybe that’s about the relationship, right? It’s like, “Hey, we know you don’t know us from Adam just yet, but we promise we’re cool people, we like puppies, one of us ran a marathon one time. Join us and you’ll see how cool we are.” Just throw in some weird personal shit and that can come off as humor because the bar is so low, you know?
Louis: One of us ran a marathon one time.
Louis: But they didn’t finish, just run.
Lianna: Probably not, yeah. And that would make me more likely to sign up because I’m like, “Ooh, a marathon? No thanks.”
Louis: Are you telling me that things come… That’s the worst answer you can tell me, but are you telling me that things come to you naturally and it’s impossible for you to teach it? Or-
Lianna: No. I’m telling you that I am teaching it, but I can’t teach you how to be a great improvisor in 30 minutes Louis, come on.
Louis: If you’re someone interested in that craft, you would recommend them to sign up to improv class, get it done this way. By the way, when I imagine improv class, I imagine the episode of The Office where Michael Scott is always putting up a fake dummy.
Lianna: Yeah. Yeah.
Louis: And always trying to be the inspector or whatever, too many people. It just cracks me up every single time.
Lianna: There are those people in improv classes who are like, “I have to be in every scene and I’m always going to do the same character or the same voice.” My quibble with his gun this is that he’s making a gun out of his fingers, whereas most improvisors who do “object work” would hold their hand as if there was an invisible gun there. You know? Like I’m holding the gun. This isn’t a video thing, but you’re holding a gun, not making your hand into the gun.
Louis: He’s nuts.
Lianna: Nerd stuff.
Louis: Anyway, going back to the now you understand the research, now you understand what triggers people, what they find funny and what not, how do you from there to codifying your actual humor, like your company’s humor. How do you go from that research to the actual material?
Lianna: Yeah, so we have the user research right? We know what they find funny or what will probably resonate with them. We have a good guess and then we have our own sense of humor and what we personally find funny as founders. We want to see where those two circles overlap. We want to see what the references that we both like are, the shows that we all watch are, and that tells us these are the pools of GIFs and jokes and styles of jokes that we should pull from.
Lianna: Because we’ve already mapped out the peaks and valleys of the customer journey, we know where people are being asked to do something, asked to feel tension, asked to relieve it. We know where we’re tying to focus on building the relationship versus getting the sale. We go through and we add humor into those points where it makes the most sense. If I’m just building the relationship with you in the first three emails of a welcome series, I’ll lean a little bit harder on humor. If I’m asking you to do something, I’ll probably back off a little bit and only use humor where I need you to feel comfortable. Like, “Okay, I’ll click the button and I’ll go ahead and do it.”
Lianna: It’s that combination of I know what’s funny. I know what to say, now I know when to say it based on people’s comfort level and what I need them to do for me as a marketer.
Louis: Let’s try to identify from the customer journey that you want to kind of optimize, let’s try to identify the moments that are the most important to use humor in. What is your go-to… and your cat is really interested in your journey, what is your go-to moment that you like to focus on first that you know will be a big win?
Lianna: From a conversion standpoint or from bringing humor into conversion? There’s…
Louis: Bringing humor. Bringing humor.
Lianna: Yeah. Honestly, I like transactional emails the most because everyone’s sending them and everyone’s using Shopify enclave as default transactional emails. But because you have already got… You’ve brought this person so far down the rabbit hole, this is e-commerce. I’m speaking specifically for e-commerce but we have the same things for SAS. That’s an opportunity to delight them. Whether it’s abandoned cart and we need them to take one more step, or it’s order confirmation or shipping confirmation, those are such easy, quick, evergreen ways to keep people around and to retain them for longer. Because I don’t know if you’ve ever had the buying or free trial experience where you buy the thing and you love the brand, and every email the brand has sent you has been so great. And then you finally sign up and you immediately start getting default boring blah emails. And it’s like, “Oh, they forgot about me. They don’t care about me anymore.”
Lianna: They don’t care about retention, right? Which we all know it’s so much more expensive to keep somebody around than it is to get a new customer. Those are may favorite spots because they’re the low hanging fruit. How can we continue the experience of delight even past the point of conversion?
Louis: Right. So those emails that everyone sends, those communications that everyone sends where the expectations are super low. Everyone expects shitty email and boom, come up with a joke that actually lands.
Louis: People find it funny. That creates some… Usually people would screenshot them, post them on Twitter, talk about them to their friend. Just laugh.
Lianna: I do that.
Louis: Yeah, you do that a lot. Okay, so that’s kind of the base on the… how would I call it? Base on where in the relationship you are, the type of email, this automatic emails. But in terms of opportunity in the customer journey, you mentioned those moments… Your cat is going crazy [crosstalk 00:29:46]
Lianna: This is the loudest my cat has ever been.
Louis: Yeah, they all say that.
Lianna: This is the quietest cat, so I don’t know what her problem is.
Louis: They all say that. It’s the French accent. So in the customer journey, as you say, you have this moment of tension, this moment of relief and whatever.
Lianna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: How do you use humor in those tension moments? So tension typically would be when you need to pay, just before paying or, I don’t know, canceling. Those moments that are quite rough. What do you like to do there and how do you advise people to do it?
Lianna: Canceling is a tricky one and I get that question sometimes. You don’t want to use humor at any point where the person might feel like you’re making fun of them, right? If someone’s actually really angry at you and they’re about to cancel, you probably don’t want to say like, “Oh, have you considered that it was your fault?” Or, “Sorry you weren’t smart enough to use our service.” So back off at those points. That’s probably not a safe place to use humor.
Lianna: I think it’s like a range of risk that you take depending on your comfort bringing humor into your marketing. If you want to just start slow, focus on building relationship. Keep the rest of your touchpoints the same. But if you want to go whole hog and update your entire customer journey or your funnel, try it everywhere and see what happens. You’ll probably get some feedback in places where people were really not receptive to it.
Lianna: That brings me back to that goal orientated thing where if someone’s trying to cancel, they just want to cancel and be done with you as quickly as possible. You can get some of that useful feedback from them, “Hey, why did you leave us? Is there anything we could have done better? Do you want to update your subscription to just once a month?” Or whatever it is, but you don’t want it to say, “We’re going to force you to sit through this 30 second video of a dog looking at you sadly while we cry in the background.” It’s a dangerous proposition.
Louis: I felt that before. I opted out of a lot of emails. I get magically added to email newsletter, I’m sure you are as well.
Lianna: All the time. Yeah, amazing.
Louis: I unsubscribe and flag as spam, and sometimes you see these shitty joke about unsubscribing saying, “I guess we didn’t do something.”
Louis: If it doesn’t land here, and you’re right it just doesn’t land at all, it’s just more annoying than anything.
Louis: So I think that’s a good caveat to say. When you cancel, when it’s unsubscription, you need to be careful with humor. Tell me more about then ending. We have codified our sense of humor into a section of the client and our customers.
Lianna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: We have our customer journey, we know where people struggle. Maybe you could give me one or two examples of times where you’ve used humor strategically, or those places where you use humor strategically that kind of… not always work. I don’t want to go that far, but tend to kind of work because of the placement, because of the context.
Louis: You already mentioned one. You mentioned below the call to action button is usually a good place.
Lianna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: Where else do you like to add humor?
Lianna: If I am writing an email series and I need people to segment themselves by clicking a descriptive link. I’m sure you’ve seen those kind of things where it’s like, “I’m an agency owner.” “I’m a freelancer.” “I’m an idiot.”
Louis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lianna: You can update those links to be a little funny or a little bit more descriptive so that people feel compelled to be like, “I’m not that one, so of course I’m this one.”
Lianna: It’s another way to disarm people, make them feel comfortable. I like to use humor in product descriptions, especially in the what I call… What do I call it? I can’t remember the name I’ve given this stuff. It’s the copy that the same across every product page, so like shipping, return policies.
Louis: Ah, yeah.
Lianna: Materials, if you have the same type of thing. For some reason I’m not remembering what I usually call that to clients, but… That’s a way to test if you have a dozen skews and you don’t want to pay for new copy for all of them, or you don’t want to test humor on all of them, why don’t we try updating the shipping policy and the return policy to bring in a little humor so that when people are like, “Well, I’m not really sure if I’ll get this in time.” Or, “What if it doesn’t fit? Can I return it?” You go down and it’s like, “Don’t worry, you have 30 days to return it, just don’t wear it to the nightclub. We can tell, Janet, the armholes smell like sweat and Dove deodorant.” Or whatever it is.
Lianna: Another opportunity to get weirdly specific because that’s something that humor shares with copy, it’s funnier when it’s specific, it’s more effective when it’s specific. And to not make them feel like you’re attacking them, but to sort of align yourself as the same side. I could talk forever about improv principles and picking a side, naming the game, getting specific, having distance between your beats. All of these things correlate so closely to effective copy. But I will stop.
Louis: No, this is getting good. So I like-
Lianna: Oh just now? Just now it’s getting good?
Louis: Yeah, just now. It’s 35 minutes in.
Louis: It’s interesting that the places to start are the places that everyone takes for granted. I very much like that because I’m also a sucker for identifying holes, identifying places where everyone is doing the same, everyone is zigging and you just zag. I love that from you, the way you do things as well. Just let me pause and say your website, your copy, your approach to things, the way you deliver talks at conferences is truly someone who zags when everyone else is zigging. I think it’s a testament to you and the risk you took when you started doing this. But you are also an example of what you preach, so fair play to that.
Louis: I’ve actually taken a few notes when you were speaking at the conference we were at together, right?
Louis: A few things… I genuinely did. And a few things that I’d like you to mention to the people listening. I think one principle that you haven’t directly mentioned, you said don’t make fun of the customer is to make fun of yourself, right?
Lianna: Yes. Yes.
Lianna: Oh yeah. So I think what you’re referencing is two safe topics that I usually recommend, or two safe directions of humor. A lot of people shy away from using humor because they don’t want to offend, right? They don’t want to call their customer’s names or lose the sale because they came off offensive, right? And we’ve talked about ways to avoid doing that. Two of the most effective ones are to make fun or yourself so that no one can get mad at you for that, and make fun of the environment, or do what’s called observational humor. Point out something that we can all see. The example that I always use is Jerry Seinfeld saying, “What’s the deal with airplane food?” We’re all like, “That is funny. Airplane food is terrible.”
Lianna: We’ve all experienced that. It brings us together. We’re on the same side, but if you make fun of yourself people are like, “Oh well, that’s kind of funny. This person must be down to Earth and pretty honest with themselves. I can trust them.” Rather than saying, “Hey idiot, buy my thing.” Which is what… and I’ve already mentioned Cards Against Humanity, but that’s kind of what they do. And it works for them because we all love them anyway, but not everybody wants to do that.
Louis: Yeah. It’s very specific. It’s unlikely to work for you, right? So self deprecating humor is great and actually being French, it’s not the type of humor I was used to when I grew up.
Lianna: Yeah, I know. The French showoffs don’t like making fun of themselves.
Louis: No, they don’t because they think very highly of themselves. They think they’re so smart. And then I’m luckily enough to be amongst the smart, to be one of the idiots that I actually could realize it. It’s funny, but actually I’ve been living in Ireland for 10 years and the change was quite nice. People like to make fun of themself and actually find it much easier to laugh.
Louis: And yes, I think that’s a safe bet that you make fun of yourself so you have a common thing to make fun of but it actually goes back to a psychological principle that you mentioned. Admitting a flaw makes people trust you more, right?
Lianna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: You don’t want to over-engineer it and say, “We suck at everything, so therefore you should [inaudible 00:38:06].” But admitting something that is a flaw like something that you’re not that good at and using humor to do so is kind of scientifically proven. I don’t want to use those two words. That’s weird, I’m not selling toothbrushes. But it’s scientifically proven that it’s one of those behavioral and psychology principle that works.
Louis: I’m not surprised that that works in humor as well.
Lianna: Yeah. We all have insecurities. We all worry about our appearance or our social abilities and to have somebody just come out and say it like, “Oh, this is awkward. Maybe I should go get a drink.” When you’re meeting a bunch of people at a conference and everyone’s like, “So what do you do? What do you do? What do you do?” It’s like, “Can we just skip that or just name the thing and get past it.” Everyone kind of appreciates that when you’re able to kind of do that.
Louis: Another thing that I remembered from what you were saying is… Now we’re getting into the tactics and details of actually the writing itself, writing the copy.
Lianna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: Is using, for example, all caps, right? Which is a kind of a way, like in real life when I talk to you, you can make jokes and you have different intonations and different ways to say things easily to understand because it’s your intonation. But in copy, you only have fucking letters to place with.
Louis: Or emojis or GIFs if you’re technically brilliant. How do you like to use different capitalization verus no capitalization, emojis, non-emojis et cetera.
Louis: What’s your way of doing it?
Lianna: Sparingly. Basically we think of copy as a conversation, right? You wouldn’t just have a whole conversation in this same monotone, so why would you write all of your sentences the same length and use the same punctuation because it’s not really about… I can’t even do it. I’m still going up a little bit because when we speak we change our volume, we change our pitch. We get excited and we talk faster. We get dramatic and we talk slower. Copy should reflect that natural way of speaking so you want to vary the lengths of your sentences for dramatic effect. You want to throw in some capital letters when you’re super agitated and then come down and want to make a little wink here and there with an emoji or a GIF because this is the way that people communicate, not just in text but in person with their actual bodies and voices. It just works better.
Louis: And what about Comic Book Sans?
Lianna: Comic Book Sans, yeah one of my favorite. Because we only have words, we can’t usually include sound effects when people are reading copy. Although that is really interesting to me, maybe I’ll work on that. We can describe a sound we want the reader to hear in their heads and we’ll actually… There is some search showing that when a sound is described a different part of people’s brains lights up. If I say, “Drum roll please… Crash! Bang! Boom! Here it is, the new product that we’ve been waiting for.” People will actually hear cymbals and drums falling on the ground and a snare drum falling apart or whatever it is in their head.
Louis: I was about to say, you don’t need scientific research for that because every time I read those drum roll, awesome explosion noise, whatever the fuck. Actually, my head makes the noise.
Lianna: Yeah. And the thing that I love about that, you said awesome explosion noise which is pulled from an email from Purple, and they put it inside two asterisks. They don’t say a recognized onomatopoeia like crash or bang or boom, they say, “Awesome explosion noise.” That sounds like whatever the reader wants it to sound like.
Louis: This is cool.
Lianna: They didn’t even have to describe it. Yeah.
Louis: I’ve asked you a lot of very specific questions, but I feel I maybe put you in a corner there. Is there anything on how to insert humor in your marketing, anything that I haven’t asked you that you didn’t get a chance to mention just yet?
Lianna: I feel like you put my brain through the ringer just now.
Louis: That’s what I do.
Louis: That’s what people say.
Lianna: Well I think the one thing that we didn’t really talk about is different senses of humor and what… We touched on that research and what’s funny to people but we didn’t actually name different styles and senses of humor, so there’s… It’s worth noting that there are codifiably different senses of humor. For instance there wholesome and goofy, and this is not hurtful kind of punch up, brings everyone together kinds of humor like cartoons and golden retrievers and babies falling down but not getting hurt. And then there’s like-
Louis: God forbid. No, no, no.
Lianna: Oh, no, no because getting hurt would be a different sense of humor, right?
Lianna: There’s sick jokes, dark and morbid like dead baby jokes.
Louis: That’s me. I love that.
Lianna: Yeah, me too. Gallows humor, that kind of stuff. We didn’t talk about humor as a coping mechanism but that’s a whole different thing. That’s where that comes from. There’s totally absurd humor. Here’s a fun fact for you which I recently discovered, truly absurd humor… I’m going to try to do this as quickly as possibly. There’s something called incongruity at resolution theory, which is where a lot of jokes spring from. There’s something weird, we notice it and then it’s resolved for us in a funny way. Truly absurd jokes never resolve.
Louis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lianna: There’s Dat Boy. There’s the frog riding the unicycle and he’s like, “What up?” That’s just totally nonsensical right? And it’s funny because it never resolves because there’s no resolution. And there is some research showing that if you enjoy truly absurd humor, you are smarter.
Louis: Ooh. Boom. See, there you go.
Lianna: Take that Boomers. I don’t know what that… I know what [crosstalk 00:43:55] Boomers.
Louis: Take that Boomers.
Lianna: You have no Boomer listeners, I don’t know. There’s so much here. We lost them. I killed them.
Louis: No, no. I’m playing. I’m not laughing, I’m making it up. The absurdity makes… I love this because, yes, there’s no start or end to it. There’s no relief at the end. There’s no-
Louis: You don’t close the loop because there’s no fucking loop in the first place.
Louis: Okay. So absurd, there’s the dark humor, there is the joyful cats GIFs and baby falling and not hurting themself. What else?
Lianna: There’s low brow, which is very crass like poop humor, bodily fluids, sex, violence. [crosstalk 00:44:39]
Louis: That’s not like dark?
Louis: Dark is more murder and blood and…
Lianna: Yeah. Dark is like, how many dead babies does it take to paint a house? You heard this one?
Louis: No, I don’t know. How many?
Lianna: Depends on how hard you throw them.
Louis: Okay, so that’s dark.
Lianna: Yeah. Another of my favorite dark jokes, I did not make this up. I can’t remember who wrote this but you ever notice how glass tastes like blood?
Lianna: That’s it. That’s the joke.
Louis: Oh yeah, yeah.
Louis: See, I’m not that smart then because I didn’t get it the first time.
Lianna: I did say it was a one liner but you know.
Louis: Yeah, but it’s stupid. So joyful, dark, absurd.
Lianna: Yeah, I would say goofy and wholesome, dark and morbid, totally absurd and nonsensical, lowbrow and very crass like toddler humor, and then there’s highbrow like witty and intellectual where you have to know certain things to be able to get the joke.
Lianna: You need a passing familiarity with art history or in the case of a recent client, they do Amazon Wed Services consulting, so AWS consulting. So everybody reading these emails has a very high level of technical knowledge.
Lianna: I would just say, “This is where we just need a joke about this aspect of Amazon’s backend.” They would be like, “Oh, this is funny.” And I’d be like, “Thanks.” Because that’s not my area of expertise.
Louis: Gotcha. Okay. That’s interesting. Would you have a way to decide or to ask your audience what kind of humor out of the one you described, the five? Or is it going too far, or can you assume that maybe the dark one is not going to land it. It’s not going to work anyway.
Lianna: I personally do. I have clients take a humor quiz.
Lianna: I’m actually working on getting that-
Louis: So do you assume that quiz would be what? What do you ask?
Lianna: I say, “Out of these 10 movies, pick your favorite.” And it’s like Shrek, Dude, Where’s My Car? The Addams Family, Dr. Strangelove. So a range of comedy movies but different tastes. “Which of these jokes is funniest to you?” I’m trying to remember what are the other ones? What’s brown and sticky?
Louis: Don’t know.
Lianna: A stick. Ha ha! That’s one that I’m like just stupid, right?
Lianna: Look how lowbrow.
Louis: Okay, so you don’t ask directly, “What is your humor?” What is the humor that you [crosstalk 00:47:23]
Lianna: I do sometimes.
Louis: Oh you do? Okay.
Lianna: I get them started with that quiz and that gives me a good jumping off point, especially when they say… and this happens because I have my own biases, right? I have my own points of reference. I have clients come back and say, “I don’t really know a lot of the references on that quiz. I tend to like these shows.” Or, “I don’t watch TV.” Or, “I’ve only ever seen one standup special.” I’m like, “Okay, great. Well then let’s talk about what you find funny day to day. What was the last thing that you really laughed at and let’s talk about why.” So that I can start to get a sense of what is genuinely funny to them.
Louis: I think you’ve done an awesome job breaking down humor marketing. I know it’s not easy. I know you have plenty other stuff to share.
Lianna: So much.
Louis: As I mentioned at the start, you have a course that is live now, or at least if it’s still pre-launch, we’ll add a link anyway to the episode page.
Louis: People can check that out. Before that, before I let you go, what do you think marketers should learn today, beside using humor, or maybe you’re going to say that. What do you think marketers should learn today that would help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?
Lianna: I was going to actually… I thought about this and I was going to say take an improv class.
Louis: See I knew you would say that of course.
Lianna: Take an improv class. I’m not the only person, I’m not the first person to say it but it just helps you to learn how to think in such better ways no matter whether you’re working or not.
Louis: I’m at the very, very start of understanding what improv is.
Lianna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: One of my brother actually is an improv… like I would say a fucking pro.
Louis: He has been doing it for 20 years. He has his own improv company. I told you that, you don’t remember.
Lianna: I don’t remember, no, because you’re not important to me Louis.
Lianna: Risky humor everyone. Don’t do that. Don’t make fun of your host. I feel bad, I instantly regret it. I’m sorry.
Louis: You’re fired. Basically I’ve seen him multiple times but I don’t understand the craft, right?
Lianna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: The few things that you just mentioned like frameworks, mental frameworks, mental models, whatever. That’s surprised me because I was genuinely thinking they’re just making shit up as they go, but they don’t. Clearly it’s like professional ways of doing stuff.
Louis: I’m actually curious now whether I should look into it.
Louis: But that’s kind of the biggest advice for people, even not people who want to be funny but more how to think quicker, to be wittier, to come up with catchphrase or maybe copywriting or marketing, you’d recommend them to go to an improv class.
Lianna: I really would. And also just in that same vein. Be brave. Try it. Try using humor. If you don’t go to an improv class, try a funny subject line and see if it gets you more opens. That’s my go-to, it’s a really small way to test humor. If you normally send straight subject lines in your emails, just try a funny one and see what happens.
Louis: Yeah. I’m glad you’re saying that. I’m glad you’re talking about the notion of risk. You mentioned fear before.
Lianna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: Because that’s kind of a big belief of mine, more and more, everyone can create anything online very fast now, right?
Lianna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: The bar is getting higher when it comes to standing out and truly make people notice you, what you have to say, what the product you’re selling and what not, and zagging when everyone is zigging and vice versa is going to become more and more critical I believe, right? Your way of thinking is absolutely amazing because of it. Not humor, but beyond that like taking risk, removing fear, going to fucking improv, thinking quicker and all of that. This is critical in my opinion.
Lianna: And it’s also just so much easier because if this is who I am as a person, I don’t have to put on a façade and pretend to be somebody else or think about how this other professional version of me would say a thing. I don’t have time for that any more. I just need to be who I am and do the things I feel like doing. If they resonate with people then great. If they don’t, bye. Find another copywriter, there’s a million of us.
Louis: Literally. What are the top three resources you’d recommend our listener today? It could be anything, podcasts, conferences, blogs
Lianna: I thought about this too. I’m going to give you an obnoxiously cloying answer which is that I just wish, not resourced based, but I just wish that everybody would pay much more attention to the work that truly lights them up and only do that so that in 10 years we could have a world full of super niche specialists, all closely working with each other, all doing work that makes them happy and that’s it.
Louis: Amen to that. I’m actually glad you said that because I know, without knowing you in crazy detail. Having spoken to you so much times, looking at your copy, looking at your website, looking at the way you present yourself and your craft, I already know that you know yourself. You have this… You know what you love. You know what you’re getting energized by and you’re not trying to trick anyone. It’s you, and you just are confident with that. But many, many, many people, especially is the marketing world, try to be someone they’re not.
Lianna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: And it’s difficult, right? It takes a bit of time but you need to kind of follow the energy is the way I would like to say it. It’s like this warmth that you feel when you do something that is actually good, that you enjoy doing and that you’re good at.
Louis: But yeah, I’m actually glad you mentioned that. Do you have a resource that would help people to get closer to that, like a book or anything that you’ve read?
Lianna: Honestly just getting into the practice of mindfulness and being aware of the thoughts that I’m having and the fact that they’re thoughts, or the feeling that I’m having. Being more critically aware of your own mind and your reactions to things is what’s going to help you identify red flag people not to work with, and then months later you’re like, “Oh, I never want to work with clients who are super formal in their emails. That must be an indication… ” Just getting comfortable with your own mind so that you can recognize patterns.
Lianna: I’m not a happy person. I feel the need to add that as a caveat. I want to make a version of my website where you click a button and it all turns black and it’s like, “This is depression copy.” Because I think the flip side is we all have an imposter syndrome, we all have anxiety, we all have depression. There is no perfection here. But yeah, just being able to say that is authentic too. Oh god, the A-word. Authenticity, ugh.
Louis: The A-word. You said a lot of F and A-word today.
Louis: So where can people connect with you, learn more from you, take your course, all of that?
Lianna: They can find me at punchlinecopy.com and snapcopy.co, and also sharing a lot of weird personal stuff on Twitter @punchlinecopy.
Louis: Awesome. Once again, you’ve been an absolute pleasure to talk to. I know a lot of people listening get a lot of value from what you said because it’s the first time we’ve ever talked about using humor in marketing, so yay.
Lianna: Yay! Thank you so much for having me. This was great. Now I’m exhausted and I’m going back to bed.
Louis: And this is where we end the recording.
I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.