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Yes& General

Dream Big and Execute Even Bigger Using Improv Techniques

Jenny Kessler Klump


“So… why ‘Yes&’?” We get this question a lot, and the simple answer is: because it stands for something bigger than us. Improvisation can lead to innovation. As research shows, teams who actively use improvisation skills trust each other more, increase their collective creativity, and dare to experiment fearlessly when they embrace the possibility of failure.

Yes&’s core values play off these tenets. We’re creating a collaborative culture that is creative and supportive while constantly evolving—and having a ton of fun along the way. These “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?”-style teachings and tactics help open new possibilities for our brand partners.

Game of the Scene

Effective brands elicit emotion and inspire action by consistently communicating one core idea across all their touchpoints. Brand architecture creates a framework for everyone and everything in the company. This spans across visual identity (colors, logo, fonts), organizational messaging (mission, vision, values), and creative output (campaigns, social media, advertising).

This throughline—one big belief, emotion, or idea that connects everything together—is traditionally referred to as the Brand Essence. In improv, it’s called “The Game of the Scene.” When our “scene partners”—the team consisting of clients, creative, and strategy—all understand and align on the core belief, the end deliverable follows the throughline, no matter what the medium might be. Playing by the same rules eliminates personal preference and bias in favor of moving forward with a common thought.

For more than 100 years, Coca-Cola embraced and embodied these tactics—for good and for bad—in memorable ways. The world’s favorite carbonated sugar water tells us, over and over again: “Drinking Coke makes you happy.” It’s conveyed through the brand’s visuals, voice, touchpoints, and overall history.

That’s how we got “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” everything about Jolly Old St. Nick, and the effervescent fun your family can have at The World of Coke in Atlanta. Everything is red. Everything is the same font. And all of it makes you feel good.

Receive, React, Respond

Every quality interaction or conversation breaks down into three parts. Skip one, and we miss an opportunity to develop a great idea, together. Here’s how to do it:

Receive the information. Give yourself permission to ignore any assumptions and stay fully engaged with your “scene partner” by actively absorbing incoming data without judgment.
React. Take a moment to reflect on what you’ve heard, then physically acknowledge that you’ve connected with what was said.
Only then should you Respond and build on their initial thoughts.

This informs every part of our process, from conducting research and developing audience personas to presenting creative concepts to our clients. The tricky part—where Yes& shines—is ensuring the subtleties of Game (see above) reflect and enhance each final product. Making decisions that don’t align—even if they involve data—introduces an opportunity for our lack of knowledge, personal bias, and subjective opinion to miss the mark.

Coke’s most infamous marketing mistake was introducing New Coke. The updated, modern formula was backed by significant consumer research, and led to the assumption that consumers would like to try something new from an old company. It was meant to energize the U.S. market. Instead, introducing New Coke ignited a level of consumer fury unlike anything before.

Americans love nostalgia. Whether it’s 1953 or 1993, remembering The Good Old Days leads us back to a simpler (albeit sometimes inaccurate) time, “Classic” Coke—a familiar, friendly treat—created happiness for us all. By changing the formula—one of history’s greatest mysteries- Coca-Cola turned its back on The Game. No one was happy about this change.

A to C

Out-of-the-box results require out-of-the-box thinking. It’s easy to connect concepts that clearly go together (A to B). We discover new possibilities by digging deeper. Going beyond the most obvious connection to see how more indirect concepts could excite, surprise, and stay on brand uncovers real treasures.

Pushing past idea B to explore what idea C could look like creates more avenues to explore. Going from A to C opens more opportunities to expand and play in ways that are more fun and compelling.

If Coke stands for happiness, what makes us happy? Christmas makes everybody happy! Let’s take a beloved holiday tradition and put our stamp on it—forever. Santa + Coke = an A to B correlation.

Decades later the company made a less direct connection that’s just as delightful and memorable. Where does Santa live? The North Pole. If he lives at the North Pole, it must be a happy place. What else lives at the North Pole that might be happy?

A polar bear!
Coke utilized A to C to create a fresh campaign that fit in to the Christmas scheme. Those adorable little cubs rolling around with classic Coke bottles probably live right next door to the Claus family. Is it the first thing you think of? No. Does it work? Absolutely.

Yes… AND

The number one rule in improv is our guiding star. “Yes...And” promises positive support during ‘&Storming’—our way of exercising creativity through collaborative brainstorms.

The phrases “Yes... BUT” (that idea won’t work because... etc.) and “NO” instead of “And” blunt new voices, kill exciting ideas, and stop the conversation in its tracks. It’s subtractive. “Yes... AND" cultivates an environment where every voice is heard, everyone feels free to fail, and every new idea is accepted—not because it’s perfect, but because it is a potential launchpad for great work.

It's human nature to find fault with innovative ideas. If it feels silly, unrealistic, or could potentially fail, we shoot it down to protect ourselves from risk. The results may seem safer, but they are always small.

The Power of “Yes &” intentionally reverses this psychosomatic thought process. The phrase itself is two pronged:

YESacknowledge and validate the information
ANDactively contribute something new.

Our team trusts each other.  We’re confident that no matter what comes out, we’ll get supportive feedback. The concept may not initially (or ever) make sense, and that’s okay. Practicing the process is challenging! Choosing the best idea out of many instead of accepting the last idea standing produces striking results.

Looking back at New Coke: changing the fundamentals of the brand was a risky move. The decision seemed solid. Everyone agreed it was a smart business choice. Ignoring The Game of the Scene resulted in an expensive, embarrassing moment that’s debated almost 40 years later.

Eventually, taking this chance paid off. According to the CEO at the time, “The most significant result of 'New Coke' was that it sent an incredibly powerful signal ... that we really were ready to do whatever was necessary to build value for the owners of our business."

As the world’s most spectacular flop illustrates… there are no mess-ups in improv. “Mistakes” are opportunities to pivot and explore unexpected pathways leading to connection and innovation. If the world’s biggest brand can fall on its face and get back up again, so can we. What could we create together if we weren’t afraid to fail?

Yes& strives every day to discover and develop new ideas by enthusiastically embracing change. Our approach pushes past what’s expected into ideas and solutions that innovate and inspire. We’re here to connect and build new things with you by using the positivity of Yes with the power of &.

Yes& is the Washington, DC-based marketing agency that brings commercial, association, and government clients the unlimited power of “&” – using a full suite of branding, digital, event, marketing, public relations, and creative capabilities to deliver meaningful and measurable results.

Let’s talk about what the power of "&" can do for you.

Jenny Kessler Klump
Senior Brand Strategist

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