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Talking about your brand can be a heavy subject. Once you bring in target audience, funding, mission statements, content marketing, and all the millions of other things, it certainly can feel like you’re carrying a giant on your shoulders. Or two.

Today, we’re going to lighten up a bit and talk about how to determine if your brand should be serious, funny, both, neither, or a combination of all four.

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
  • Your brand is not about you, it’s about your audience.
  • Your audience needs to know what to expect.
  • People don’t connect with brands—people connect with people.
  • Always be building trust with your target audience.
  • Curate your life and what you project for the sake of your brand.
  • Make sure that being serious or funny is what your target audience needs.
  • Your brand’s personality doesn’t have to be exactly your own.
  • Speak your audience’s language to break down barriers between you and the people you’re trying to reach.
  • Be the kind of brand that can make people smile.
Show Notes
  • 03:46 Cory: I’m going to be laughing this whole show, guaranteed. Prepare yourself. I’ve gotten this question, and we’ve talked about this at various points in the seanwes Community. When you bring different personalities into brands, for the people who run it or own it, there is this question of, “I’m a really funny person. Does that need to cross over into my brand?” Or, “I’m a really serious person. Does that need to cross over into my brand?” How much mixing of my own personality and my brand personality should there be? That’s a great question.
  • 04:34 Kyle: I’m going to get fiery here, Cory.
  • 04:39 Cory: You’re going to be serious, and then I’ll be funny?
  • 04:44 Kyle: This is good for everyone. I promise.
  • Remember that your brand is not about you.

  • 04:52 We’ve talked about this in the past, in previous episodes. Your brand is about the people you’re serving and about spreading a specific message. I’ve noticed that it’s hard for a lot of people to cross this boundary. They say, “I’m this person and this is me, and it’s still me, but I act a little bit differently in certain social situations.” You go to work, and you act professional and you respect the people around you.
  • 05:40 You joke a little bit, but you don’t joke all the time. You try to get things done. You make sure your boss knows you’re serious about your job and all those kinds of things. After work, maybe you go have fun with friends. You laugh, you joke around, and it’s way less serious. It’s more funny. You get into these contextual situations. You didn’t change who you were between work and after work—you just showed a certain side of yourself more because you wanted to project a certain message about yourself.

Contextualize Your Brand

  • 06:14 Kyle: I wish this would stop, where people think, “Because I have an online business, I’m supposed to just be me.” It’s easy to get into that. You think, “It’s just me founding this brand. I’m the only one here, the only employee, so it should be all about me.” The problem is that brands grow up and mature over time.
  • If you’re working towards bigger goals, you will eventually have someone other than yourself representing your brand.

  • 06:54 They need to be able to come under a certain way of carrying themselves and a certain persona that the brand continues on throughout its lifestyle. The people following along with your brand need to know what to expect. If you’re a doctor, for example, they need to know that you’re not going to joke about their liver surgery. You’re going to give them facts and tell them what’s going to happen, why that’s going to happen, and treat it seriously, because it’s a serious issue.
  • 07:29 You need to not act like a clown and scare them off, because they don’t know if you’re going to be serious when you need to be. That’s an extreme example, but the point is that you have to be contextual for your audience. You have to give them a certain atmosphere, so to speak. When you go into a kid’s store, a toy store, it’s super fun. “Let It Go” is playing on the speakers and Cory is singing to that, and he’s really excited about it.
  • 08:03 There are bright colors everywhere. People are super happy, there’s fun music playing, and honestly, some places even use certain smells and things intentionally to make you happier. Maybe it smells like candy or something. Then, you go somewhere else, another store that’s supposed to be a high end luxury brand, and it’s a little bit more mellow. You don’t feel like you can run around screaming. The people there are very serious about what they’re doing and making sure that you feel taken care of.
  • 08:39 They’re still cordial and kind, and they may joke about a few things, but it’s a different atmosphere. I’m saying all of this because I want to get your frame of mind right. Your brand isn’t about you, even if you’re the only person running it.
  • Your brand is about the people you’re taking care of, the people you’re trying to reach.

  • 09:06 If you have a mission and a purpose, there’s a certain kind of note you want to hit with the other person.
  • 09:21 Cory: You’re running a non-profit, a church, or some kind of organization in California, because I’m familiar with California. You’re trying to get 15 to 18 year old young men to step up in their community, to stop playing as many video games and start doing something with art or something like that, and let’s say that you’re a really serious person. You’re not going to reach 15 to 18 year old young men in California with logical syllogisms.
  • 10:00 You know what I mean? You have to, in a sense, speak the language of the people you’re trying to reach. There’s a very cultural aspect to this. First, you start out by saying, “Who am I trying to reach/impact/help/market to?” Then you say, “How do I do that in the best way?” That’s where you start working out your message. I see it as three things.

Focus on Your Target Audience

  • 10:34 Cory: Step one, know your audience. Step two, know yourself. Step three, figure out how to mesh the two. Some of this is a little bit easier or a little bit harder, depending on the scale of your brand. If it’s just you running your brand, it’s a lot easier to know how you’re injecting yourself into the way you’re connecting with the people you want to help, your audience, or your customers. If you have a large brand, let’s say you have 30 employees—or 300 employees—what is the personality of the brand?
  • 11:08 Kyle mentioned some of the shows we’ve done before (Related: e003 Defining Your Target Audience, e004 Understanding Brand as Personality and Why It Matters, and e044 Redefining the Center of Your Brand’s Narrative). Those episodes are supplemental to this whole thing. If you’re a really funny person, let’s say you are the local community funny man.
  • 11:40 Everyone knows that when they hang out with you, they’re going to be cracking up. They’re going to be crying laughing. Your business is enterprise software as a service app, and you’re dealing with another culture that’s very serious. John says, “Funeral director.” How do you inject your “funny man” into that particular business? You probably aren’t going to want to, because for the people you’re trying to reach, it’s not a joke.
  • 12:39 That’s where it’s sticky. You think, “How do I do this, then?” Like Kyle said, you have to contextualize your message. You’re not saying, “I’m not this kind of person, so I’m not this kind of brand,” but it’s saying, “The purpose of my brand is to impact these people, to reach these people.” That’s what target audience is all about.
  • Reaching the people you want to impact is the most important aspect of your brand.

  • 13:28 Kyle: That’s what you’re trying to do. To clarify here, there is no specific direction that you need to go. This show isn’t about how you need to be funny, not be funny, or find a middle ground. There’s room in almost every profession, a lot of professions, for either one. People connect with certain brands in certain ways. When I look at Google and Apple, for example. Apple gives off more of that “We’re a professional company” thing. They’re a little bit more serious, focused on these causes.
  • 14:14 In a way, I see them almost as a non-profit, where they try to promote a cause a lot of the time. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s different from how Google projects itself. Google is a little bit more fun. They like to highlight life and the fact that people are living their life and having fun. They’re still a fairly serious company, but they have a little bit more of that humor ingrained in that brand. It’s a little bit more inviting and warm.
  • 14:50 They pretty much create very similar products, but they have two different brand personalities. I just wanted to highlight that. We’re not suggesting that you have to serious or funny, but be aware of where to land on that scale.

Use Humor to Connect

  • 15:09 Cory: Maybe this is just my own personality, but Kyle, people connect with people.
  • People don’t connect with brands, buy from brands, or talk with brands—people connect with people.

  • 15:33 Humans connect with humans. You need to strip everything else away and remember that I’m a person, you’re a person, and we’re building a connection here. Everyone has a different kind of humor and a different kind of personality. Some humor may resonate with some people and not with others, and that’s okay. You can’t discount the fact that there’s a place during the relationship between you and an audience member or a customer where you’re building trust.
  • 16:07 In fact, you should always be building trust with your target audience. Sean McCabe says this all the time: people buy from those they know, like, and trust. If a way that people can trust you is through a joke or something funny, then absolutely go for that. I would opt for using humor as a hook to bridge some kind of gap, to pull someone closer to you in that trust relationship journey. I know people who, when you get together or you’re having a meeting with them, everything is a joke.
  • 17:09 I can name people on both hands where I want to say, “Could you just stop for a second, and let’s have a serious conversation?” There’s a time and a place! There’s this one person I’m thinking of, and every single time, even if it’s a serious conversation, everything has to turn into a joke. Everything has to be silly. Everything has to be not serious. That drives me nuts.
  • 17:38 Again, that’s just me. There might be some other people who would say, “I like humor all the time. That’s great.” I have found that there can be a most effective way to reach someone as an online brand or as someone trying to sell something. If you’re the guy who runs the Oatmeal or if you’re Bill Watterson and you’re trying to do Calvin and Hobbs, that’s all about humor. With comedians, it’s all about humor. Then it’s weird when they try to be serious.
  • If you’re only serious, you have to make sure that that’s what your target audience needs, and that’s how you communicate with them.

  • 18:22 If you’re always funny, you have to figure out what the language is that your audience is speaking. What words are they using? How are you going to connect with them? Of course, there are so many huge brands that use humor to help build trust with consumers. Look at the Old Spice commercials. When Old Spice did their rebrand and had this massive shift in their commercials to be these over the top, ridiculous, “I’m on a horse stuff,” there was a shift in the advertising industry to go so over the top in commercials.
  • 19:07 I love slapstick humor. I could be watching something really funny, and then someone gets slapped in the face, and I’ll start crying laughing. I don’t know why, but I like that kind of stuff. That’s a huge brand, Old Spice, and look at how they’re using humor to build trust between them and consumers. It’s really funny.

Speak Your Audience’s Language

  • 19:36 Kyle: This is interesting. The argument I’ve heard a lot is, “I don’t feel like I’m myself if I’m more serious or more funny, if I change the way I’m presenting myself.” I don’t really buy into that. For example, the people at Old Spice. I have no doubt that they take their business seriously. They have a serious side, but their advertisement, the voice of their brand, is very funny. Cory and I have a pre-show and an after show for those who are part of the seanwes Community, and we’re in there talking with people.
  • 20:23 The pre-show is just us being us, probably being a little more silly than usual. It’s funny, it’s fun. People comment a lot on how we start the show, and we get into focus mode. We’re on the topic, we’re pretty serious about it. We still inject a little bit of humor, but overall, it’s a shift. That doesn’t mean that we’re not Cory and Kyle anymore. We’ve just gone into a different mode. We’re the same people, but we know our target audience, and we want to give them value in the time they’re spending here.
  • 21:00 We know the seriousness level we need to be at in order to reach people and not seem like we’re a joke or what we’re projecting is a joke. There’s that slight shift. It’s something you do on a regular basis in social situations. The gap here is that you’re intentionally planning it here. You’re saying, “Should I do this?”
  • When you curate your life and what you project for the sake of your brand, it can feel different than making intentional decisions in the moment.

  • 21:39 Kyle: I don’t know if I’m making sense with that distinction.
  • 21:41 Cory: I’m totally with you. A way to simplify that idea for people who struggle with that is this. Let’s say that your first language is English, and you’re trying to reach people who speak French. If you learn French, are you less yourself when you speak or write French? No. You’re speaking the language of the people you’re trying to reach in a very literal sense.
  • 22:11 When you determine what the language of your target audience is and you figure out how to communicate with them, let’s say that you’re communicating value. You have this blog post, and every once in a while you sneak something in that offsets the pattern a little bit and makes people go, “Oh, that was kind of funny!” Maybe that’s what you need to do.
  • 22:35 If there’s another situation where it’s all about humor, absolutely, go with that. I defy the idea that your brand’s personality must be exactly your own. That’s just not true. They’re infused. There are aspects of your personality, certainly, that are injected into the brand, especially if it’s just yourself. We’re beating a dead horse here, but when you’re speaking your audience’s language, it’s not a deviation from who you are.
  • Speak your audience’s language and allow a portion of yourself to evolve, so that you can break down barriers between you and the people you’re trying to reach.

  • 23:32 That’s what humor is. It’s there to break down barriers between a person and another person.
  • 23:36 Kyle: It also helps solidify things for people. Humor is a great tool. Again, it’s different for different brands, but on the whole, if you can be fairly serious about the topic you’re speaking about and inject humor at the right moments, you ingrain that moment in their minds. It’s like, “We’re going along on this serious track.” Earlier, I said something about a doctor joking about your liver.
  • 24:14 There are things like that where you’re thinking about a doctor making a joke about liver surgery or something weird, and you remember that. It’s not the norm. It’s this different thing. If someone jokes all the time, you don’t remember it; if someone’s serious all the time, you also don’t remember it. There has to be this balance, in some respects. You can use those tools for different reasons.
  • 24:43 Cory: I love that. Now, in this context, Kyle talking about the liver doctor, that’s really funny. Now I’m going to think of that.

Make People Smile

  • 24:57 Cory: There are so many examples of this. Eric asked, “Should humor be treated differently for a personal brand vs. a larger brand?” I don’t think so. Again, it’s about your target audience. Look at companies like Geico or Progressive, insurance companies that bring these ridiculous storylines to their commercials and their marketing. You remember those things.
  • 25:24 There are these ridiculous scenarios that would never happen in real life. Recently, I was at the Guinness Storehouse here in Dublin. You pay a certain amount of euro, and it’s this seven story museum/brewery. It’s really fascinating. It’s one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. There’s this one level that has this one section called Guinness Advertising or Marketing with Guinness, or something like that.
  • 25:54 It’s this museum section that shows you the different mascots they’ve used over the years. One of them is a seal that’s balancing a can of Guinness on its nose. One of them is a fish riding a bicycle. One of them is a whistling oyster. I’m looking at that, and I’m thinking, “That’s kind of weird.” But they know who they’re speaking to, who they’re trying to reach. That stood out to me. I was doing research on brands that use humor on Twitter.
  • 26:37 Twitter is a great place for that. It’s a great medium for humor and connecting with people. On Twitter, Newcastle beer had a tweet in April of 2015, “Today is #nationalbeerday. Have a nice, cold Newcastle and pretend you care.” Or, “We searched high and low and found the best beers in Britain. Unsurprisingly, they’re all made by us.” That’s just kind of funny.
  • 27:08 There’s a lot of room for humor. You don’t have to overdo it. You don’t have to under-do it, but consider where it might fit within the context of your connection with other people. There are people who’s whole doctoral dissertation is about humor and laughter in humanity and changes in culture. There is so much there. It should not be discounted.
  • In this day and age, it’s good to laugh.

  • 27:53 There are a lot of things happening that are tough. People are trying to make ends meet. People are struggling and things are happening in the world, and it’s good to laugh. It’s good to smile. It’s good to be associated as the kind of brand that makes people smile.
  • 28:17 Kyle: I definitely know what you mean. This is an area I struggle with a little bit. I get in focus mode and I have this very clear purpose with what I’m wanting to do, so my personality can get into a super serious mode. I like to be funny and joke around, and I think it shows more in this show than in any of my content, but I want to make that shift, loosening up a little bit and giving some of that happiness and those smiles. That’s something I like to do for people. It’s something that needs to bleed into the brand as well.
  • 29:02 Cory: Well, you make me laugh, Kyle.
  • 29:05 Kyle: Thank you, Cory.
  • 29:16 Cory: There’s this Bad Lip Reading channel on YouTube, and Kyle sent me this video, so he should explain it.
  • 29:26 Kyle: Essentially, it’s small snippets from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and it’s Yoda basically singing this song. It’s called Seagulls! You can easily find it by searching Bad Lip Reading Seagulls.