7 marketing lessons toddlers can teach you

Without a doubt, one of the most beautiful gifts life can give us is the opportunity to see a tiny human grow and discover the world. Most of us have had the joy (or, some might say, the nerve-rattling trials) of interacting with toddlers, and likely know too well the frustration that can come from trying to reason with these little humans. But with frustration comes the opportunity to understand human nature from its very beginning and apply that knowledge to other spheres of life.

As a marketer, I am naturally fascinated by the factors that influence behavior and how delivering the right message, at the right time, and through the right channel can achieve the results I am looking for. So, I want to share some of the lessons I have learned from the past two and a half years, doing one of the most challenging jobs on earth: educating and caring for my daughter. While all kids are different, they have some commonalities, and the valuable lessons we learn from them can be applied to our work as marketers.

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Lesson #1: Be a guide, not a servant, nor a tyrant.

Every parent has a different approach to interacting with their offspring. Some are authoritarian, lording over their kids with an iron fist and without consideration for their motivations or opinions. Others give up at the first sign of opposition, becoming a slave to their kids' whims and emotions. In my situation, I try (let me emphasize "try") to be a guide as much as possible. That means responding instead of reacting, listening, and establishing a safe path that gives my daughter the freedom to explore.

Applying this attitude of being a guide to our marketing activities translates to providing valuable information to our target audience and leading our customers through a journey while letting them feel independent. It means listening to your customer's feedback but not reacting to all their requests with the "customer is always right" mentality. As Henry Ford once said, "If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, 'A faster horse!'" So, while many of us might have a knee-jerk reaction to give a customer what they ask for without providing education and guidance, we may end up jumping through a bunch of unnecessary hoops, or cutting corners, completely missing the mark and failing to fix the customers’ underlying pain points.

For example, if I let my daughter have her way, she would be eating chocolate for dinner every night. If I cave in, she'll end up with a sugar rush before bedtime and a belly ache, not to mention the long-term effects of an unhealthy diet. And if I choose to scream and force her to eat the veggies I cook up instead, I'll likely end up with a tantrum and a kid who resents healthy eating. But, if I show her different shapes and colors of healthy foods, let her pick and cook with me the vegetables we eat every evening, and reward her with a small piece of chocolate for dessert, she gets what she really needs—feeling healthy—without being forced and while getting her desired treat as well.

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Great marketers have the customer's best interests at heart; they are neither slaves nor tyrants. They are continually digging into the customers’ needs and offering guidance to lead their audience towards things that they might not even know they want.

Lesson #2: Your customers want to be heard.

Even though toddlers have very restricted vocabularies, they have an innate need to communicate and to be heard. And, it is priceless to see their reactions when they are able to convey their message and impact their parent's actions. For instance, I recall one late afternoon when my daughter eagerly ran up to me, shoes pulled onto her hands. After a few rounds of guessing at what she wanted, I helped her into the shoes, only to see her run up to the door and begin pointing. That’s when the lightbulb went off—she wanted to go for a walk outside! Though I had to crack the puzzle, it was worth it watching the joy of my daughter frolicking outside once she got what she wanted.

The same principle applies to our customers: they just want to be heard. Unfortunately, there are times when marketers fail to establish two-way communication channels or to treat their customers with empathy and listening, which can lead to irrelevant, inconsistent, or even damaging messaging from brands.

How can marketers become better listeners in the digital era? Here are some tips:

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  • Use analytics software (Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Kissmetrics, etc.) to understand user behavior and user experience issues while navigating your website or apps. Beyond behavior, these tools can shed some light on who your audience is and what channels lead them to your site.
  • Leverage social listening tools (Brandwatch, Hootsuite Talkwalker, Buzzsumo, etc.) to get insights about people’s sentiment toward your brand or products. By aggregating comments, reviews, news, blogs, and posts, you'll be able to leverage the power of holistic data. You'll be able to identify pain points, topics of interest, or critical issues that might affect your brand. You might also learn about new opportunities and ideas to expand your company.
  • Gather information from those who are on the front lines, like sales or customer service teams. Their feedback is precious.
  • Collect qualitative and quantitative data via surveys. I love creating surveys that allow me to answer some of the "why" questions and even discover the "unknown unknowns" about our customers.

All of these data sources help you keep your hand on the pulse of your current situation and future outlook. Your response gets as good as the message you receive, so make sure there is no noise when you listen and avoid making assumptions when you can validate your ideas with data instead.

Lesson #3: It’s all about presentation.

Almost every parent has struggled with picky eaters and the frustration of seeing our beloved youngsters refute our exquisite culinary creations. Yet, these challenges give birth to creativity. For example, attempts to feed my daughter her veggies or a turkey sandwich would often turn into lengthy standoffs. But I quickly realized that with just a few cuts with the knife and a squirt of ketchup, my daughter would happily scarf down her carrot slices shaped like stars and sandwich with my quick attempt at a happy face. What a victory! At least for now...

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As marketers, we need to think critically about making our product presentation pleasing to our audience. Think about all the senses that a person uses to experience your product, and work on each component. You'll deliver such an attractive product that it’ll be difficult to turn it down.

Lesson #4: Emotions trump logic.

I've been in the unenviable situation where I had already explained to my daughter five (or maybe it was five hundred) times why she needed to take a nap and the importance of rest, only for her to ignore my messages, continuing to scream and jump on the bed. It was evident that logic was useless; I had to influence her emotions.

My new desperate solution was to take her for a walk in her stroller, giving her the chance to look up at the sky, relax, and change her emotional state. Most of the time, the result is a happy ending where she takes her nap, and I have a chance to take a break from my little bundle of joy.

Multiple studies have proven that emotions strongly influence our behaviors. Yet, I still see a significant number of ads that aim to capture the audience’s attention by focusing on messages that appeal to the logical brain, not the emotional one.

One brand that does a great job of utilizing emotional advertising is Coca Cola. With recent taglines like “Open Happiness” and “Taste the Feeling,” they continue to portray their product as one that brings joy and a sense of belonging by creating images of people connecting and engaging with one another. They play up childhood nostalgia and strong associations between their product and emotional activities like parties and family outings. If they solely appealed to our logic or common sense, I doubt people would feel as excited about drinking chemicals and sugar, and it’s certain Coca Cola wouldn’t be the profitable giant that it is today.

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Messages presenting the unique point of difference of your product are crucial during the research and comparison stages, but to get to that stage, you need first to have a strong emotional connection with your audience. Ask yourself, how do I want people to feel? Those feelings and emotions will play a crucial part in all the marketing activities you do throughout the customer journey.

Lesson #5: Don’t promise the moon if you can’t deliver it.

When babies are born, they have an innate trust in their caregivers. If we keep our promises to them as they grow, we will see confident and optimistic adults. On the contrary, when parents frequently find excuses and don't keep their promises, the chances increase that their kids will grow up into pessimists with trust issues.

Try showing a candy bar to your kid. I am sure they'll become excited and cheerful, but if you then take the candy away, get ready for tears of disappointment and frustration. You'll get a similar response from customers that purchase a product that doesn't live up to their expectations.

That's why marketers need to be careful with their messaging and collaborate with other teams (operations, sales, IT) to ensure that their promises can be delivered upon—it’s best to under-promise and over-deliver than to over-promise and under-deliver. In today's digital era, negative reviews and comments spread at light-speed throughout the world. Sadly, customers who have had a negative experience are often more likely to leave negative reviews than customers who have a positive one. So to avoid the uphill battle of fighting against a blemished online reputation, make sure you're proactive in keeping your reviews good and your customers happy by making realistic promises and keeping your word.

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Lesson #6: Learning speeds up when information is presented across multiple sources and formats

I am fascinated by how toddlers learn to speak and how they recognize objects by their names. Recently, my daughter has been watching the popular TV show Sesame Street. Coincidentally, a friend of mine gave me a series of Sesame Street books that I have been reading to her at night. After a few days of seeing the characters on TV and in books, she brings me a diaper, points me to a figure, and says, "Elmo!" I didn't even realize the diaper had the same character as the show and books. Great job, Sesame Street. You have nailed multichannel marketing!

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We adults learn in similar ways. To increase brand recognition and maximize opportunities, marketers need to continuously identify the different channels and formats to interact with prospective customers. Not only do you reach broader audiences when you communicate via multiple channels, but people will trust and recognize you quicker when they see your content consistently across the channels they visit.

Lesson #7: What worked yesterday might not work today.

For short periods, my daughter becomes obsessed with certain foods. My intuitive response to that behavior is to keep giving her what she likes. However, one day at the blink of an eye, she's once again looking at yesterday’s favorite treat as if I were serving her sand from the playground. And any attempts to remind her how much she enjoyed this meal just days ago are absolutely futile.

Rejection is a reality I have to deal with at home and at work. I’ve learned not to take it personally but instead as information and a signal that something has to change.

At work, I see an ad perform excellently, but after some time, its click-through-rate (CTR) takes a dive, and users become less engaged. At that point, you realize it’s time to look for additional insights and figure out what is going on. Maybe trends have shifted, or your audience has already seen your ad too often, or your targets need to be revised.

I am a big fan of A/B testing and concept testing with digital ads and emails. When you provide multiple ad variations, you allow the advertising platforms to learn what your audience likes the most (which might not be your favorite ad). The frequency of ad changes varies by industry and product, and this knowledge comes with experience and observation. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "The only constant in life is change," so let's embrace change at work and at home.

Conclusion

A parent’s journey is a journey of courage, vulnerability, lots of learning, defeats, victories, tears, and joy. This exciting and challenging journey has made me a better person and a better marketer. I know that what makes me uncomfortable and afraid today can become familiar and easy tomorrow. With this concept in mind, I make a call to all marketers around the world: Keep learning (even from toddlers), get curious, and be fearless!

About the Author:

Cristina Lopez Yakimenko is a marketer and software engineer with experience in the tourism and education industries. She earned a Bachelor’s in Computer Engineering at the Technological University of Havana (CUJAE) and a Master of Science in Marketing from Florida International University. Currently, she focuses on impacting business growth and success through integrated marketing strategies that involve art, data, technology, and science.

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