Copywriter and comedian Lianna Patch is on a mission: to inject humor into your marketing to make it more engaging, actionable, and profitable.
Humor shouldn’t be used in all industries, of course. But Lianna says you’d be surprised in which niches prospects are open to having their funny bones tickled a bit.
It’s not all fun and games. Humor in sales copy goes a long way to building strong, long-term relationships with customers, says Lianna.
We dive deep into this topic, covering…
- The marketing channels where humor works… and where to get started
- A strategy for testing if funny marketing will work with your audience
- The best place to insert jokes in your sales copy – and the types of jokes that do best
- How to write humorous copy… even if you don’t think you’re funny
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success Podcast where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they built successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. Today we’re going to talk about spicing up your copywriting with humor.
Here to speak with me about the topic is Lianna Patch. Lianna is a conversion copywriter and comedian whose greatest dream is to make your customers pause, smile and click in exactly that order. Conquer campaigns with her at Punchline Conversion Copywriting or get quick copy jobs done at SNAP Copy. Lianna, great to have you on the show.
Lianna Patch: Thank you so much for having me, Steffen.
Steffen: Lianna, how did you get started in advertising and what led you to this point in your career having your own company?
How Lianna Got Where She Is Today
Lianna: So this is kind of silly but when I was in college, I was looking for some ways to make money that weren’t waiting tables, which I was already doing. And I was watching Mad Men at the same time, I think that was like right around when Mad Men was coming out. And I just finally had a name to put to my obsession with advertising. and was like, oh, maybe I could be a copywriter.
So I started, you know, advertising on Craigslist, just very low hourly rates, taking on whatever work I could do. And that was, I think, 10 or 11 years ago. So luckily, you know, my business has grown since then. I’m not on Craigslist, I’m specialized, but I think that was the very beginning.
Steffen: Yeah. Did you study advertising, or did you just navigate into that while watching Mad Men?
Lianna: I studied Creative Writing at school. So yeah, a lot of great similarities, though. You know, being very precise with your word choice, cutting things that don’t matter. A lot of similarities between the two disciplines.
Steffen: You studied Creative Writing, is that also the reason why you kind of focused your career on copywriting? Because it’s a natural step to go into that.
Lianna: Yeah, I think that was, you know, another thing that led me toward copy. Like the idea that maybe I could shape not just the words, but the actual direction of campaigns, come up with fun ideas that, you know, would be supported by design or online initiatives or offline, you know, branding plays, things like that. So not just being given a task to write something about.
Steffen: And when did you decide that you might would be great to inject into copywriting? Was there a specific day where it was like, Hey, you know what, this is all boring what I see on TV and newspapers, etc. Why not make it fun a little bit?
Lianna: So that started to creep into my head right around the time when I was working for a local magazine and I just interviewed the founder of an improv theater. And, you know, when I was done talking to him, he said, You should really come take a class. And I had already been dipping my toe into stand up and just going to open mics and writing jokes. And I had just joined a mastermind, a copywriter mastermind.
And I think I was talking to her one day and I said, like, I really wish there was some way to just combine comedy and copy because, you know, I’m having so much fun doing this in my life, and that it feels like I turn around and I just have to go back to my boring, you know, freelance business. And she was like, Well, you know, you could just do that. And I was like, Okay, great. So thank you for the permission. I’m gonna rebrand and that was, I think 2016 so about four years ago since I started specializing in comedy.
Steffen: What are the benefits of bringing humor into marketing? Or have you run AB test on what the impact has been? And is it working across industries? Are there specific industries where it is applied or works better or less?
Lianna: I personally think so. I’ve run a few tests. So I mainly specialize in working with software and ecommerce, which is, you know, those are places where people are more open to receiving funny communications. I don’t recommend it necessarily for everyone, but I do think it can be done across industries. But it really depends on like, your level of comfort with it and your readers’ level of comfort.
And obviously, you don’t want to offend. But to go back to your first question, you know, there are so many benefits that making someone laugh can have on the actual measurable results of your marketing because you’re building trust, you know, you’re alleviating anxiety. You’re making them feel like you understand them and you’re taking the time to show them like, I’m not just trying to get your money, I’m actually trying to entertain you. And just that effort, even if the joke itself like, isn’t your best, it can go a long way toward building that really long-term valuable relationship with customers.
Steffen: Are there specific products where you feel they should be off to use humor, or when clients come to you are you giving it a try in all the products they have or clients they have?
What Kind of Copy is Best Suited for Humor?
Lianna: You know, I usually like, I don’t restrict myself solely to working with online stores and on SAS companies but I do stay away from certain industries just because I personally am not interested or I don’t think I’m the right writer for the job. So I tend not to write for healthcare, supplements and nutrition, it’s just not something that I’m personally interested in. And I also feel like there’s a style of writing that’s more expected from those businesses that’s very in line with the push your direct response, you know, video sales letter type of stuff.
And that’s, you know, I want to be able to not be stuck in that box. But actually, you know, I get a lot of, quote-unquote boring b2b business that come to me, like very small niche service providers or, you know, somebody who’s cornered like a piece of the wholesale market, for instance, sprinkler parts, which is a client that I loved working with.
And they are some of the best clients I’ve ever had because the bar is so low for coffee in those industries. Nobody expects anything fun. Nobody expects anything good. So the feedback that you get when you start rolling out funny copy is amazing. People like I never expected to get something like this in my inbox or to see a landing page like this, and I just love it.
Steffen: What copies do you think lends itself to humor? I mean, we obviously have display advertising, we have email advertising, where we could use that. We could go, you know, if we leave the digital environment we could go to out of home, etc. So is there a restriction there on the channel, or from your experience, does it work across channels?
Lianna: So from my experience, it does work across channels, but I have kind of a framework that I suggest to people who are a little bit nervous about getting started. And in general, I would say the closer you are to one on one communication with your reader, the more applicable humor can be. So like you can get attention and you can acquire customers like at the top of the funnel with humor, and you can use, you know, funny billboards and things like that but if you’re worried about putting yourself out there trying humor in such a public way, I would go all the way down to the end of the funnel or the purchase point or the signup point, or whatever it is.
Maybe even on the other side of that once someone’s subscribed already, and start with humor in emails, any one on one communications that you have with them because it won’t necessarily be like failing in public if you find out that it’s not for you.
Steffen: If someone wants to get started with humor in their advertising messaging, how do they get started?
Lianna: Oh, man, there’s so many different ways.
Steffen: Tell us.
Stepping Into Humorous Copy
Lianna: Yeah, Yeah, one of the easiest ways is to just kind of think about what’s funny to you. And if you have teammates, what are the kinds of things that you’re joking about you know, in the company Slack? What kind of gifs or jifs, I’m not, I don’t prefer either one, apartisan on that, are you guys sending to each other? And what kinds of topics are you joking about? And then you can sort of broaden that lens and figure out, you know, What kinds of things do my customers or my subscribers find funny?
What’s appropriate to joke about and when you’re stuck there, a really good place to start is with your objections or FAQs. So if you’re trying to get someone to buy from you or sign up or whatever it is, what questions or resistances do they have first? And those are good places to make jokes because you’re trying to put them at ease, right? Someone will say like, I’m a little bit worried about entering my credit card information.
And you can say like, Hey, don’t worry. We’re gonna keep your card safe and sound, you know, like inside Fort Knox or whatever huge exaggeration you want to make. I actually go the other way sometimes. I said, we do ask for your credit card information, but it’s just because we have a lot of online shopping to do. So just like pointing out what a ridiculous idea would be that we’re going to steal your credit card info puts someone at ease a little bit more. Yeah, there’s so many places to start, but I would say like FAQs and objections are really good ways, places to start working humor in.
Steffen: Yeah, yeah. I mean, there are different types of humor, right?
Steffen: Which types of humor are good for using it in copywriting? And what types of humor should you rather let be and not even think about injecting in your copywriting?
Lianna: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I would say, you know, anything that could even potentially hurt someone, especially someone who has less quote-unquote status than you, and that’s not like social status, but that’s just, you know, we call that punching down where you’re making fun of someone who doesn’t have as much power or influence, or reach as you. We want to avoid that. We want to avoid making people feel bad about themselves. So there are a couple different ways that you can think about this.
One way is by using a rule that I sort of stick to, which is making fun of either yourself, so self-deprecation, no one can really get mad at you about that, or observational humor, which is where you pick something in the environment that we can both see and acknowledge and point out the weird or unusual thing about that. So the focus of the humor is never on the person reading and that should head off any potential offensiveness.
Steffen: That makes sense. So if there’s someone out there, now, marketing persons like. this sounds interesting, you know, I have a boss that just doesn’t want to leave the past of we’ve done this, you know, every time and it works. We don’t want to try anything different. What do you recommend to do, you know, to deal with a reluctant client or with a reluctant boss? How do you convince them that, you know, let’s give it a try?
Let’s see, and maybe AB test. And, it’s we always say, you know, you should always AB test when you do something like that, because you want to know what the impact is of this test, right? It’s, does it work for the specific audience that you have only? Or does it work across all the audiences that you attract, for example?
Lianna: If, you know, if I had my druthers, I would say quit that job. But you know, that’s, not everyone can do that. So I usually just tend to point to the actual, measurable positive effects of using humor. You know, it actually boosts information recall. So if you make somebody laugh while you’re sharing information with them, they’re more likely to remember that later. They’re more likely to associate you with feelings of happiness and fulfillment, they’re more likely to open an email that you send them because they’re anticipating something good.
So if people are reluctant, you know, I try to get them on board with the actual scientific benefits first, and then I say, hey, let’s start really small. Let’s pick a targeted place in your marketing. Maybe it’s, you know, your next email, or maybe it’s this particular email series, maybe it’s a welcome series or an abandoned cart series. And we’ll work it in really, really slow and measure the effects against the control and see what happens. and usually once we get some positive results, they’re like, okay, it does seem to be working.
You know, people are replying in greater numbers and saying like, hey, this really made my day or, you know, the subject line that’s funny gets a higher open rate than the one that isn’t. And so we get some buy-ins with small projects first. But honestly, I’m lucky enough that at this point, most people coming to me for humor copy are already sort of sold on it. So I don’t have to say like you need to write funny. They come to me and say I really want to get explore funny copy. So
Steffen: They know what they’re getting into.
Lianna: Yeah, exactly. Hopefully, they’ve been to my website.
Steffen: I get what you just said. But if you have a really stubborn boss that hasn’t done things differently in a long time, not quite sure if they really, if they really listen to the reasoning you just provided, are there numbers, you know, that you can share the kind of highlight what humor or a copy that is more humorous has achieved or can achieve compared to a more traditional copy that is normal and boring?
Lianna: Oh for sure. Yeah, so I actually have a great case study. One of my ecommerce clients from a couple years ago, they already had kind of a funny brand, but they wanted to work on some product copy. So I wrote, I think five product descriptions for them and we got positive results on four out of five. Still can’t figure out what happened on that fifth product. But we measured, you know, add to carts and then actual purchase conversions, and four out of five products saw a major uptick. One of them I think was 200% people added more, 200 more. I can’t say this. I can’t figure out how to phrase this. Let’s take a break and I’ll say that again.
Steffen: You mean 200% increase in sales. Is that what you want to say?
Lianna: No, it was a 200% uptick in add to cart conversions.
Steffen: Oh I see. Okay.
Lianna: And then it actually 98 I think percent uptick and actual sales. Yeah, one, I think those are two different products. So one of them had a huge spike in add to carts and the other had a huge purchase conversions, which was awesome. And then I’ve had other clients here and there that will send me stats. Let’s see, I’m actually opening one now because I want to make sure I don’t get the numbers wrong, but we saw a 311% increase in open rates on a thank you email and a click-through rate on that thank you email for one client that does like vacation home rentals.
Drove an 87% lift in phone calls from a thank you page that I wrote. Let’s see lower cost per click on some ads. Yeah, so like there are numbers. But if any conversion copywriter will tell you that finding clients that reliably measure their results, is already like, you’re already cutting your pool down so much, which is kind of sad, even if they’re measuring, it might not be reliable. So it’s, I’m lucky to work with some people who are actually reliably measuring the results and want to test humor, but that is a pretty select group.
Steffen: Yeah, yeah. I mean, we, when we take on new clients or talk to companies, you know, we usually start with Google Analytics in kind of making sure that they have implemented it properly and properly set up the amount of companies that have not done that, and this is shockingly high. You wonder how are they able to run their business and their marketing and decide what works, what doesn’t work if they ingest data that is just flawed, right?
So obviously, you know, maybe I was thinking a little bit too narrow in the beginning, but one point you just mentioned, obviously, copy on landing pages, so on webpages in general, do you, therefore, when you design the copy, do you create kind of a copy flow from ad message across several channels and then on the landing page on the page itself? Is that all the same copy? Is it similar? How do you approach that?
Lianna: Yeah, occasionally I will do full-funnel work. Like I said, I just tend not to be that excited about like ads and acquisition. And I think there are so many people who are amazing in that specialty, but obviously I want to make sure that there’s message matching across the funnel. So, you know, whatever ad brings people to the page, you should keep that scent trail going and then whatever email marketing maybe follows their visit to the page should remind them again, like why they signed up and, you know, what they’re expecting to receive from us.
Yeah, so I’ll do like, I’ll do audits often of just clicking through like the entire funnel that someone will experience from the customer side and point out those inconsistencies. And when I deliver landing page copy, I usually deliver it with recommendations for design and layout.
So I sometimes will do wireframes using Balsamic or Marvel, which are both mockup apps, but I’m not a designer. So I’ll just say like, hey, to make sure that we don’t completely destroy the effectiveness of the copy, you know, let’s not make the body copies, the body font size, like eight so people can’t read it. You know, let’s not bury this headline under an image or things like that. So I’ll kind of give them a layout that designers can work from.
Steffen: Okay. So Obviously people could come to you, they could hire you to try and go a different route to the normal standard copywriting approach. If they were to try this themselves, how would they start? And some people that listen to I probably say You know what? I’m not funny. How am I going to create a funny copy if I’m not even funny? So where do people start? And then what do people do that consider themselves as not being funny?
Can People Who Aren’t Comedians Write Funny Copy?
Lianna: Yeah. It makes me so sad when people say I’m not funny. Because with their I mean, I think very few exceptions like most people have a sense of humor. There are genuinely some people who don’t enjoy comedy and I don’t get it, but they exist. But I think for those people who just don’t have confidence, a little bit of introspection is good. You know, figuring out like, what comedians do I connect with and find funny?
What subject matter is entertaining to me and this is, you know, a great suggestion for everyone, not just people interested in writing funny copy, but go take an improv class if you can because that’ll really start strengthening those connections in the brain and train you to start looking for funny things in your everyday life. It just makes you, I think it just makes you like a more interesting person, honestly. And it translates to all areas, not just marketing.
Steffen: Yeah. How do you start a new copywriting project? You’re obviously, you mentioned, you know, you do stand up, you’re a comedian. Where do you start? What information do you collect? Because, you know, don’t want to create the same kind of approach for every time that comes to you. It needs to be product-focused, or company focused, It will most likely differ from client to client?
Lianna: Yeah. So because I’m a conversion copywriter, everything I do starts with research. And that’s just, you know, a combination of qualitative and quantitative research. Usually, I’m provided with the quantitative because I’m not an analytics expert. But I’ll, you know, I’ll get a sense of what kind of open-ended feedback do we have from my clients and customers? And how, what messages can we glean from that?
What insights can we learn from that? Is there anything that we can pull verbatim from those, you know, survey responses or reviews or mining to get a hierarchy of messages. So like, before I bring humor into it, I’m trying to make sure that the copy itself will be effective because there’s no point in just taking a page and then with no context, trying to spice it up. Like often that will work because the copy there is so boring.
So it can have an effect on sales, but if you want like the best way to do it, you’ll start with that research first. And a good friend of mine Jen Havice actually wrote a great book on collecting that customer research. It’s called Finding the Right Message. So if anybody’s wanting to start with that, she literally wrote the book on how to collect and use those messages.
Steffen: Yeah. So, earlier when we spoke, you mentioned obviously, you don’t want to probably start with injecting humor across the upper part of the funnel where you talk to a lot of people. You mentioned, you know, it might be better to start on a lower-funnel where it’s a little bit more targeted. When you do the copywriting, do you suggest that people should break out their audiences and, you know, use signals that each of these audience segments have in order to come up with a different numerous approach?
Lianna: I do. I do often recommend segmenting pretty much across the board like as soon as possible because as you know, like any more targeted messaging we can do is going to be more effective. In terms of changing the humor approach, in the past a little bit. It’s hard because you want your brand to have a record sizable cohesive sense of humor, so you don’t want to, you know, pander too much or change too much per segment. But I did have a client that was sending to an older demographic.
And so we knew like, probably like, humor slang, like slang words weren’t going to work for them. References from recent pop culture wouldn’t play with them. So it’s good to keep that in mind with every segment. But I would say one of the benefits of starting with that research and outlining the copy that you’re going to need is that you have something to work from and you can just tweak certain spots rather than writing from scratch for each segment.
Steffen: Okay. Does gender play a role? Do you differentiate between gender? Because women find different things funny than men, therefore, you have to kind of adjust for that.
Lianna: I don’t. And with, you know, I’ve never actually changed my approach with humor. Like, obviously clients will segment by gender to be able to serve customers better. But I am, you know, I’m a feminist and I think whatever dudes find funny, women find funny and vice versa. And as long as we’re not making anyone feel marginalized or insulted, then there’s probably not like a big benefit to writing gender-specific humor.
Steffen: Earlier, we talked about the do’s and don’ts, you know, when it comes to getting started with humor. Are there some common mistakes made when trying to be funny?
What to Avoid When Writing Funny Copy
Lianna: Oh, yeah. The about-face is one of them. So when some, you know, a new CMO comes on board and they just decide like, we’re rebranding and everything that you get from this company completely 180 degrees and goes marching off in the new direction can be very confusing and disorienting for people.
So that’s another reason to start slow. Insulting the reader, you know, we talked about that a little bit. But I think there’s a tendency, and I’m not sure why this is, but when brands start to write funny, because, maybe it’s because they’re writing as the brand. They’re writing as the company name. And because they’re thinking of themselves as a company and they’re not thinking of themselves as people and they forget to think of their readers as people, but they will, they’ll tend to sort of lash out in their humor and offend, which we don’t want to do.
That’s another common mistake. Other less harmful mistakes that’s super common, I would say, making references that your reader won’t get because you didn’t bother to do that research and figure out what they like and who they are. I seen this in software emails more than other emails, but one example that I always give is an email from a software they sent to me and it had a funny GIF in it but it was not funny because it was from an anime and I had no idea what anime this was.
And it was super long and convoluted and there was no text on it and I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to convey to me. So instead of building a connection with me, they totally lost me. Like, why is this here? What is this meme? And it turned out to be a gif from The Last Airbender. I was like, Okay, well, so I completely didn’t get it. Yeah.
Steffen: Okay. So you mentioned earlier that obviously when you get started with humor you need to do your research in order to hit the point. Do you test your copies? And if so, how do you test them?
Lianna: Yeah, so usually, whatever the client has currently running, I try not to, it’s not that I try not to write from scratch but I prefer to write the non-control version. So I prefer to start with a baseline so that we have something to measure against. Whether that’s, you know, landing page conversion or email, click-through rates, I’d rather have something to show for it. I do write a lot of website copy and like launch copy from scratch. But I don’t know, it’s just more fun to show the increase or improvement. Sorry, what was the question again?
Steffen: No worries. If and how you test.
Lianna: Oh, yeah, oh yeah.
Lianna: Like, when you, I assume when you’re a comedian and I’m not a comedian, but I’m sure you kind of test your set, I know with your wife, husband, partner if
Lianna: Oh at open mic, yeah.
Steffen: Or you go to an open mic to see how it resonates. So do you do that with the copy too? And if so, how do you approach that?
Lianna: I usually just use whatever testing software the client has. Klaviyo makes it really easy to send, to split traffic or split emails between segments. Google Optimize, VWO, I don’t take around responsibility for setting up the tests. I let the client do that. But I’ll give direction and say like, here’s maybe how much traffic we want to send right off the bat.
It’s a little different for me on stage because I am usually on an open mic and if I’m telling a new joke, you know, I’ll do it three or four mics and I’ll record myself and I’ll see what kinds of things that ad-lib and decide what to work into the joke and where I can actually cut, where people like maybe didn’t respond or whether they responded the best. So it’s a lot more loosey-goosey because I do comedy for fun.
But I do like making sure that there is some sort of result to be able to point to so if clients are using testing tools, I’ll say like, how much traffic are you getting? Can we get a significant result based on statistical significance? Like what kind of uplift are we looking for to know that we actually did a good job and this isn’t just a fluke?
Steffen: Lianna, this has been really interesting conversation. Honestly, I haven’t had quite spent much time about injecting humor into copy. But I guess whatever makes you stand out, that’s one thing I guess, you know?
Lianna: Never too late.
Steffen: Exactly right. I mean, I don’t want to say copy in general is boring, but copy in general kind of follows a certain approach. Well, yes there are some companies out there that play with the humor side, you know? And some of them work well, some of them might not go so well. But it’s, I think it’s a great thing to consider, you know?
And even if it’s just for a test, you know, I think we as digital marketing experts, we need to continuously test to push the boundary and then push results and get better results for our clients. So if you feel like you’ve tried all write humor in copy. It might be something that works for you. So reach out to Lianna. Again, thank you so much for joining the Performance Delivered Podcasts and sharing your thoughts on how to inject humor into copywriting.
Lianna: Yeah, thank you for having me.
Steffen: If people want to find out more about you, your process, your company, how you might be able to help them, how can they get in touch?
Lianna: I am at punchlinecopy.com. And I’m also on Twitter at Punchline Copy, but you warned there is no filter on Twitter. And really not on my site either. So like, you know, I tend to attract the people that are okay with that.
Steffen: Great. Well, thanks everyone for listening. If you liked the Performance Delivered Podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.