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7 lessons toddlers can teach marketers

By: Cristina Lopez Yakimenko

Without a doubt, one of the most beautiful presents life can give us is to see a tiny human grow and discover the world. Still, for parents, this process also includes moments where their patience and empathy reach unimaginable levels.

Frustration is also part of the parenting journey, 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 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.

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.

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

Every parent has different ways of interacting with their offspring. Some impose their will and expect their kids to do what they want using an authoritarian approach, without listening or observing the motivations of their kids actions. Others give up too quickly when challenges arise and become their toddler's slaves. In my situation, I try (let me emphasize "try") to be a guide as much as possible. And that means responding instead of reacting, listening, and establishing a safe path that gives my daughter the freedom to explore.

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Applying this attitude of being a guide to our marketing activities means providing valuable information to our target audience and leading our customers through a journey where they feel independent. It means listening to your customers’ 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!'"

Great marketers have customers’ best interests at heart and are not servants nor tyrants. They are continually researching and guiding their audience towards things that they might not even know they want.

Lesson #2: Your customers want to be heard.

Since toddlers have a restricted vocabulary, they go to great lengths to be heard. Parents who dedicate time to listen and find ways to better communicate with their kids know how empowered and happy our children feel. The same applies to our customers; they want to be heard. Yet sometimes, marketers fail to establish a two-way communication channel and keep responding with irrelevant, inconsistent, or even damaging messages.

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

  • 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 direct 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 Big 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 in 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 these data sources help you keep the pulse on the present and the near future. Your response gets as good as the message you receive, so make sure there is no noise when you listen and avoid making assumptions.

Lesson #3: It’s all about presentation.

Almost every parent has struggled with picky eaters and the frustration of seeing our beloved youngsters refute exquisite culinary creations. Yet, with challenges comes creativity. I quickly realized that just by changing a plate's presentation and making it attractive or unusual to the eye, I could motivate my daughter to devour the food in minutes. What a victory! At least for now.

As marketers, we need to think critically about making our product presentation pleasing to our audience. Think about all the senses that a person can use to experience your product and work on each component. You'll deliver such an attractive product that there is no way to say no to it.

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Lesson #4: Emotions trump logic.

I've been in a situation where I explain five times to my daughter why she needs to take a nap and the importance of rest, to then see her ignore my message and continue screaming and jumping on her bed. It was evident to me that logic was useless; I had to influence her emotions.

My new desperate approach is to take her for a walk in the stroller, give her the chance to look 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. 

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Multiple studies prove that emotions strongly influence our actions. Yet, I see a significant number of ads that aim to generate awareness by focusing on messages that appeal to our logical brain.

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 you 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: Do not promise the moon if you can’t deliver it.

When babies are born, they have an innate trust in their caregivers. Throughout life, if we keep our promises to them, we will see confident and optimistic adults. On the contrary, when parents frequently find excuses and don't keep their promises, there are chances of raising individuals with pessimistic views.

Try showing candy to your kid. I am sure you'll get them excited and happy, but if you don't give them the candy, get ready for tears of disappointment and frustration. A similar thing happens with customers who purchase a product that doesn't meet their expectations.

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That's why marketers need to be careful with their message and collaborate with other teams (operations, sales, IT) to ensure that their promises can be accomplished—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.

Lesson #6: You’ll learn more quickly when the same information comes from 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 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 show 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.

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 was to keep giving her what she likes. At some point, she would refuse to eat it, and insisting was a losing battle for me.

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.

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At work, I see ads perform excellently, but after some time, its click-through-rates (CTRs) start decreasing 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. 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 thought in mind, I make a call to all marketers of 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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