How Improv can Grow your Business

How Improv can Grow your Business

By Jennifer Bogus

Improv is not typically associated with a conservative industry like banking, but one of the country’s oldest lending institutions is using improv to acquire new customers.

And it’s working.

The Chief Marketing Officer for Provident Loan Society, Scott Watson, incorporated improv into their marketing strategy immediately after getting hired. Less than 2 years later, the organization has grown its market share in the Hispanic community by more than 50 percent.

Even more impressive, their fastest growing demographic is now consumers between the ages of 35 to 44.

“Before we started implementing improv into our marketing strategy, younger people didn’t even show up in our branches,” said Watson. “Today, our internal research shows this coveted group is our fastest growing customer base. We have seen a direct correlation between our change in customer clientele and our adaption of improv into our marketing strategy.”

Scott Watson, CMO of Provident Loan Society of New York

Provident Loan Society has a rich history that dates back to the famous financiers, JP Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Watson says convincing his board to adopt improv as a marketing strategy wasn’t easy.

The CEO of Provident Loan Society, Isaac Rodriguez, says Watson’s creative background was one of the reasons why he wanted him as his CMO. Rodriguez says improv as a marketing approach has resulted in a message that better resonates with consumers.

“His approach to life and work brings our business alive,” Rodriguez told “We’ve taken his improv approach to marketing and implemented facets of it across our company.”

Here are five ways improv can help any business grow its customer base, according to Watson.

“Yes, and…”

It may sound like a simple or shallow phrase, but Watson says “yes, and…” is a crucial improv training component that also applies to marketing. Watson says this phrase conditions the mind to be more open to ideas while the “and” takes idea development deeper.

Watson says most business professionals are trained to say “yes, but,” which subconsciously closes the mind to new ideas. By changing the “but” to “and”, the entire marketing message it changed.

Improv teaches you how to be in the moment

Watson says most people are not in the moment. They are busy thinking about the email they have to write or when the meeting will end. Improv training improves these observational skills by learning to live in the moment and reacting in real time to what life presents. From a creative perspective, this exercise of being in the moment helps marketing professionals become more creative.

Say it Outloud

In business, most people think through their ideas before they speak, which can inhibit new ideas from coming out. Financial institutions take this communication formality a step further by requesting everything in writing.

Improv is about all about expressing your thoughts outloud, which is counter to what business and financial organizations want. Provident Loan Society has now changed the business culture so that all employees are encouraged to speak outloud, like improv. Speaking outloud also clarifies our communication with the public, giving us an opportunity to see reactions.

All of life is improv

Watson says we don’t script our conversations yet we script our marketing plans. Improv helps with all communication skills – from presentations to conversations with potential clients. Since improv is also about listening and reacting to the other person, it helps marketers with their listening skills during sales pitches – all the way down to micro-expressions.

Improv helps with community outreach

Provident Loan Society sponsors improv classes at Artistic New Directions – a nonprofit organization that helps artists with their work. Watson says this partnership has taken their brand to a younger, more creative demographic that frequently is the first to ignite trends.

In addition, Watson says this targeted demographic consists of Millennials who are typically credit averse, which compliments the Provident Loan business model of using jewelry – not credit – for short-term loans.

Improv helps with building customer profiles

Every business wants to understand their customers, but sometimes we don’t have that research. Watson says improv can help marketers build profiles of their clients while acting out scenarios. For example, Watson says his marketing team frequently acts out scenarios between potential customers, trying to identify the thoughts that take place in their heads. This has enabled his marketing team to build better customer profiles of how to better convert these potential customers into customers.

“These profiles are not 100 percent reliable, but it’s better than the alternative, which is nothing,” Watson said.