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Humor in marketing can engage, retain customers

Humor can be a powerful marketing weapon -- when used correctly. Here are some tips and examples that businesses can use to better connect with customers.

BOSTON -- You've all been there. It's 8 a.m. on Monday, you've just returned from vacation and your inbox greets you with 100 new email messages. Included are noncustomized messages that shouldn't have been sent to you in the first place, duplicate pitches, clickbait and notes that make your eyes droop. By the time you've made it to the bottom, you've saved five that actually need your attention.

Email marketing can be a pain point for many businesses and customers -- a recurring theme during a session on using humor as a strategic marketing weapon here at HubSpot's Inbound conference.

"The consumer doesn't care about your marketing; they want you to have empathy for them," said Kathy Klotz-Guest, founder and CEO of Keeping it Human, which helps organizations develop a human connection with customers, in the session. "Humor is empathy. Humor is connectedness. We want more connectedness with people."

What not to do in email marketing

Kipp Bodnar, chief marketing officer, HubSpotKipp Bodnar

Several email marketing issues drive readers crazy, according to Kipp Bodnar, chief marketing officer at HubSpot, and conference attendees:

  • Sending multiple email messages. If a reader didn't answer the first email, chances are they won't answer the fifth one that you send. Send only one email and have it hit the right note.
  • Ridiculous subject lines. Clickbait titles can break trust with a company. Subject lines should be attention-grabbing -- and can be humorous -- but must be in line with the message in the email.
  • Long email messages. Readers don't want to spend 30 minutes searching through swaths of text and broken photo links for a call to action. Keep it brief.
  • Poor design. Send text email messages that can render on any device -- mobile, tablets and laptops.
  • Sending email messages for no reason. These sound forced, as businesses try to pull something out of thin air. Nobody wants junk mail, even it if is funny. Only send email with a purpose.
  • Noncustomized audience segmentation. Avoid sending the wrong email to the wrong person. Be sure to segment your audience.
  • Disjointed email to web experience. Readers take the action the email is asking, get to the landing page and wonder if they've arrived at the right place because the experience or voice is completely different than that of the email. Be sure you offer the same user experience across all channels.

How to use humor in marketing

Kathy Klotz-Guest photo
Kathy Klotz-Guest, CEO and founder of Keeping it Human, talks about using humor as a strategic marketing weapon during a session at HubSpot's Inbound 2019 conference in Boston.

While these email marketing fails can sometimes drive away customers, HubSpot found using humor in marketing can improve the customer experience and sometimes nudge customers back through the door.

For instance, the company created a page with a breakup video for customers who clicked on the Unsubscribe link in email messages. In the video, HubSpot poked fun at itself, telling customers how the breakup was all the company's fault. This video talked to customers in a way that they could relate to and turned heads.

"We got so many people emailing us back, asking us to resubscribe because our video changed their minds," Bodnar said. "We try to take the boring, mundane interactions you might have with us and make them funny."

The consumer doesn't care about your marketing; they want you to have empathy for them.
Kathy Klotz-GuestFounder and CEO of Keeping it Human

Some companies use humor in marketing as a way to show authenticity and demonstrate joint pain points. But businesses should also be careful to customize the humor to their audience. If your marketing is boring, customers will think whatever you're asking them to do is going to be boring, too, Bodnar said.

You can insert humor into email marketing, chat and other human interactions to engage and retain customers.

Companies can also add humor to their brands by owning up to mistakes, which shows customers a more human side. During the session on using humor in marketing, one attendee suggested creating a humorous 404 error page that users get when a page on a company website is missing. 

The Walt Disney Co. does this by pairing characters from its animated films with lines they might say. For instance, one page has Crush from the movie Finding Nemo saying, "Duuuuuuude! You totally took the wrong exit. Click here to get back on the EAC man."

"Having compassion and empathy makes customers think, 'Oh my god, they get me,'" Klotz-Guest said.

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