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Erica Mills
Nonprofit Marketing Consultant
Seattle, Washington
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Market Like a Preschooler: Get Gold Star Results

Why should small business owners take marketing lessons from a preschooler? Because preschoolers are all about the basics. And whether you're tweeting, blogging, or crafting a direct mail piece, the basics are essential to any successful marketing effort.
Written May 05, 2009, read 1010 times since then.
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In this era of data overload, maxed-out multi-tasking, and tantalizing tweets, marketing basics get short-shrift.  In our quest to try out the new, nifty thing, the foundation on which the shiny, new things are built seems almost obsolete.  Don't get me wrong: I'm in favor of new tactics!  But it turns out that the basics are still extremely effective and important.  The following three lessons were gleaned from a recent weekend spent with a preschooler who we will simply call "Little A".

Lesson #1: Know Your Audience (or "I want gummy bears!)

After a vigorous morning of swimming, splashing and bravely venturing forth into the deeper part of the shallow end, Little A was on a post-family swim high.  She came barreling out of the changing room shouting, "I want gummy bears."  My reply was "You can have good growing food!  I have sugar snap peas and peanut butter crackers.  Which would you like?" She paused for a moment, said "Neither" and then ambled on over towards her dad.  She loitered in the "daddy-zone" until Little R (16 months) distracted me by bobbling off in the general direction of the now-unattended pool. 

In the two minutes it took me to fetch Little R and return, Little A had managed to get a packet of gummy bears.  I looked at my husband, miffed, as the gummy bears are obtained from a vending machine, which meant he'd bought them for her.  My husband looked at me, perplexed that I was miffed.  "What's the big deal?  They're enriched with Vitamin C."

Sometimes we think our message is the problem when in reality we just haven't matched our message to the right audience.  Little A knows that the "daddy" audience is much more amenable to messages involving requests for "sweet food".  The "mommy" audience wants to hear requests for "good growing food".  It's all food.  But it's different food and Little A, in her four years of wisdom, knows which audience to target to get which type of food.  Put another way: she knows how to sell her message well because she knows her audiences well.

If you've taken the time to segment your market, gotten to know your various audiences, and figured out what resonates with them, you are well positioned to craft a message that will hit the mark. 

Lesson #2: Say It Like It Is (or "I just want the crunchy corn cereal with the little jewels.")

Little A has a new favorite cereal: Lucky Charms.  Imagine my delight.  It should also be noted that on an average day Little A eats about the same quantity of food as a very tiny bird.  The other morning she ate three bowls of Lucky Charms.  Then she wanted it for dinner that evening.  This enthusiasm for a particular food is unprecedented for her.  I was trying to encourage her to eat something other than Lucky Charms.  I asked if perhaps she would like some spinach gnocchi or perhaps a cheesy melty sandwich or really anything that seemed even remotely healthy.   After much effusing about the alternatives, I ran out of steam and Little A looked at me said, "I just want the crunchy corn cereal with the little jewels, mommy." 

Faced with such a simple, straight-forward message, it was hard to argue.  Little A clearly knew what she wanted and, rather than coming up with a convoluted way of convincing me to give it to her, she simply said it like it was.  The message was clear, concise and, therefore, worked. 

In an effort to grab people's attention and stand out from the crowd, it is easy to over-craft a message or use jargon that doesn't make sense to the intended audience simply because we think it sounds better or catchier or edgier.  For most audiences, a straight-forward, cut-to-the-chase message works.  Back to "Know Your Audience", it could be that you've gotten to know your audience and what will resonate with them is something catchy and edgy and that's fine.  Just make sure the basic point still gets across.  Say it like it is.  If your audience wants crunchy corn cereal with little jewels then don't try to sell them omega-3 enriched multi-grain flakes with all-fruit clusters.  They're just not gonna buy it.

Lesson #3: Be Consistent (or "I want to watch a show!)

In our house, you get to watch a few shows on the weekend.  (Shows usually being Ruby & Max, Tigger & Pooh, or something of that ilk.)  No TV during the week.  That's the rule.  But it's not always clear when the show watching can happen on the weekend.  This leads to at least one incident each weekend that involves Little A sitting somewhere near the vicinity of the TV plaintively (and sometimes passionately) requesting a show.  So, Little A had returned from the pool and now had a belly full of gummy bears (see Lesson #1 above) and, in her mind, a show would be the perfect topper to the morning.  In my mind, a proper lunch with a few other food groups represented and a nice nap seemed a good course.  Thus ensued the tête-à-tête over the show.

For 15 minutes straight, Little A repeated over and over and over "I want to watch a show!!!"  My responses varied from "Nope" to "How bout some tomato soup?" to "If you say that one more time, there will be consequences!"  Little A was consistent and unwavering in her message.  No matter what my response, she countered with the same refrain.  Until finally, seeing that she was having no effect, she said, "If I eat good growing food can I watch one show before taking my nap?"  This gave me pause.  She was being consistent (i.e. she was still asking for the show), yet had adjusted the message so I could hear it.  She was saying the same thing but somehow when she said it slightly differently, it resonated. 

The advent of tweets, blogs, texting, and Facebooking has made it extremely easy for companies to change their message whenever it strikes their fancy.  This is a double-edge sword: it's wonderful because you can fine-tune your message until it works without a big capital investment (i.e. you didn't just dump a bunch of money into a TV ad or a billboard), but it also means that it's easy to lose your message.  You build brand by being consistent.  A stronger brand means that you have an easier time retaining current customers and acquiring new ones.  Experiment, hone, and fine-tune all you want--just keep your core message consistent.

There are admittedly many more marketing lessons out there, but these three basics are high on most "must-do" lists.  If you know your audience, say it like it is, and remain consistent, your marketing efforts will be as successful as Little A's efforts to nibble on gummy bears, munch crunchy corn cereal with little jewels and watch shows.   Your marketing objectives likely differ from those of a preschooler, but luckily your tactics and success rate can be much the same.

Learn more about the author, Erica Mills.

Comment on this article

  • Graphic Designer + Idea explorer 
Seattle, Washington 
Jeff Barlow
    Posted by Jeff Barlow, Seattle, Washington | May 05, 2009

    I know it's very easy to talk about marketing in the abstract, but this article talks about it in the "real." Because your examples were so easy to visualize, your message hit me right between the eyes. Nice article.

  • Green Marketer -- Text Message Marketing 
Bellevue, Washington 
Rebecca Little
    Posted by Rebecca Little, Bellevue, Washington | May 06, 2009

    Stories help people resonate to your point. Yours did just that with me.

    One example.... I like how you drew the picture of how Little A innately does this: "Experiment, hone, and fine-tune all you want--just keep your core message consistent." She thus bore the fruitage of her (marketing) efforts! TV time.

    What business wouldn't want to see the fruitage of applying #1-3?: Bring in new customers and keep old ones coming back.

  • Interaction Design & Usability Consultant 
Seattle, Washington 
Leigh Allen-Arredondo
    Posted by Leigh Allen-Arredondo, Seattle, Washington | May 06, 2009

    What a great way to remind us of the basics that are often easy to forget! And a fun read too. :-)

  • Nonprofit Marketing Consultant 
Seattle, Washington 
Erica Mills
    Posted by Erica Mills, Seattle, Washington | May 06, 2009

    Thanks for the great comments. Since basics are not exactly exciting, I'm glad the messenger makes them more interesting to read about!

  • Brand Strategy & Sustainable Graphic Design 
Bainbridge Island, Washington 
Corbet Curfman
    Posted by Corbet Curfman, Bainbridge Island, Washington | May 06, 2009

    Erica, I enjoyed your article. Having kids myself I can enjoy the allegory. I also know how true these basic principals are. Thanks for packaging them in an entertaining and thoughtful way.

  • Design & Marketing Services 
Portland, Oregon 
Deborah Brown
    Posted by Deborah Brown, Portland, Oregon | May 07, 2009

    Sweet article with a serious message. I will remember the lessons in your stories. Thanks!

  • Internet Sales Consultant 
Seattle, Washington 
Howard Howell
    Posted by Howard Howell, Seattle, Washington | May 09, 2009

    Erica...

    Great article and a very enjoyable "read". It reminded me of a book I read many years ago from a Seattle author. I cannot remember the title exactly but it is something like.. "All I ever needed to know, I learned in kindergarten."

    I hope to meet you someday soon. I would be interested in a possible collaborative relationship.

    Or, restated from Lesson #2, as Little A teaches so well...... "I just want to know you a little better so I can refer you to some of my clients."

    ...Howard

  • Life and Financial Coach 
Olympia, Washington 
Janet Ott
    Posted by Janet Ott, Olympia, Washington | May 10, 2009

    It's the same way some of our politicians win! The same message, over and over and over and...

  • Chief Diva, Makeup Artist + Consultant  
Seattle, Washington 
Krystal Lechner
    Posted by Krystal Lechner, Seattle, Washington | May 11, 2009

    I think what it really comes down to:

    1) Have absolute pinpoint clarity on what your "why" is for your biz mission 2) transfer the why to making your audience's ears perk up. If the audience goes "Ooo" I like! then you have a sale.

    Cheers! the smashing diva

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