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The Principles of Improv and Marketing Solutions

“When the lights come up, attack the stage!” Those are the words I’ve heard over and over from my teachers since I’ve been taking acting improvisation lessons over the past year. Improv is a form of live theatre in which everything is made up in the moment, and it’s a surreal experience to take that first step out onto an empty stage with the barest idea of what I’m going to say. However, with the help of my fellow actors, I get to tell an unscripted story to our audience that will make them laugh and create something memorable in front of their eyes.

What does this have to do with Merkle and marketing technology?

While I reflect on my classes, I’m surprised at how much the experience has improved other aspects of my life. For example, here at Merkle we create marketing solutions that are specific to our client’s needs. I’ve enjoyed finding the parallels between creating untold stories and creating custom marketing solutions. I’d like to share some examples with you:

Having a plan

I’m learning long-form improv, which means that we don’t take suggestions from the audience but instead walk out on stage and GO! While we don’t have a script, we do have a plan. We practice regularly to refine and improve a set of standard skills, and when we discover a new idea during our performance, we use those skills to create the story. Similarly at Merkle, we work from a discover-and-build methodology to support the creation of marketing databases. For example, all retail marketing databases start with individuals, households, addresses, orders, and promotion history, but when a client has a custom install of a marketing tool, (Adobe, Eloqua, SAS, etc.) we dive in to make sure we fully understand their integration requirements.

Yes, and…

The act of hearing what the other person is saying, acknowledging its value, and then contributing back by adding another layer of information is essential to tailored marketing solutions and to improv. Each statement becomes a building block. Avoid saying "Yes, but" or “No”. Find a way to make what you’re hearing matter.

At Merkle, we are a team motivated to build solutions together. My colleagues actively listen and strive to always find a way to say “yes” and to add value to the process. During a recent project, we were assigned an existing solution to support campaigns, reporting, and analytics to a new audience of customers. The original requirements were to make all components available at the completion of a six-month project. However, almost immediately after we kicked-off the project, the customer’s go–to- market strategy changed and they needed campaign critical data within two months. We shifted to a more agile methodology and delivered their critical data, while still maintaining the overall project timeline.


Have an emotional response to what is being said. The audience doesn’t want to watch people being indifferent or worrying about looking cool. When trying to create something meaningful as a new actor, it felt awkward to expressively care about every detail. At Merkle, that caring translates to being fanatical about what we do. A recent project I worked on required a deep dive into how a client determined their customer’s email contactable universe. We spent months sifting through what seemed to be an infinite number of data sources to understand how their internal systems worked. Because of our team’s passion for finding process issues and coming up with innovative solutions, we were able to devise a source data solution that significantly increased their available audience.

Ultimate Back Having (Working with a Great Team) #Merkleproud

Ultimate back having means we’ve always got each other’s backs. We’re a team that supports each other, and no matter what happens, we’re all working together for our client’s goals. We’re “Yes-anding” each other, caring about what we hear and say, and taking calculated risks to support clients. At the end of the day, we’re supporting each other. Whether it’s creating a story from scratch or designing a marketing solution, we’ve got the passion, tools, and expertise to pull it off.