More and more brands are realizing what smart marketers have known for years: namely, that business doesn’t have to be serious business. This is particularly important in the social media age, with CEOs becoming publicly-accessible figures and light-hearted brand warfare becoming a near-constant part of social media activity.
With customer engagement harder to achieve than ever before (there’s so much competition out there now, both for business and for entertainment), any business that wants to build and retain a valuable customer base must be willing to try new things — new things such as actually expressing some personality.
That shouldn’t be too daunting, but it clearly is, all because too many people feel that their businesses can only be taken seriously if they appear to be serious. This isn’t the case. By adopting a more relaxed tone, you can hugely improve customer engagement. Here’s why:
Informality is great for creativity
Offering creative content is a big deal for digital-facing businesses. There’s so much content out there online, with hundreds of thousands of blog posts being written and distributed each day (often using productivity-enhancing tools), that it’s all but impossible to gain any traction through doing the same things as everyone else. You need to find some type of creative edge — and it’s exceedingly tricky to be creative when you’re rigidly adhering to a traditional type of professionalism.
Essentially, throwing in some humor expands your creative scope. It gives you cause to try fresh types of content: to comment on new things, and to address familiar topics in new ways. Instead of your content production process being fundamentally restricted, it can take a flexible approach, adapting to meet the preferences of your audience (if you don’t take yourself too seriously, then you can turn your hand to any type of content).
Case in point: mattress company Casper uses great creative copy (notably asking “What makes our mattresses so snooze-worthy?” in a great subversion of the term) to come across as extremely charming. Without using humor, there’s no way that website would be as compelling as it currently is.
Emotion is a powerful tool
What drives online buys more than anything else? Leads to the most vicious criticism? Gets an incredible amount of attention? Emotion, of course.
We’re emotional creatures, and we may like to think that we make most of our decisions rationally, but that’s a hard case to argue. And since the problem with traditionally business-appropriate language is that it’s so dry and seemingly-indifferent, it’s clear why there’s such significance in openly being emotive.
Though various emotions can achieve different effects, humor is particularly good at bringing people together and making them feel connected. When you meet someone you don’t know, you can stand there in icy silence, feeling uncomfortable until one of you cracks a joke — at which point the ice is broken, and you can relax. The same thing goes for your brand. Only when you drop the formality can you seem approachable.
Customers care about shared values
Consumers in general are increasingly aware of ethical concerns, with social media links and the connectivity of the internet making it easy to not only learn about particular issues but also get some detailed information about how particular companies tend to behave. Combine that with the level of convenience on offer — with almost every type of product being available for purchase from countless different stores and manufacturers — and you have a recipe for buyers being a lot more discerning about the brands they choose to buy from.
And though having a sense of humor hardly guarantees that your brand is engaging in ethical behavior, your willingness to be vulnerable (make no mistake — trying to be funny online is certainly showing vulnerability) and the nature of your humor (the tone you strike, and what you choose to mock) can make it abundantly clear what type of business you’re running.
For example, take a look at Cole & Coddle, a store I initially spotted on a store marketplace: the combination of puns and pop-culture references with the family-centric photography clearly implies a specific set of values (e.g. family bonding). If you can show through your humor that you care about the same things as your customers, you’ll take a major stride towards earning their engagement, and ultimately their loyalty.
It’s the best way to handle negativity
How should you respond when your brand is heavily criticized online? You could ignore it, but that tends to make the problem worse and give the impression that you don’t care. You could offer a rejoinder, but even if you have a point, you’ll likely seem arrogant and dismissive. You might think it best to assemble a plaintive admission of wrongdoing, but then you’ll seem melodramatic and either insincere or too willing to capitulate under pressure.
So what’s the alternative? Well, you can acknowledge the serious issue with an added dash of self-effacing humor to take the edge off. Consider that people on trial for suspected crimes are told to dress nicely because their appearance — more than anything they actually say — will determine how juries will view them. Online, it’s your ability to be personable that determines how your brand is viewed, much more than the exact nature of your responses.
Humor isn’t just a vital part of your everyday life — it’s also a core element of a modern brand. The more clearly you can show that your business is run by real people with lives and interests, the more your brand will be humanized, and the more willing your customers will be to support you in whatever you do.