Have you ever wondered why you instantly burst into laughter or why your eyes suddenly sparkle when a comedian makes a witty observation? Or why it is that you feel "connected" to someone on a distant stage, within 10 minutes of "meeting" them for the first time? And have you ever wondered how you start even connecting with them, almost individually, while actually being only a part of a much larger audience that they are performing for?
I have. And while I am not a comedian, I think I understand how good comedy and the class-act comedian works. It works because behind every seemingly un-suspecting humorous line, every joke that splits you up, there is an underlying context; a "reality" that you subliminally connect with. A secret truth, something you didn't know anyone else outside of you knew.
But how does a comedian pull off this truly marvellous and exciting feat? I think an accomplished comedian is one who very keenly observes what is happening around him and makes sense of it. He doesn't just see the world like most of us do, he deconstructs it. He meticulously studies the "why" and the "how" behind what is happening around us and how we respond to it, in a spoken manner or otherwise. He picks up what is often felt but left "unsaid".
Think of this disarming comedian as an expert data scientist - one who consumes and processes data; painstakingly drawing out broad patterns and broad truths. Patterns that have been fed by its people's (consumer) understanding; patterns that feed into generations of consumer insights.
Laced with these consumer insights, he devices his communication package - that line or two that suddenly cracks you up and makes you feel connected to him. Forming a bond of trust and acceptance that unexpectedly quick, one that leaves you subconsciously happy and bewildered, all at once!
Comedy is serious business. I believe that a stand-up comedian performing for a packed house is amongst the finest examples of a strategically considered communication intervention. It is a masterful class act that could broadly be split into two parts: Content of the message and its method of Broadcast. Both of them are governed by his deep understanding of the world his audience lives in and the overall "language" of the contemporary narrative.
As I see it, this is clearly one of the best examples of an insight-driven communication strategy - something every brand has aspired to have as an ingredient for its success. Traditionally, brands have hired brand strategist and agency planners to do this for them. And while they have delivered on this charter with an arguable degree of success, the real question is whether a successful comedian is better suited to do this instead because he, quite clearly, does this as part of his core routine for each performance, to ensure he succeeds to perform another day.
For brands and their custodians, it would be rewarding to deconstruct the comedian's mind and his methods - how he prepares to execute an insight-driven positioning and communication strategy. In other words, all the hard work that he puts in before he gets on stage to nail another compelling performance, one that is greeted by a standing ovation and results in his advocacy.
Identify and understand your audience
The audience is spoilt for choice. They have other comedians and shows to choose from and options beyond comedy for them to choose where to let their hair down. Therefore, before the comedian throws his hat into the ring, he must be single-minded in identifying the core audience he wants to target: men, women, adults, children, big cities, small cities, English-speaking or otherwise, with what kind of spending profile. All these are inputs that go into creating his product, identifying his market and positioning himself to audiences who would be willing to choose him over all the other options they have.
Understand the opportunity and make it yours
Once the comedian is sure about the existence of a market for comedy, he must carefully identify the nature of comedy where the opportunity exists the most. He identifies that niche within the overall canvas, that need which is not being met adequately with the current options available. It is that opportunity that he must prepare to capitalize on; that which will define his own unique style. Thereafter, he goes about perfecting his product and launching it on stage for potential audiences to buy into it and advocate.
Position yourself and stay still
The successful comedian is then known for his unique style. He continues to build on it with long-term vision and with every new performance of his, he continues to cement it. Clearly, his style is not meant for everyone. So, while it works beautifully for his intended audiences, it doesn't work for others whom he does not target. So, the successful comedian polarizes audiences and opinions and it is exactly this that helps him build his core followers and loyalists.
Stay still and yet topical
Comedy is all about living in the present - being topical and yet not losing the core essence or tone of what you represent. The fundamental reason behind a comedian's success is his ability to connect with his core audience. As they evolve, so must he, but this is done very carefully. While fleeting "fads" give him an opportunity to introduce new topical content, what he manages very well is to still remain honest and committed to his larger narrative - a certain promise of what he stands for which endeared him to his core audience in the first place. His growing intuition of his audience's expectations helps him prepare for his extended association and relevance to them.
As I see it, a comedian both aspires and prepares for the same things that every consumer-facing product brand seeks to achieve as well - clear purpose, differentiated positioning and being most preferred amongst all options available to consumers at large. The successful comedian, through his intellect and rigours, seems to have cracked the formula to achieve success. His "method" makes him an unparalleled reservoir of consumer understanding and insights that are refreshed and updated on an on-going basis. He is continuously immersed with his audience; more hands-down with his sleeves rolled up if you like. He is driven by his quest to succeed in uncertain times and actually walks-the-talk in an unpredictable environment with new challengers every day. The only time he is in an air-conditioned environment is possibly when he is actually the most vulnerable - facing a potentially un-forgiving audience when on the stage. But that is also what makes him both battle-hardy and battle-ready.
So, is the successful comedian the specialist brands seek for expert advice in their quest of writing their success stories? Are they better equipped to answer a brand's call and pose the greatest challenge to the existing set of armchair brand strategists that have often included agency planners? Or should creative agencies also hire comedians to script the next stage of performance of the brands they work on? And while the final word has not been spoken on this one... yet, it is about time we consider our humble humourist in a more serious light!
(The author is head of brand and marketing at Fabindia)