How to Really Connect With Customers

To click with customers in a way that sticks with them, think of every interaction as the ultimate first impression. If your brand was at a party, would people be drawn and completely engrossed in conversation, or would they be hiding behind the bean dip? Think about what attracts you to other people -- it might be wit, charm, wisdom, or a helpful nature. The same qualities will attract a fan base of loyal customers.

A recent study by leading global research agency Millward Brown found "a strong relationship between humor and impact because humor can drive involvement, which drives memorability. On a global basis, ads with humor on average score in the 74th percentile for involvement, while ads without humor score in the 42nd percentile." Which makes perfect sense: in this era of DVRs and AdBlock, people have gotten really good at ignoring generic ads. But they'll still give time to something that makes them smile.

Take Old Spice, for example. Previously associated with old men and tacky smells, Proctor & Gamble completely changed the perception of the brand with Isaiah Mustafa, "The man your man could smell like." With a tongue-in-cheek delivery of a clever script the new Old Spice Guy changed everything. The original YouTube ad has been viewed over 49 million times, and gave rise to a social media campaign that continues to rake in a massive audience. Following the launch of this campaign, the sales of Old Spice more than doubled and website traffic increased by 300 percent. That's no joke.

The Fun Factor

If your brand had a personality, what would you name it? How would you describe it? More importantly, how would your customers describe it? If the words "dry," "boring," or "corporate" come to mind, consider infusing fun and humor into your overall brand identity to attract customers that will keep coming back.

When I talk to business owners one of the most common questions I hear about marketing is, "What if the product I sell is boring? It's a household necessity or an accounting solution, not something that's entertaining or attractive." In my line of business, I could say the same thing. Employee time tracking isn't the sexiest product on the market. But, we have intentionally created in-house videos that make light of the problems we solve, and have made sure to incorporate humor into certain sections on our website. Sometimes it's the little things that go a long way: at the very bottom of our monthly newsletter is a small link that says, "Don't Click Here" (it leads to a different funny e-card each month). Over half of readers click!

Be Authentic

"In humorous ads where branding is weak, the humor is often unrelated to the brand." - The Millward Brown study.

Your brand must come from your own DNA. But funny for funny's sake is not branding -- people come away remembering the joke, but not much else. Your joke needs to be tied to your brand (or something related to your brand, like a slogan.)

So be true to the vision of your business, above all. And don't rely on an outside marketing contractor to tell you what your mission or vision "should" be. Just imagine the most engaging and authentic voice with which to communicate that vision -- and approach it from fun angles and humorous points of view.

Looking for a practical way to start? Bring together business brainpower by polling your employees about your brand's identity. It's amazing how many CEOs stumble upon untapped internal talent where ideas can be implemented with minimal resources. If a funny bone is not necessarily part of your organic make-up, and you can't afford the marketing muscle of Procter & Gamble, start with a light-hearted approach, and see where that takes you.

Think About Touchpoints

A touchpoint is any contact a brand has with a customer -- before, during, and after a purchase. So what are your touchpoints -- from Twitter to point of sale -- and how can you ramp up the fun and engagement factor for each one? For a sense of how this works: look around you! Many brands try to infuse humor into every step of the purchase cycle.

MailChimp, the email marketing service, incorporates a touch of humor -- typically related to monkey business -- in almost every touchpoint along the way. A chimp hand high-fives you right on screen after you send an email, for a sense of mission accomplished. The company is also famous for sending out hand-knitted hats for cats and dogs, with a monkey on them, as promotional gifts.

Domino's packs funny messaging onto delivery boxes, with ideas that educate about the fresh ingredients and the pizza-making process, with lines like, "Frozen pizza is the root of all evil," and "Anti-theft technology: Box surface has been fortified to increase grippage in the event of an attempted pizza pilfer."

Each of these brands stays true to its core values, while leaving customers with a smile and a quick message every step of the way.

So ramp up the buzz and excitement in your business to shift your brand into a position that sells more and stays in the spotlight. Simply add in the fun factor--then watch what happens.