Funny business: How 3 startups use humor to generate brand awareness
An auth algorithm, an ecommerce commercial, and an intergalactic creature walk into a bar…
🤣Find out if humor is right for you
Why do brands try to be funny when it can be so hard to get right? Because when the joke lands, people remember, and it pays off. This can especially benefit startups that haven’t had years to build a strong reputation; they are virtually unknown and often competing with “household” names. Humor can help cut through the noise and get people to pay attention to a brand that might have otherwise stayed off their radar.
In deciding if a comical approach is right for your brand, Abhishek Iyer, director of marketing at Descope, advises companies to maintain as much authenticity as possible in their brand voice.
To do this, look to the core of the company: its founder(s) and its mission, purpose, and values. From there, the marketing or brand lead can develop a brand voice that feels authentic to the team. For Iyer, the Descope team, many of whom worked together at previous companies, had a knack for the irreverent and developing a humorous, familiar conversational tone felt obvious.
But funny can’t be forced, Iyer cautions. If a humorous approach feels clunky, it’s a sign that the brand is meant to take on another voice.
😅The benefits that humor can provide
“It’s a cliche but people buy from people. And people respond better when social media presence sounds like an actual human being and not a corporate robot.” – Ron Harnik, VP of Marketing at Endor Labs
Humor helps people notice a brand, leading them to opportunities to find out more. Iyer explains, “if people find a few things you’ve said to be funny, they’ll then follow you on LinkedIn. And there, they find something informative. Now they know who you are and what your company does. And when they have an active project, they will consider you.”
Humor is also a natural amplifier. When something makes people laugh, it sparks replies, comments, and reshares that go far beyond your current audience.
And humor’s not just for customers. It gets prospects into the marketing funnel, sure, but a company’s brand voice is also a strong culture signal to potential hires. Does funny or even nerdy resonate? Great! This might be the right team for them.
😼How to craft the jokes
To use humor effectively, you need to understand the audience you’re creating content for and their sense of humor. Focus on the daily problems your audience faces and share something entertaining that can help lighten their load.
Iyer shared a few additional best practices for writing jokes that will land:
Do: Evaluate the content from all angles to catch if anyone may find it offensive. To avoid hurt feelings, consider how the content could be perceived from people of all backgrounds, especially those with either marginalized or traditionally disadvantaged identities – “Punch up, not down.”
Do: Make more jokes that are self-deprecating than making fun of others.
Don’t: Make light of serious situations. For example, a data breach is not something that authentication company Descope would make fun of. Their target audience are the devs for whom a breach is a crisis. It’s not a laughing matter.
Don’t: Make jokes about your products and offerings. While tailoring humor to your industry makes sense, the solutions your company offers should be taken seriously. Remember, humor is meant to bring awareness to your brand, not explain products or drive conversions.
😉Test your material and measure its resonance
If possible, share content with a smaller group – perhaps on an employee Slack – and gauge reactions before posting it for larger audiences. This can be especially useful if your vetting group shares similarities with your target audience. This closed feedback loop can help verify that your content will have its intended impact.
From there, consider a “bottoms up” approach of participating at a community level in forums or a public Slack channel. If your humor plays well there, take it to your broader social channels. The cream of the crop on social can make its way to newsletters and blog posts.
When you’re gathering quantitative performance metrics – likes and shares, don’t forget the qualitative side of things. Ask prospective customers and new community members how they heard about you. Did they find you through a funny thread or relatable meme that a colleague shared? These conversations will help you parse if your content is building brand equity.
😎Case 1 (Aidaptive): Create a funny campaign
“Black Friday, ’tis the season, it’s a-lurkin’,” it begins. “But last year, though, something wasn’t working/Prepping early this year to avoid the hurt and/I’m searching for something new to boost our conversion.”
Aidaptive offers an AI platform for e-commerce retailers that delivers personalized experiences to their customers with the aim of increasing conversion rates and average order value. Since launch, the company had followed a standard content marketing approach of offering e-tailors all the information they would need to choose Aidaptive: relevant blog posts, case studies, and careful explanations of how their technology worked.
However, Rafael Granato, head of marketing at the company, realized a problem. They were competing in a highly crowded market. Granato needed to do something that was far removed from his competitors and would create a positive association with the Aidaptive name. He decided that a timely, humorous campaign would do the trick, thus the “CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) Anthem” was born.
This campaign consisted of two playful rap songs with accompanying lyric videos, featuring a slew of witty rhymes that play off the pressures that DTC and ecommerce leads face in the days leading to Black Friday and into the holidays. The goal was to telegraph a strong “we get you” message to those in-house and agency-side in the thick of holiday sales planning.
The campaign was rounded out with several shorter videos personalized for specific industry influencers, playful social posts, and a dedicated, hip hop-inspired landing page with a “try before you buy” offer.
As an experiment, the CRO Anthem was a branding success. Granato shared that the videos earned 150k+ views with MOM traffic to the campaign’s landing page increasing by more than 50% as the content took off.
😅What we can learn from the CRO Anthem
Working with creatives
Granato had a few pieces of guidance for navigating working without outside creatives to produce innovative, stand-apart campaigns:
First and foremost, look at the creator’s portfolio with a strong eye on quality. Does the level of polish meet or exceed what you’re aiming for?
Next, assess the creator’s level of experience in your industry the project is for. The process can be much easier if the creator understands your industry’s nuances and norms, audience and competitor set. On the other hand, a creator that’s worked across industries could bring a fresh perspective.
Find someone who’s naturally collaborative. Your team will bring the vision and goals, the consultant or agency will need freedom to create but the important part is keeping an open dialogue as the work takes shape.
😁Get your distribution right
After seeing immediate, positive traction the “CRO Anthem” campaign, one of Granato’s most significant takeaways was that they could have maximized their benefits with a longer campaign and more content. This would’ve allowed Aidaptive to keep the conversation going through even more channels, increasing the odds of achieving the “seven touches” needed before a customer is compelled to buy.
Going viral once on a specific channel can create a spike in interest and engagement, but it will not ensure longevity for your brand and its message. Teams need to keep consistently pushing their content and messaging into the market to keep people’s attention. “That’s the leg work that a lot of people usually don’t talk about,” says Granato.
🤠Case 2 (Descope): Weave humor into your brand’s everyday communication
Instead of select marketing campaigns that use humor, brands may use comedy as a common tool in their everyday content and posts. Descope is one of those brands.
The company offers an authentication and user management platform aimed at developers, which might not seem like the most laughable topic. It’s not.
However, with cybersecurity topics packaged into LinkedIn memes and a blog tone that’s prone to produce unexpected guffaws from its readers, Descope has found a balanced for injecting entertainment into its everyday communication. This has established a reliable rapport with the developers they market to and contributed to their organic growth.
What we can learn from Descope:
For companies that have recently decided to take a comedic approach to their marketing, Iyer stresses the importance of following through on whatever voice the brand has landed on. “That’s more important than the decision itself,” he says.
If you’re familiar with search engine optimization, then you know how long it can take to see results. Iyer compares comedy to SEO. None of the world’s most famous comedians got their fame overnight, so you can’t expect your brand to do that, either. It will take time and persistence for your brand to build its reputation.
And if a few jokes fall flat along the way, you shouldn’t stress about it too much. If no one finds a post funny, the only one who will be kept awake at night is the person who posted it. If a piece doesn’t perform well, it may just need a few tweaks to get it where it needs to be.
😭How to become funnier
Iyer has a good sense of what his audience will chuckle at, and he credits this to the background research he’s done over the years. To start improving your comedic chops, turn to the professionals; watch stand-up, sitcoms, etc. and you’ll start to get a sense for what makes for a good joke.
It’s much easier to be funny when you’re up to date with the latest trends as well. For example, as Wordle took the world by storm Descope launched a harder, geekier version of the game called Passwordle. Twitter can be a helpful source for keeping up with what topics and memes are in the moment, as well as Reddit and other social forums.
😃Case 3 (Endor Labs): Do both – use comedy in campaigns and comms
Some companies maintain a playful tone across all their marketing efforts, such as Endor Labs, a security company that provides open-source governance.
From the cuddly intergalactic creatures that Endor Labs uses in their imagery, to a divorce court spoof that demonstrates the divide using open source dependencies can create between engineering and security teams, the company takes a lighthearted approach to a problem that can get a lot of teams down.
Even the company’s top executives are in on the fun – Endor Labs’ co-founder and CEO, Varun Badhwar propels this brand persona through his own online presence. A mixture of memes and thought leadership can be found on his LinkedIn page.
🤓What we can learn from Endor Labs:
Get the execs involved
“If 10 years ago people said, ‘I regret not getting started with SEO earlier.’ Today, it’s ‘I regret not having my CEO post regularly on LinkedIn,’” says Ron Harnik, vice president of marketing at Endor Labs. Social media is one of the most effective ways that a founder can build trust within their industry and Harnik states “a founder with a social following is the single most powerful marketing tool a startup can have today.”
CEOs have many competing priorities, so it often takes a village to create and maintain a witty, insightful, and trustworthy social persona. As long as there’s alignment on an authentic tone, key messages, and objectives, the heavy lifting of content development can and should be done by other team members.
“If 10 years ago people said, ‘I regret not getting started with SEO earlier.’ Today, it’s ‘I regret not having my CEO post regularly on LinkedIn,’” says Ron Harnik, vice president of marketing at Endor Labs.
The key takeaway – experiment!
Startups are young brands, and youth is a time for exploring your identity, trying new things, and learning from your missteps. Companies should take risks and try new approaches while they can. The early-stage years are not the time to play it safe.
As you experiment, keep a few things in mind:
Lead with empathy. Focus on how you can use humor to alleviate some of the stress that your audience’s common everyday problems cause.
Don’t overcomplicate things. In the beginning, you don’t need a ton of complicated processes in place that will hinder your content more than enhance it. Follow your instincts, and pressure test your content when needed.
Whether it’s a thread through everything you do in marketing or reserved for your best creative campaigns, humor can be one of the most powerful ways to connect with audiences and build your brand’s reputation.