James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

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Humor in B2B Marketing: A 5-Part Framework That Works

James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

Full Profile »

In this episode we talk to Andrew Tarvin, Speaker, Author, and Coach at Humor That Works.


There’s nothing wrong with adding a little spice to your workday — I think we all do it to make things a bit more interesting. Maybe it’s some fancy coffee you always get in the early afternoon when you start to fade. Personally, I prefer tea so I’ve had to find a way to shake up my job without the pump of caramel. 

Humor. 

In B2B marketing.

Yes! It makes it a million times better. If you’re entertained, I think it’s pretty hard to not enjoy your work. And if the person you’re marketing to is entertained… I think we’d agree that’s a success.

So maybe you’re thinking, “Hey, I should give this humor thing a try.” Maybe you’re not. I can’t read minds (yet). But it really is a great tool: what do you think when I say that one Black Friday, Cards Against Humanity increased their prices? Kinda fun, right? But still very on-brand.

It’s that balance between brand ethos and pulling someone in, making them think “that’s kinda cool.”

Humor in B2B marketing can be tricky (read: you have to do it well), but it’s easy to pull off if you know the right way to do it. So…

How do you inject humor into your B2B Marketing? 5 steps to add humor to your B2B Marketing are to:

  1. Define your MAP (medium, audience, and purpose)
  2. Develop your ideas
  3. Decide which idea to use
  4. Deliver with full commitment
  5. Debrief about how it went and what could be better

If you follow a plan like this one, it really does only take some focused thinking and just five steps. Not too bad, I think.

Define your MAP

We have to start at the beginning! Before you can impress everyone with your comedy gold, you have to know where you’re going. What do you use when you’re lost? A map!

Kermit The Frog Looking For Directions GIF - KermitTheFrog LookingForDirections Navigate GIFs

Source: Tenor

This MAP is a little different, though. An acronym, for medium, audience, and purpose. If this sounds familiar, you’re exactly right since it’s basically the framework for the steps of problem-solving. 

After all, humor isn’t random. It’s done to solve a specific challenge.

What’s your medium?

How are you going to execute this humor? That’s your medium. TikTok humor is different from an email, and you definitely wouldn’t use the same humor as a TikTok video in a client presentation

This is also the time to think about what works and what doesn’t for your brand. If you’re Wendy’s, you could use something like sarcasm or satire, but for most brands that would definitely not go over very well. 

Who’s your audience?

Your client and your boss (probably) don’t need to hear the same joke. Unless it makes sense, of course.

But think: does your audience already know your brand? You want to build credibility. If you’re showing them a product and they don’t know you, that’s something to keep in mind. 

Who the audience is and what your relationship is to them will control what kind of humor you use.  

What’s your purpose?

Why do you want to use humor?

It can help you grab or keep someone’s attention (even your own!). It can help people remember things longer (like what your brand’s name is).

It can even help you manage your stress so you’re more engaged in your work. That’s a win!

Think of that specific moment you want to use humor for. Is it the first newsletter a subscriber gets? Is it a funny weekly addition to your brand’s content? 

If you use a specific structure or create a humorous series, people know to expect humor and can look forward to it. 

For example, you might have a weekly email blast with a fun name — if people know what’s coming, it’ll make more sense and they’ll want to click and keep reading. 

Develop your ideas

I like to say that “humor requires creation.” Unfortunately, no one’s immune to the Rule of 90 (90% of what you write will be crap), so you have to come up with a decent amount of content to come up with that great 10%.

Problem: You’re not a professional comedy writer

You’re not a professional comedy writer, and you probably don’t want to take forever to figure out what humor you’re going to use. I got you — there are strategies to help. 

You can’t write comedy on a spreadsheet. Believe me, I would if I could. Can you tell I’m an engineer? However, there are some common comedic devices you can use, like a comic triple. 

Solution: You can use tried and true comedic devices

Comic triples are nice and simple. List 3 things and surprise your audience with the last one: “I loved to tinker as a kid. I’d take things apart, put them back together. Clocks, radios, my parents’ marriage.”

Easy-to-learn structures are the way to hack business humor. Another great one is the ten-by-ten list, comparing ten things you discuss (say, email marketing) to ten things in a theme (maybe Game of Thrones). 

The ten-by-ten list in action would be saying “Are your marketing emails more like this Game of Thrones character, or that one?” It works with all kinds of themes: sports, passions, activities.  

And if you need to, don’t forget to tie your analogy or metaphor back to what you’re talking about. You want them to clearly remember what you’re talking about, not just that you had a fun baseball analogy. 

Decide which idea to use

Okay, so now you have a million ideas. Good job! Now we can use a handy decision-making checklist or flowchart (Ohio State engineering is at least 10% of my identity. Probably more). 

1. Check your MAP

Does the humor idea fit your MAP? If not, that’s okay. Maybe an email becomes a video. Or maybe you put that idea in the “save for later” file. 

2. Some rules so you don’t go overboard

The newspaper rule: is the humor appropriate? You don’t want to get fired (I assume). Would you be okay with this on the front page of your hometown paper? Or the Wall Street Journal?

The Onion rule: don’t sound too crazy. If it’s something so zany that it doesn’t even sound real, like articles from the satirical newspaper The Onion, it’s probably not for you. 

You don’t want to confuse your audience or distract them too far from what you’re actually trying to get across to them.

Source: The Onion

3. Does it make you smile?

It should make you laugh, or at least feel happy. Enjoying your work more means you’re a more effective employee for your organization. 

Enjoying work = more effective employee.

You’ll also be more likely to deliver your humor with confidence and excitement, which make people trust you.

Makes you laugh = more confident in delivery.

Deliver with full commitment

Time to execute your idea. Set the stage if you need to — don’t just start telling some story about your neighbor if people will be confused. 

Commitment takes confidence

If you don’t commit, you will not succeed. Confidence through completion. If you’re delivering your humor in-person, do not, do not, do not make an apology face before or after. 

“Apology face?”

Yes, apology face. That cringe you make when you flub your words or mess up obviously. You’re working hard and you’re going to do it right because you’re following the process. Commit!

Be brief, don’t give a long preamble. Set up your punchline and deliver, in and out. 

Debrief about how it went and what could be better

Reflect on what you did and how it was received

How did it go? Think through each step. Did your MAP work? Did idea development work, and was it efficient?

Maybe you decide that next time, to be more efficient or effective, you want to bring someone in, like a comedian to come up with new ideas. 

Think about what you should do next

Are you meeting goals for what your humor will do? Maybe a humor style guide would be helpful — do you use sarcasm or puns? Should humor be more aggressive or affiliative? 

How was your delivery? Was it well-executed? If so, maybe you should use that approach again. You could create another tweet with a similar style, or even use the same joke in other client presentations. 

TL;DR

Humor can help you be more efficient and more effective. It can make your work more enjoyable, and it can help you grab others’ attention, cause them to create positive associations, and get them to trust you. 

Working carefully through a plan to use humor in your marketing can allow you to use humor confidently and successfully. 

Checking in along the way and keeping your goals and desired impacts in mind as you work throughout the process can keep you on the right track. 

All it takes to use humor in B2B marketing is following a good method, like my 5 steps. 

Consider the basics of your approach, use comedic structures to develop ideas, carefully decide what to use, stay confident, and reflect and revise. That’s it.


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