After participating in the Forbes CMO Excursion with the Wharton Future of Advertising Program, it was easy to see that improv is much more than just tickling a funny bone.

Lisa Colantuono

Co-President, AAR Partners

Originally authored by

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Listening: Improvisers must actively listen, focus, observe and be able to adapt and react quickly to what’s being said.

Experimentation: It offers the security that there is no right or wrong but rather a choice you make that you need to run with and support.

Inspiration: As improvisers, the participants are in it together, supportive of each other and inspiring the other actors to take the story to the next level.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Improvisation is a form of theater where most or all of what is performed is created in the moment. So how can the lessons of improv improve marketing? After participating in the Forbes CMO Excursion with the Wharton Future of Advertising Program, it was easy to see that improv is much more than just tickling a funny bone. Improv instructors teach their students how to be confident, collaborative, emotionally in tune, natural content creators and great listeners. Sound familiar? They’re all also vital skills for successful marketers. The more they’re practiced and honed, the more marketers will be innovative and effective in their roles as brand stewards.

There are more than a few lessons that can be borrowed from improv but the top three that stood out are the same three crucial needs highlighted in most marketing discussions today: listening, experimentation and inspiration.

How often is it said that listening skills are vital to career success? But how often do we actively listen instead of just waiting for our turn to speak? So often we’re multi-tasking or “half-listening” during meetings and conversations that we not only miss much of what is said, but also (and more importantly) miss the opportunity to form a stronger connection to the person speaking. Research suggests that we only remember between 25% and 50% of what we hear. That’s a startling statistic.

In improv, as with business conversations, dialog isn’t scripted. Improvisers must actively listen, focus, observe and be able to adapt and react quickly to what’s being said. If a participant tunes out for a second, a critical detail may be missed and the scene will falter. Lesson learned? With the constant stream of communication being sent every day from a myriad of constituents, making a conscious effort to hear not only the words being said but, more important, understanding the complete message being sent is a crucial best practice.

Innovation is increasingly at the center of many marketers’ agendas as the connected consumer continues to challenge and change brand interaction. Marketing principles haven’t changed but the tactics have. According to John Costello, president and global marketing and innovation officer at Dunkin’ Brands, “The danger is getting caught up in the tactics that we lose sight of why consumers should choose your brand.”

And innovation is the foundation of why consumers build relationships with certain brands over others (take note of Costello’s title). Improv teaches us how to take risks and mine our imagination for new and previously unseen approaches. It offers the security that there is no right or wrong but rather a choice you make that you need to run with and support. It reminds us to forget what we know and reconstruct from the ground up in order to be truly creative and innovative.  Experimentation breeds innovation by helping us to lose the fear of failure and instead knowing that failure is critical to learning and reaching new heights.

Many consumers today choose brands with an authentic higher-order purpose behind the brand and they wear those brands as a badge. This is particularly true for that huge – and elusive – Millennial market. Tom’s Shoes, Juice Press, Chipotle, Zappos are but a handful of the companies that embody this philosophy and for which consumers are proud to be brand advocates. They feel inspired and want to inspire others by sharing the story and inviting them to be part of the group. That’s improv at the core.

As improvisers, the participants are in it together, supportive of each other and inspiring the other actors to take the story to the next level. Improv is a team effort without leading roles. What’s the correlation to the brand’s marketing department? It’s vital to remember that marketing is a collaborative team effort, which, in its most successful iteration, keeps the momentum going and the story strong in order to respond to daily consumer demand and hopefully, to gain their trust and loyalty and inspire their lives.

There is nothing stronger than developing new ideas through a collaborative, supportive, inspirational and non-judgmental team. There are no mistakes, only opportunities, “only beautiful, happy accidents.” as Tina Fey, a master of improve, calls them. In improv, you can take any statement in any direction.  Apply it to marketing and watch your innovation soar.

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