Allie is the co-founder of the humor marketing agency, Obedient, and co-host of the podcast, Fangasm. Allie shares her story of how she created Obedient and why companies should consider avoiding a “water-downed” campaign that appeals to the masses and start to create compelling memorable marketing campaigns.
listen to this episode
- Why many companies’ campaigns often come off as bland and unmemorable
- The common traits that Allie’s clients all share
- Why making customers smile and laugh will make them endear your company
- The steps a company must take to start using humor in their marketing
- How to use adrenaline to make sure your customers connect with your brand
- The type of research Obedient Agency uses before creating a campaign for their clients
- The three things Allie does with each client to make sure they work together as partners
- How to find a company’s “hook” for customers
- Developing a brand’s personality
- How Allie figured out she could create an agency to help bring humor to marketing
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour, and welcome to another episode of Everyone Hates Marketers.com, the no fluff, actionable marketing podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founders, and tech people, who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host, Louis Grenier.
In today’s episode, you’ll learn how to use humor in your marketing to stand out and get more sales. My guest today is funnier than you and probably funnier than I am. She’s the co-founder of the humor marketing agency, Obedient, that she’s created with her co-founder, Lyndsay Rush. They work with clients, such as Chick-fil-A, Argent, Parachute, and SFYNX.
I’m going to steal this small paragraph from her bio, just to illustrate how funny they are, in a sense, and how witty they can be writing copy. “At the end of the day, every evil genius of the Obedient team lives to prove that you don’t need to prey on the fears of your consumers to make the kill. Instead? Excite them to death. RIP, your sad sales and long live fun.” That was from them. I think pretty powerful copy and illustrates pretty well what they are very good at.
They are the hosts of the podcast, also, Fangasm, which was previously named Potterotica Pod. You might have heard of it, where they read erotic fan fiction about characters from your favorite books, TV shows, and movies.
Allie LeFevere, welcome aboard.
Allie: Thank you so much for having me, Louis.
Louis: I’m not going to make any comment about your last name, that sounds very American, even if it’s French.
Allie: I know. We ruined it, sorry. That’s what us Americans do best.
Louis: Yes, and that’s what we were talking about just before starting to record this, which was I think it’s the best summary of American culture, taking things that are not yours and making it your own.
Most brands are putting their audience to sleep, as you write on your website. They are unoriginal, uncompelling. They’re marketing sounds the same. If I’m thinking about one example that seems to be the case in the industry, it’s the marketing agencies or the digital marketing agencies even.
In Dublin alone, I think there is, I don’t know how many maybe 500, 1,000 agencies I can think of, that I’ve come across at this stage, and they all have the same positioning, the same boring copy. It doesn’t seem like any companies are trying to stand out and taking a risk. Why do you think that’s happening?
Allie: Well, I think that people play it safe, because they want to appeal to the masses, and they put out vanilla creativity, because it’s the most palatable. Unfortunately, I think that even brands do the same thing. When they’re looking to develop their branding or develop their marketing, yes, they want to make a splash, yes, they want to get in the spotlight, yes, they want attention. But, I think there’s such a fear around, but, what if someone doesn’t get it?
What if someone doesn’t like it? What if I offend someone? They default to a safe setting, and so they often reach out to marketers that do the same.
It’s just a huge bummer, because I think that, especially in these oversaturated markets in every industry, there are multiple people doing things and doing it well, you have to say something different, do something different, make your audience feel different, in order to get the eyes and ears and hearts, that you are so seeking.
Louis: The main thing for you is the fact that people really, they want to appeal to the masses, therefore, their messaging and their positioning is very bland. Because, you need to fit everyone, you need to please everyone, therefore, you please no one.
Louis: That’s reason number one. But, I see as well the fact that, at those agencies and those companies of those brands, internally, what happens is this concept of decision by committee. Even if, let’s say you are hired in a company like this, in a brand that doesn’t like to take risks, and you want to do this kind of marketing, it’s unlikely that they will allow you to do so, because they will try to maybe drive down, drive those headlines down. It’s going to turn into this huge brainstorming session and workshop with all your team, and then your landing page that used to be witty is going to be boring as fuck.
Allie: Yeah, we’ve run into that before too. The good news for us is that we are positioned as a humor and fun-centric agency. When people come to us, they do know what they’re going to get quite often.
That being said, people get into the process, and every step in the process, we are reminding them, “Remember, you said you wanted fun. You wanted to push the boundaries. You wanted attention. You wanted to stand out.” We are coaching them and reminding them and talking them through that. Then, they will get the copy, and they’ll love it, and they’ll laugh, and they’ll smile.
Then, they’ll run it by the whole team at large, some of which haven’t been in the ideation process or haven’t been involved along the way. Then, everyone starts to get scared, “Ooh, what if we change this word? Ooh, what if we didn’t say it this way? Ooh, maybe that sentence doesn’t speak to that audience.” Then, they have such an immediate desire to water it down and water it down.
Our job is to push back. It’s to go, “Listen, you can water that down, but then you wasted your money hiring us. You can water it down, but then it kills the entire intention of what we’re trying to say. You can water it down, but then, you might as well be every Tom, Dick, and Harry in your industry, because you’re going to sound like everyone else, and we’re back where we started.”
We’ve had case studies, where we have had clients who are on board and stay on board the entire way through the process, which is so exciting for us, because we get to see our work live on out into the wild.
Then, we have had amazing projects where, by the time we got to the end, they wanted to bastardize it so badly that we won’t even put our name on it anymore. They have taken it, and even times when we’ve delivered it, they want to water it down, and they want to change stuff around, because it’s just, they even get scared in the execution phase.
Yeah, it’s a wild world out there, and we are trying to create the most compelling, interesting, unique messaging possible. But, it takes a special type of client to be willing to do it.
Louis: What would you say would be this special type of client then? What are the demographics or psychographics that make them unique, in a sense? How would you define then those people? What do they have in common?
Allie: I do think that there is a commitment from primary members of the leadership team. That they know that they want to stand out. I think everyone comes into the process saying they want that. But, I think that there is a real, it sounds really cheesy, but a real courage and commitment to doing something different. I think that there is a willingness to be uncomfortable. I think there is a willingness to trust our team and our expertise and let us hold their hand through the process and go, “Yeah, this is going to feel different. It’s supposed to be uncomfortable. It’s supposed to be new. It’s supposed to be fresh.”
I think it’s combination of a bit of guts, a bit of trust, and, really, just an ability to see the broader vision. It’s not about you and your personal style. It’s about what your audience is going to really relate and respond to, and how they’re going to react, and how they’re going to engage with your product. It’s often founders and CMOs and, really, the people leading the marketing internally that have to take their own personal opinions a little bit out of the equation.
Because, ultimately, when we’re shaping and building branding, we’re doing it for the good of the audience. It’s less about what… we want everyone to be involved in the process. But, it’s ultimately what’s going to impact and affect the consumer, and how they’re going to respond and react.
Louis: Always. Can you give me, before we dive into how to do it yourself, but, can you give me an example of a company that used to have maybe boring marketing copy, and where you came in and did something that was quite uncomfortable for them?
Allie: Yeah, we actually have a company that we just wrapped a project with. It’s not fully out in the wild yet, but it’s getting there. It should be in the next couple weeks.
But, we had an amazing company come to us. They are an almond-based product, where you basically can take this almond-based concentrate, and you can make your own nut milk at home. It’s really cool, because what makes it so unique and different, it’s the first to market, to have this type of product.
But, it’s so cool, because unlike what you buy on the store shelves, it doesn’t have any of the additives. It literally is almond base and water. It doesn’t have any of the additives or chemicals or any of that bad stuff. Unlike what you make at home, you don’t lose any of the nutrients by getting rid of the best parts of the nut, if you’re making it, your own nut milk at home. It’s really easy-to-use, and it’s a really simple process.
Basically, we had to do, we wanted to really make them stand out in the market and get people’s attention but, also, had to educate some people along the way. The cool part is when they came to us, they had a fun tagline. They said, their tagline was, “Milk these nuts,” which was so edgy and so wild. That’s why we got excited about them in the first place, because we were like, “Oh my god, they’re on board.”
But, every other touchpoint of their brand was watered down, was safe. I think they got scared. They really got a lot of reaction from the “Milk these nuts” tagline. But, then, all their investors and then they started to bring other people on board, on their team, and then there was this fear that crept up, “Oh my god, is that too much?” This thing that really got them on the map in the first place, they wanted to get rid of and water down.
When we were working with them, they came to us, and they basically said they thought they wanted a more playful, lighter, softer tone. We wanted them to stay in that same edgy, bold direction. It went back and forth quite and while. We basically said, “Okay, we’ll present you with this version of a lighter tone that you think you want.” We created it, and they didn’t love it, because it lost that pop and that edge and that punch that they’re were really excited by.
What we ended up doing is we went back, and we created a personality and expanded the personality around this more bold, edgy, authoritative tone, that really to us is what “Milk these nuts” symbolized. It has been this amazing transformation of their entire brand, that we are going to start carrying out on their social media, we’re going to start carrying out in their press releases, on their packaging copy, on their web copy.
What we wanted them to show with that is that you’re coming onto the market, and you’re a new type of offering. You have to gain authority. You have to have people trust you. You have to make people feel open to engaging in your brand.
We loved the bold edginess, because what it does is it breeds confidence. It breeds authority, or it breeds aspiration. People say, “Oh, you’re saying something different, and you’re saying it with such conviction that I feel compelled to listen to you. Also, you’re making me laugh throughout the process, and so I immediately feel like you’ve gifted me something as a consumer. That you’ve made me laugh, and you’ve made me smile, and you made me feel good without me even spending a single dollar, so I automatically feel endeared to you.”
They haven’t rolled out entirely. But, in the initial response we’re getting from their current audience, when they’ve started to showcase different elements of the branding, it has been banging. It has been so well received. Everyone is really digging, really this new brand that has now, this personality’s permeated through all elements of what they do.
I’m super stoked to see them roll out entirely, because I think they’re going to really make the punch that they really wanted to in the market.
Louis: Initially, when I thought about this episode and what angle I would like to go for, I was thinking of talking about how to use humor and the techniques involved, or the method involved in using humor and all of that. But, what it sounds like and thinking about listeners and you listening to this podcast right now, I don’t think you can teach necessarily people to be funny. You might disagree with what I’m saying right now. However, I think you can teach people to have the courage to be funny, in a sense. I need to take some fucking risk.
Louis: Because, everyone is funny in their own way. Some people they have a different type of humor, and your brand could follow that. Maybe this is what we can talk about first. Then, if we have time, we can talk about maybe some techniques, some methods you use to come up with witty copy using customers and whatnot. Does it make sense?
Allie: Yeah, that’s perfect. I fully agree with you. I think getting folks on board and understanding the value of humor and fun, and why it’s such a value-add to a brand is so much more plausible than to actually teach people how to do the actual work. That’s great, let’s do it.
Louis: Right. A lot of people listening are marketing consultants, freelancers, or in-house marketers, they have their own business related to marketing. They would work either with clients directly trying to convince them to do something, or they will be in-house trying to convince their boss, their colleagues to do it, to take some fucking risk. Risk would involve being funny, as you said. It could be other type of risk, which is emotional, better copy that is more based on bolder copy and whatnot.
But, let’s try to go through, what are the steps required for someone who wants to take some risk and use humor in their marketing? What is step one? How do you convince your boss or your clients to actually go for it?
Allie: Yeah, well, I think… I’ll start by just citing a statistic that I love, because I think it really helps solidify and cement why fun sells in people’s brains. There are three core emotions that evoke adrenaline in your system. What adrenaline does is it really cements in an experience. It really locks in a memory. Those core emotions are: fear, grief, and laughter.
I think for a really long time, most marketing agencies were taught and deployed this tactic of preying on people’s insecurities, preying on their fears, preying on their inadequacies. What is the hole that we have to dig inside a person and let them think that our product is going to fill it? That works, but it’s shitty. It makes people feel like shit.
Grief is another tactic. Grief has its place in specific campaigns. But, we don’t want to be the grief guy, and grief doesn’t really feel good to leverage as a tactic.
The only one that feels good for the creators, for the client and for the ultimate consumer is laughter. Laughter is more than just laughing out loud. Laughter is delighting someone, surprising them, making them smile, making them feel good. Because, ultimately, as human beings, we all want to be in the presence of things that makes us feel good. It draws out the part of ourselves that we want to believe is real and true, and that is brands included.
Instead of preying on people’s insecurities, where if you can’t fill the hole, the next brand will. When you actually delight your consumers and make them feel good, they become endeared to you in a way that the hole starts to get filled, and that you no longer have to, you’re no longer competing in the same way.
That being said, I think just understanding that it is such a viable, valuable tool. It’s just underutilized, because people are afraid to use it, because it’s different, and they’re afraid to use it, because they don’t know how to. When it comes to starting off, that’s a really fun way to frame it is it works, and it does land, and people do respond and resonate with it.
The other piece of it is, what is really important is that humor for us, humor and fun without strategy is pointless, and it’s a waste of time, and it’s a waste of creativity. We do not go into any process and any client engagement where the jokes and the riffs and the creativity is the king of the conversation to start. We are starting all the way back at, we have to understand your audience, your goals, and your industry.
Then, we have to understand, what is your point of differentiation? What is the thing that really sets you apart? Because, we want to extract that from your broader messaging, and we want to redevelop that and reshape that in a way that’s going to really connect with your audience. It’s going to tap into what they believe, what they care about, what they need to hear.
Then, we’re going to start to layer your personality on top of it. We’re going to start to say, “Okay, well, how do we need to say this in a way that’s going to reach the audience that you’re really trying to connect with? What do we want to elicit in them? What’s the emotional response we want to attract?”
Then, from there, once we have all that foundation laid, then we write the creative campaigns. Then, we’re writing the compelling copy.
I think a really important thing is that as an agency, as a brand is to understand it should be more strategic than it is silly. It’s supposed to do heavy lifting, and it’s supposed to really connect. You have to have all that foundational, strategic, smart stuff in place, before you can do the creative on top of it.
To me, I think that always calms the fears of our clients is because they understand that we aren’t doing this in a meandering way. They start to build trust that we have a really fleshed out process, and there is an intention behind everything we do. I think for the clients that love analytics and data, we, for us, we operate in emotional analytics and in emotional intelligence and in terms of response and reaction. That is, for us, how we’re building trust is we’re not playing just a data-drive game, that’s quantity over quality. We’re doing quality over quantity, and there’s a very specific reason why.
I don’t know if that fully answers your question but just to give some background is how we really-
Allie: … start all that.
Louis: How do you, we’ve talked a lot on this podcast about how to understand your audience, your industry, and whatnot. I don’t know if it’s valuable to go through that in detail. You possibly have some specific methods you use. Maybe you can name a few things that you always do for your client, when it comes to the audience research, industry, and whatnot.
Allie: Yeah. We have… Collectively, so I have 10 years in the industry, so does my business partner. Our team, everyone has been in the marketing or creative space for six plus years. We have just, I think there’s just a wealth of knowledge on our team that we have worked in so many industries that we’re bringing to the table.
The second is we have a lot of proprietary information or really just IP that we’ve developed of what we call our humor archetypes, and there are many, many, many of them. But, they are very fleshed out, well-developed archetypes that we have created that explore and express a very different, nuanced element of humor, of what really lands. That’s really just, that’s come out of all of our time working in this arena is we’ve really noticed there are certain patterns and certain humor and fun and personality styles that…
We’re basically taking our industry knowledge. We’re tapping into previous projects. We’re tapping into industry knowledge that we’ve gleaned through various publications, our team.
Then, we’re extracting a lot of information from the client. We have a very robust intake process, that’s very fun and entertaining. But, it’s also trying to extract a different set of information that most people aren’t looking for.
Louis: Let’s go through this process then.
Allie: Yeah, so I don’t know if I’ll give away the secret sauce of everything we’re asking. But, what, I think, at the core of it, what we’re trying to drill into is, we want to get to the heart of: What does your consumer care about? What do they need to hear? What do they need to feel? What are they sick of hearing about? What are they sick of feeling? What do they not believe about your product? What do they not believe about your industry? We’re trying to get into the emotional intelligence of your audience and really get into their psyche, because that is what we’re really trying to tap into here.
I think a lot of, I won’t even speak to a lot of agencies, but just I think a lot of people, their methodology is we care about just data, data, data. Not logistics, but we care about where they’re from, and what their age group is and all these other parameters, and, yeah, that’s important too. But, I think what really gets missed is that we are often making emotionally driven decisions. That is the core of what we’re trying to extract. We have a whole bunch of questions that are all really trying to tap into the heart of your consumer.
Then, we’re taking… Oh, sorry, go on.
Louis: Yeah, yeah, I need to cut you there. What are the… You mentioned a few questions, but maybe you can repeat. What are the key questions you like to ask? Then, we can dive into how you ask them.
Allie: Yeah, so, a few of them is: What do they not trust about you or your industry? What are they sick of hearing about? What is a tired cliché? What has been overdone? What is the way that everyone else is approaching this that they are no longer resonating with? What is keeping them up at night? How do they spend their weekend? Who are they in their free time, when they’re not worrying about having to be the thing that the world needs them to be?
I know it sounds like a really weird, lofty question. But, what we’re trying to do is say, How much do you really know about your audience? How much do you really know about your consumer? Because, when we can really understand them, then we can start to shape a narrative and shape a story and develop a personality and develop messaging around that.
Those are just some of them. But, basically, it’s we want to buck the system. We don’t want to give them the same thing that they’ve been getting. We don’t want to prey on their fears. We don’t want to prey on the void that they feel.
But, we want to understand it, so we can say something different that makes them feel good and brings them into the brand and into the process in a healthier, happier, feel-good way.
Louis: Right. Who are they, that’s important, but, also, what’s more important for you is, what keeps them up at night? What don’t they trust about the industry, about you? What do they trust about the industry, about you? What are they sick of hearing? What would they like to feel more? That emotional stuff, right?
Allie: Yeah, absolutely.
Louis: Anything else I’m missing here, or those are the key ones?
Allie: Yeah, those are some big ones. The questionnaire is probably 60 plus questions. We really dig into a lot of minutiae and detail, but those are some biggies, I would say, just to really help people start thinking about their audience in a different way. Because, most people come to us, and all they’ve thought is, “Oh, it’s healthy moms between the age of 28 and 37.” That’s the kind of information they’re presenting, and so we really are trying to challenge them to say, “You have to tell us more, and we have to understand them at a deeper level.”
Louis: You’re digging into the psychographic spot on the demographics, because demographics don’t tell you shit about emotions, or why-
Louis: … they take decisions. Apart-
Louis: … from the questions you mentioned, is there another one or two that you think are maybe minute detail but lead to the best insight, anything else that you can share?
Allie: Yeah, another one that leads to really good insight, and more from when we’re working with our clients, is when we’re trying to understand what are they drawn to, or what are they attracted to? We’re often asking them things like, what is the last campaign or marketing message that you have seen that has really made you react and respond, that has made you feel good, that has drawn out a better part of yourself?
What we’re trying to do is help them, that’s part of us trying to help them understand, “See how you remember that? See how that made you feel? See how you have such a wonderful, delightful response that you have become endeared to that brand? We want to replicate that experience for your audience.” A bit of that is us priming them to go, “See how powerful that was when it was done well, when it made you respond or react in a certain type of way? That’s the goal of what we’re trying to develop for you.”
We are by no means replicating anyone else’s campaign. We’re just trying to understand what our clients are really reacting and responding to, to show them the importance of that, so we can really keep them in that headspace for the remainder of the project.
Louis: That’s a super important insight, here, that you just mentioned. Because, not only can you use this question with your clients to ask them about what connected with them. To convince them, “That you see? You can do the same. You see, do you want your customer to feel the same way?” That’s one thing.
But, then, I suppose you can use this question with their customer to also understand what drove them, what kind of campaigns did they like in the past, what type of marketing message did they connect with? That’s based on the fact that you’re not asking them a future state. You’re not asking them, “What type of thing would you like us to do?” You ask them about past behavior. You have these things that they have connected, and they remember, which is much more accurate than the bullshit of asking them what they would like, which usually incredibly inaccurate.
Louis: I feel we are digging into something that is becoming super valuable for people listening. I’m going to dig a bit more, and then we’ll move on to something else you mentioned which are the archetypes. I’m going to have to ask you about this.
Allie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: What other questions do you like to ask that yield the best insight? You mentioned one outside of the others you mentioned. Anything else that spring to mind.
Allie: Yeah, I think a big one is something we always close our questionnaire with is we have our clients make a bit of a vow to trust us through the process. That we make a joke around you consider yourself married to us for the next four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks, six months, however long the project is.
Basically, because, I think what happens is often… I’m sure many marketers have experienced this, is that a client hires you, and they treat you like hired help. We have no desire to be treated like that through a process and to work with a client in that way.
We come on as partners. We have expertise in what we do, and they have expertise in what they do. We really want to combine our powers to create something magical. But, I think the biggest piece is there has to be the trust there, and there has to be the room for us to present those ideas with them.
I do a lot of video calls with clients, because I really want them to know me, to trust me, to get familiar with me, to joke with me, to know that I’m listening, that I hear them. But, we do ask questions around this idea that, are we going to be partners on this project together? We really want you to trust us. We have your best intention in mind, knowing that we can always tweak stuff. We can always shift and pivot. There is always room for edits and feedback and all of that. But, let us do our magic, because that’s what you hired us for.
I know it seems… It’s not really a control tactic. It’s much more of a, “Hey, let’s turn this into an enjoyable process for everyone involved, and when we all trust each other, that’s when we make the magic.”
It’s been really fun to see people’s responses to that, because people get on board. I think they just need to be reminded that hey, you hired us for a reason. Let us serve you. That’s really cool.
Louis: Nice. To try to summarize what you said about the convincing part, a few things I remember from what you just said, which are super interesting, one, you ask them about things that they’ve connected with in the past that could be edgy, funny, whatever, things that they liked. You say, tell them that you see, you liked that stuff, you remember that. That’s basically the same principle that we’re trying to do with you.
Second, you also ask them to commit, in a sense. You ask them to, from the start, and you probably repeat that over and over again, “You need to trust our judgment. You need to trust us,” and you do that from the start.
The third thing that you mentioned that was interesting, and I’m going to forget it, but you said something a few minutes ago about the fact that to gain their trust you… And, I’m going to forget it.
Allie: No, you’re fine. Well, getting on video calls, is that what you were going to say?
Louis: Yes. Fuck.
Allie: Yes, yes.
Louis: You show your face, right? You show your face.
Allie: Yeah, I do. I do. I know a lot of people, in this day and age, they want to operate behind the scenes, only via email, only via text, only via their social media channel. I’m an extrovert by nature. But, I also believe it means a lot to connect with people face to face.
I think it humanizes you. It humanizes your process. It just, I think it builds trust instantly. It’s like, “Hey,” you can’t send a shitty email or be critical of someone to the same degree when you’ve spent time getting to know them, and you like them, and you are connecting with them, and you’re engaging with them. I think it’s just such a valuable piece of the process, that people just don’t want to be bothered with. I think that that’s a really shitty move, and I think it does such a disservice to people.
Louis: Right. Okay, so, now, we are at the stage where they send you information about, “Oh yeah, our ideal customers are single moms between the age of 25 and 35,” type of bullshit. You dive into their psychographics. You want to understand their emotional state. You want to understand what campaigns in the past they connect with. You want to understand their personal life: What do they like? What they don’t like. What are they sick of hearing? What do they like hearing?
How do you figure that out then? Because, I suppose, there is thousands of ways you can get that insight from their audience, for your client’s customers. What are your preferred methods of getting this information out?
Allie: Yeah, so, when we’re gathering information on their audience, it’s a big piece of it. But, there’s also a ton of other information we’re gathering about their product, their brand, their industry, what they’ve done in the past, what’s been successful, what hasn’t. There’s a whole host of information we’re gathering.
It’s the full story that we get to play with. Now, we’re bringing it in-house, and we’re going to do something with it, the first thing we’re looking at is… Based on everything we know to be true about your brand and your industry and your audience, the first step is…
Of all the things that you’re saying are important about your brand, what is the thing that we believe to be the most unique, the most interesting, the most different, the most resonant? That if we plucked it out, and we extracted it, and we made it your core foundational position, and, obviously, we layered on humor and personality and all that stuff, this would be the thing that would really make a dent in the market. This would be the thing that would be fresh on the scene. This is the thing that your audience hasn’t heard before, and they really want to hear.
That’s when we start to actually, that’s when we’re getting into our process, where we’re starting to develop the foundational position, and then we’re starting to build all the other creativity on top of it.
Louis: But, before that, how do you figure out what drive people? Do you get their customer on the phone? Do you send surveys out? I don’t know, do you go and visit them in their house? How do you figure out what triggers those people?
Allie: We’re operating from the, we’re not doing data gathering in terms of quantitative data. No. There are times where we are collecting response and feedback from consumers. We’re trying to gather all of that. But, we’re doing a lot more of the qualitative and emotional resonance than gathering just quant data, because… There is value to that. However, I think the approach that we take is a bit unique and different and is often discarded, because it’s not thought of as relevant, forgetting that so many people are really reacting emotionally.
We’re really trusting our brands to have gathered a lot of good information from their audience. Then, we’re reshaping and reformulating that to really help it land back on their audience.
Louis: You ask them to basically feed you everything they have.
Allie: Yeah, in a very, yeah, in a very structured way, but, yes. We want all the information at our disposal, so that we can really truly understand their brand.
Louis: Okay, so, as you mentioned, the full story, so, you have research, you have industry trends, you’d have campaigns from them that worked in the past or didn’t work, so you can start to have a sense of what triggered people, what didn’t work, what works. Any other sources that you like to rely on?
Allie: Yeah, those are the big ones. I think another thing too is, often, we’re doing long-term engagements with people, so when we are developing campaigns or developing certain aspects of their brand, there is an iterative process to it. We do want to test certain styles, and how do people respond to things. We do some A/B testing, how are people reacting on this platform in this medium?
That comes at the end, but it should be, just like a person has many nuances and different aspects of their personality, and we are flexing in different directions, and we are maybe a little bit, we are one way in one environment, and then one way in another, we do want to test out this personality and test out this messaging on the mediums. It should be iterative. Just like we grow as people, the brand should grow and evolve as well.
Louis: Right, yeah, you’re not working on something for a year without testing it. You’re showing it as you go to test reactions and evolve it. Okay.
Then, you mentioned your point of differentiation. You’re basically trying to find one thing that sets them apart from the rest, right?
Allie: Yeah, because, in all honesty, most markets are incredibly saturated. People have this idea, and they have an idea in mind, and they’re coming to the table thinking they’re doing something new, fresh, and different. It’s often not really the case.
Sometimes, the thing that is new, fresh, and different is actually the product. They’re doing it in a way that no one else is doing it. It’s something really cool and unique that we want to heighten. Sometimes, it is really the way that we can talk about it, that becomes the new fresh and different angle.
We have yet to work with anyone where we haven’t found a hook, which we call it a hook, a really sexy, compelling element of their brand that we can really highlight and then use it as the foundation piece.
Louis: From your experience, so you mentioned a product, the way you’re going to talk about it, what other type of hooks have you found? Or, are they the main two ones?
Allie: Yeah, it tends to be, it’s either the way… Your product is doing something, it’s either the quality of the product, it is the way it’s formulated that is different or fresh or new. Maybe it’s the process of getting it from A to Z in terms of how you actually develop your product that’s really different. Maybe it is an aspect of your product that we really want to highlight it, that you do it better than anyone else.
God, there’s a million different ways we can slice it. But, it has to be meaty. It can’t just be, oh, this weird ancillary thing. It really has to be, because it’s the idea that for us is going to do the most heavy lifting. It doesn’t mean everything you say has to be this. But, this should be the centerpiece, that all other things you say really spawn from in some way.
Louis: Right. I’m going to give a bit of pointers for people listening right now. We’ve recorded a few episodes on positioning in the past. There is one in particular where we go through the 26 different types of positioning ideas you can go through. It actually helps you to generate thousands of possibilities.
I think what Allie is also describing is pretty much connected to that to understand what point of differentiation you need to push for. There are literally thousands of possibilities. Yeah, if you google this one, I think it’s 26 types of positioning or whatnot, you’ll find it.
Going back to one thing you said a few minutes ago that I’m not going to forget, because you said the magic word, you said IP, right?
Louis: You should never say that on this podcast. Obviously, please, do not share everything. I know you won’t. You need to keep a bit of mystery, I get it. But, you mentioned archetypes that you’ve developed in your company to help you develop these type of edgy and funny, witty campaigns, or emotional campaigns that would generate some emotional responses.
Can you share a few of them? Because, once that we know the point of differentiation, I suppose it’s time to start diving into the execution of it, the messaging per se, right?
Allie: Yeah. When we are developing a brand’s personality, we’re tapping into these archetypes. We are not using them in their exact form. Everything we create for folks is customized, unique, specifically for the brand.
I’m not going to go into the specific archetypes in terms of what they actually are, because that is such a big piece of our internal process. But, I will say that what they do is there, I mentioned this before, but I’ll talk about it again, is there are so many shades of humor and fun. There are so many shades of personality. Each shade evokes and elicits a different response from your consumer.
If you want to drive authority, there is a certain style. If you want to build trust, there’s a certain style. If you want to be really relatable, and you really want to create ease in your customer, there is a certain style of humor and fun that really relates. That’s what are humor archetypes look like.
They range from things like self-deprecating, silly, all the way through really bold, edgy, savage. There are archetypes that are more clever, that are more witty that are more dry and plain-speak. There are a whole lot of them. We’ve been developing these for a very long time.
But, basically, what the point of each of them is, is that we know very quickly that if we want to, based on what our goals are of a brand, and we want to elicit a specific response in our consumer, this is the style that will do this, because if we go… No matter what the client says, let’s say, they’re like, “Oh, I want bold, edgy. But, I also want people to feel really comfortable around me, and I want them to feel a lot of ease in my process.” We’re like, “Bold and edgy is not going to be the way forward.” We can maybe pepper in a little bit, but that can’t be the core driving force in your personality, because that is not what that persona or that archetype does. It just will not create the reaction that you’re looking for.
That’s for us where, we’ve tested this out over numerous projects. It just, we just really quickly, it doesn’t mean we don’t test and shift and massage them, but we can quickly understand, based on what we’re finding that our audience needs to hear, and what the goals are, what style will work more effectively.
I can just give you one example that might help. We had a really fun client. They were an IT consulting firm. Now, as dry as it gets, how boring is IT consulting?
Allie: Boring, no one’s interested. No one is excited to dive deep into that world.
What we decided is, let’s take a little bit more of a self-deprecating tone, because self-deprecating is inherently likable. You like someone who can poke fun at themselves. When someone can see themselves for who they are… If someone who is in IT is already going, “Yeah, I know, we’re kind of boring. We’re IT.” There is automatically a relationship built there, because you’re like, “Oh, they get it. They know that we aren’t that interested in what they have to do, but now I am more interested, because at least they’re self-aware.”
It’s like that was a component that we peppered into the personality, because it elicits a certain reaction and response. We needed the consumer to feel that in order to pay more attention to the brand. That’s just an example of how we leverage them.
Louis: That’s super interesting, because what it makes me think about it is… I’m not going to quiz further into your archetypes. I’m going to respect your IP, and what you do. By the way, you need to sell this as a product or as a book.
Allie: Ah, thank you.
Louis: Definitely, I know people would be interested in that.
But, you’re reverse engineering. You’re not deciding from the start, I’m going to use this type of humor, and that’s it. You’re using research to say, “What is the emotional response, the main emotional response we need to elicit from the audience? Therefore, let’s work backwards to pick the right type of humor that will work for it.” Right?
Allie: Absolutely, yeah, and I think that’s often what the misconception can be is when clients come to us is they have a style in mind sometimes of things they like. What they often forget is, that’s great, we want to hear it. We’re very interested in what you’re drawn to personally. But, ultimately, we’re using all the information we glean in order to develop the human humor personality that we build on top of it. Because, it doesn’t really matter what I like, or what the client likes, it matters what the consumer likes.
Because, I have a style that I’m drawn to, that I prefer. But, that doesn’t mean that’s what will work for my client. I’m not going to try to force my preference onto the client, because that’s not what’s going to be the most effective.
Louis: The other thing I wanted to mention here is that I think the way you’ve developed these archetypes as well is to look deeply to marketing psychology and first principles of how people behave, and how they think. I’m not going to remember the name of the psychological bias, but the psychological bias goes as, when someone mentions that they have a flaw, that they’re not perfect, people are more likely to trust them, right?
Louis: I’m not going to remember the name of it. That was from an episode with Richard Shotton a few months ago. But, it seems to be super connected to what you’re describing. If you’re making fun of yourself, if you’re describing something that is not perfect about you, people are more likely to trust you. Therefore, if you want to elicit trust as an emotion, maybe your IT consulting, using this type of humor works pretty well for it, right?
Allie: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely. Yeah, I think that’s great. I think the thing is just, it should go without saying, is you should be a high quality product or service to start with. Because, just like you don’t like bullshit, we don’t like bullshit either. We only want to operate in integrity. We want the brands we work with to operate in integrity too.
Yeah, we don’t want to put lipstick on a pig. We’re not going to try to make something seem better than it is. But, there are definitely tactics that can make people pay attention to you, in a way that maybe they wouldn’t previously.
Louis: Initially, when I knew that I would interview you, your process is a bit of a black box, and I remember thinking humor marketing must be really difficult to do, right? Because, it’s a tough thing. I haven’t seen that many companies doing it well.
But talking to you for the last 50 minutes makes me think that you actually have a pretty thorough process. It looks much more scientific than creative, should I say. It sounds like the creativity part, which is the writing, the copy, and all of that, really comes last. Even your archetypes and your process and all of that is highly scientific, rather than just being up in the wind type of creativity, right?
Allie: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s really funny whenever clients, we kick off projects, they often say, “Aw man, I can’t wait to laugh.” I always say, “Well, it’s not really going to get funny ’til the end. There’s so much methodology and process in the beginning phase that all the fun, entertaining deliverables, you’ll see at the end. We’ll get there.” But, it’s much more strategic, I think, than people understand.
It is hard, I will say. As a team, we’ve collectively done a lot of different branding and marketing. We all do this now, because we like this style the best. We think it’s the most effective, the most enjoyable. But, it’s the hardest to do.
I think that is, what has been really cool is to be able to continue to hone and tweak that. Because, I think people are starting to warm up to the idea that hey, we want to feel better, when it comes to marketing and branding. This is definitely a route to get there.
Louis: Yeah, feeling better is definitely an emotion that people need to feel at the minute, in marketing in particular.
Allie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: Let’s dive into just quickly a bit of your story, because you started… I looked at your LinkedIn profile, your job titles are quite funny, the way you’ve put them.
Allie: Oh yeah, yeah.
Louis: You started, I wouldn’t say boring, I’m not going to judge your work experience this way, but, yeah, standard job. You created your first agency. You started a podcast. Now, you’re full on into Obedient. It seems like your evolution is pretty obvious from the boring, corporate life into spreading your wings into something you truly believe in.
When did you realize that humor, this was your talent?
Allie: It’s funny. I come from a really funny family. My family is, they’re just hilarious. I think levity and laughter has been how we navigate every part of our life. It has just made us so solidified and strong as family. It’s got us through difficult times. I think that’s just been the through line through my entire childhood and adulthood. I have a lot of funny friends. Humor has always been just so important to me, but I never really thought of it as a skill set.
When I worked in more of the corporate consulting spaces, I think I would inherently bring that levity to my ideas and to programs I was helping develop or meetings and even emails I was writing. That was the way that I thought was, not the easiest, but the most natural for me to connect with people. It’s like, how do you make people feel good and smile and delight them? But, that just wasn’t a world that it was welcomed, or that it was, people weren’t really entertaining that style in the corporate environment.
The first time I really think I got to tap into it and develop it is, I… Actually, two gals that I used to work with at a corporate company, they started a company, and it was a startup. It was the first to market subscription box company in the health and wellness space when they first went on the market in 2011, 2012. They were super hot. Everyone was getting subscription boxes with a different type of product. Ours was health and wellness
They brought me on as the VP of engagement. They did that, because they knew me from my work experience in my corporate life. But, I also had a blog at the time that I was writing. It was just personal ramblings, very much just lifestyle, and I just inherently wrote funny and humorous. That was just my style. They really liked that, and they knew that I had the chops to bring strategy to the table. They put me in this role, and they wanted me to develop the brand’s personality and persona, to really nurture all the different touchpoints and all the engagement points between the brand and the customer. That was everything from the messaging through the design and visuals.
That was my first time I really got to flex this ability to really build out a personality, and how do we really get people to engage with us and connect with us. We were profitable in our first year. I don’t think it’s entirely because of the work I did. But, I think it definitely, it got people excited about our brand. It got people talking about our brand. People paid attention to our brand. They liked it. They inherently felt more compelled to engage with it. It became very quickly a saturated market, and we were somehow able to rise above the noise.
That was my first foray into that world. Then, I went on my own. After about a year, a little over a year at that company, I went off on my own and started my own, my first company where I was again doing consumer engagement, and I was also developing programming and courses and deploying humor and fun messaging in everything I did.
I wasn’t initially teaching that, but I was doing it. Then, I started to see, wow, a lot of people are coming to me saying, hey, they love what I’m creating, and they love the programming and coursework, because it’s so fun, and it’s so interesting, and it’s entertaining. It’s all of these things that made them feel really good. It was disarming. It was humanizing. I started to teach then courses and do programming around, how do you start to make a brand that has more personality and stands out? I don’t do that anymore, but I did that for about four to five years.
Then, my best friend was a copywriter and comedy writer, very successful, very good at what she did. We both just kept saying, “Wow, fun sells, fun works. Fun is something people don’t really do that great. But, when they do it, and it’s done well, it’s so effective. What if we built an entire agency around this concept?”
Two and a half years ago, we did. We had done some other, we had partnered on some projects together before we dove head first into it. Then, we have the podcast that you mentioned. We were already doing that together. Then, we started Obedient.
It was the most joyful, I think, either of us have ever been, because it’s like, oh, the thing that we really love to do, we get to do all the time. We get to laugh for a living. We also get to see all these fun creative works out into the wild, and we’re so proud of them. Yeah, that’s the origin story.
Louis: How, from zero to 10, how scary was it to start this?
Allie: Oh man, it was scary… It’s scary in a lot of ways, because what I was doing, and what she was doing, individually, we had built some success around it. The thought of scrapping all that and doing something different and new, that a lot of people wouldn’t get and understand initially, that was really scary. Because, it felt more personal in a way, that all the other things we had done didn’t.
Because, what we’re basically saying is, “Not only trust in our creativity, but trust in our concept.” That was something we believed so fiercely in. Really getting people on board and, also, to take us seriously, because people think, “Oh, ha, ha, ha, funny, humor, jokes.” It’s like, “Yeah, but, yeah, you try doing it. It’s hard as hell, and it’s really good shit.”
Sorry, I get a little cocky. But, so I think that was a big piece of it, is that it was just getting people to understand that it’s a really smart approach, not just a slapstick approach.
But, it’s been really cool. We were in this world for a while, so we knew other creative writers. We knew designers. We knew people that were both really good, and that were really funny. It was awesome to be able to start to build a team around this concept. Yeah, it just feels good the whole way through.
Louis: I think it’s a great lesson in understanding, what is your unique ability, what is your talent and doubling down on it. Well done for doing it, well done for taking the plunge. Your website, I would encourage everyone to check it out, to google Obedient Agency, to look at the copy, to just read the copy. It’s quite an experience. Well done on working on this, because I know working on your own company is probably the toughest thing to do. It’s difficult to take this sense out of it.
What do you think marketers should learn today that will help them the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?
Allie: I think the biggest takeaway is the same, old, boring-ass marketing strategies and tactics that you have been deploying for many years, and that worked at one point, they don’t really work any longer, and, even if they do, they don’t feel good. I think that we, as human beings are responsible for everything we put out into the world. If you have the opportunity to put out something in the world that feels good and is effective, why would you ever choose fear over fun, or fear over feel good, or what is easy over what is right?
I’m not saying that the thing we do is the only way to approach it. I think there are a lot of things that do work. But, I do think that people consume brands, and it shapes people’s lives, and so I think we should be much more intentional about the type of creativity we put out in the world, because it does influence and affect people. If you could make a positive impact, why not do it?
Louis: What are the top three resources you’d recommend to our listeners today?
Allie: I know when you mentioned resources, you mentioned platforms as well. What we use, as much as we are a creative agency, me myself, I’m an organization, process-oriented junkie. We use Slack. It is our best resource for keeping all of our ideas in one centralized place and very organized. We are ideating 24/7, non-stop, and so that’s a really cool thing for our team to have access to. If we have an idea for a social strategy or a client idea or email, we dump it into Slack, which we love.
The second thing I would recommend is we also use Basecamp to task out all of our projects. That’s been vital. We have multiple projects happening at any give time, plus all of our internal things that we’re working on. We use Basecamp to just keep us organized, keep us moving forward, keep us deadline-driven, keep us really buttoned up in terms of how we’re reacting with our clients.
The third tool I would recommend, and this is maybe a bit different than maybe what will be anticipated is, I think also what makes us a really good team is we really understand each other. Because, we’re working so closely, and really we have to put all of our creative ideas on the table all the time. It’s a very vulnerable experience. We use, I know there’s a million different personality types and test out there that people tap into to help understand them. There’s Myers-Briggs. There’s Kolbe. There’s a million good ones.
We used one called the Enneagram, and we have really ingrained, embedded it into our organization. The thing about the Enneagram, I won’t go into it too much, but what’s really cool about it is it puts you into nine, there are nine different types. They’re numbered one through nine of a type of persona or personality you could be. The thing it does, that’s so different than all the other personality tests, is it taps into what are your core fears and core desires, that those are the things that will never change throughout your lifetime.
It’s really helpful as an agency to understand what are each of our core drivers, and the thing that really triggers us, or that really frustrates us. Because, what we find is we’re able to have healthier, more open conversations. We’re able to just understand when someone is not getting their need met, when someone is feeling misunderstood or not heard, or when someone wants to bring something to the table, and they’re not able to.
For us, I think it matters, because how we work together and how we create together and the environment in which we cultivate ultimately affects the way we interact with and engage with and create for our clients. For us, the Enneagram has been just an essential resource in helping us to have more open, honest, real conversations, and just understanding and respect our sameness and our differences. Yeah, that’s another one I would recommend.
Louis: Nice. I don’t think it has mentioned before, so thanks for taking the time to do that. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. Thanks for answering all of my questions and to be quizzed like that. I really appreciate it, and I think people listening as well.
Where can people learn from you and maybe check out your awesome marketing copy?
Allie: Oh my gosh, well, thank you. First of all, thank you so much for having me. It has been an absolute pleasure. Anyone can hang with us at obedientagency.com. We’re probably the most active on Instagram. Our handle is Obedient Agency, and, yeah, come say hi.
Louis: Thank you.
Allie: Thank you.