What Does Motherhood Have to Teach Us About Marketing?

May 31, 2017

Everything! Motherhood requires a unique blend of strategic skills that find a natural corollary in the marketing world. But you certainly don’t have to be a mother to put them to use in achieving your marketing objectives. Read on to learn four crucial “mom skills” that can help you become a better marketer, no matter who you are.

Mom skill #1: Hitting the right tone

There’s a certain tone that a mother learns to use in her voice. It’s a signal that you should take action. Immediately. In very few words, and in some cases, using no words at all, a mother can convey to her children that they better get down the stairs NOW or else…

Or else, what?

The fact that we don’t know what our mother will do to us if we don’t come down those stairs, or get dressed, or brush our teeth, or go to sleep, is what gives this tone its power. It’s mysterious, and it forces us to engage our imaginations. This same strategy also works powerfully in increasing open rates in marketing email subject lines. Here are examples of some successful curiosity-inducing subject lines, courtesy of OptInMonster:

  • Manicube: “*Don’t Open This Email*”
  • Grubhub: “Last Day To See What This Mystery Email Is All About”
  • Refinery29: “10 bizarre money habits making Millennials richer”
  • Digital Marketer: “Is this the hottest career in marketing?”

All four were shown to increase open rates, largely because of the way their tone sparked the reader’s imagination.


Mom skill #2: Building on what works

You’ve probably seen the viral video from a few weeks ago, in which a genius mother named Alexis Tillman forced her bickering children to wear the same larged-sized t-shirt, hold hands, and slow dance to BeBe & CeCe Winans’ “Lost Without You.”. The video was shared globally, showed up on the Today show, and continues to be viewed by admiring parents everywhere.

From a mothering perspective, what I love most about this video is the utterly resigned look on the children’s faces. They are clearly unhappy with the card that they’ve been dealt but still they dance. (Mom level: Expert.)

That said, from a marketing perspective, this video offers even more rewards. As Alexis states in the caption to her video, the shirt has always played “a big role in my house…I just recently started the slow dance…it’s one song but up to 5 songs they slow dance to, depending on how bad the situation is.”
Here we find the marketing lesson of building on what works. I’m sure you’ve seen, as I have, and I’m guessing Alexis as well, the concept of the “Get along shirt.” That concept worked so well it sparked an Internet phenomenon. But the Internet, and the marketing world by extension, moves quickly—and you can’t rest on what works. You need to evolve.

Alexis didn’t just add the holding hands factor to evolve this concept. She didn’t just add slow dancing. She also allowed for duration variations based on the severity of the infraction. “Up to 5 songs,” she writes, “depending on how bad the situation is.” By the same token, we marketers need to educate ourselves on what works while also pushing ourselves to use our own ingenuity to constantly improve upon our methods.

Mom skill #3: Understanding the role of cookies

As a mother, I have routinely used cookies as a persuasive tool. Chocolate chip, circus animal, homemade, storebought—it doesn’t matter. Any kind of cookie can help diffuse a difficult child-rearing situation and transform it into a peaceful, calm moment.
Up to a point.

That’s because, after a while, cookies start to lose their effectiveness in the parenting realm. The reasons why are not 100% clear. Maybe it’s due to changing taste buds as children age. Maybe they’ve discovered that grandparents will readily supply cookies without regard to behavior stipulations. Or, maybe they see through your little charade altogether and start demanding bigger, more expensive bribes. The point is they stop working. And the same may be happening in the marketing world.

A mainstay since the mid-nineties, online tracking pixels (aka “cookies”) appear to be losing some of their long-time lustre. Some experts are already hammering the final nails in the cookie coffin in favor of device agnostic user IDs like email addresses. Others warn that the current marketplace, dominated as it is by tech giants like Amazon and Facebook, doesn’t offer brands a window into the data gathered through these aforementioned cookie alternatives.

It’s a complex issue and certainly one to keep an eye on as time goes by. But the bottom line is, you can’t rely on one solution to last forever. Stay ahead of the trend and keep your eyes open for new and different answers to the challenges ahead. (For me, in my home, that answer is jelly beans.)

Mom skill #4: Taking it slow

I don’t know if they’re too lazy to string words together or if they genuinely can’t remember any of the events of the previous 6 hours, but my children seem physically incapable to give me any response at all when I ask them what happened at school that day. Some other questions that don’t work include:

  • What songs did you sing?
  • What did you learn about?
  • Did you have a good time?

None of those work. But, savvy marketer mom that I am, I came up with a new tactic. Instead of many broad (okay, maybe boring) questions, I started asking just one of the below:

  • Did anyone get in trouble today?
  • Did anyone cry today?
  • Who did you sit next to at lunch?

Usually one of these works, and I can leverage the tiny details from one measly answer into another question, and then another, until finally I have a vague, kernel of a possible idea of what went down in their classroom that day. Success!

But what does this have to do with marketing, you ask? Everything, generally, and specifically, a little thing called progressive profiling. Progressive profiling is a lead acquisition technique in which you ask for just one or two pieces of information at a time, and request the rest later in the consumer relationship. So instead of scaring away your customers with a lengthy online form they have no intention of filling out, you’re allowing them to answer your questions on a more relaxed timetable—and you’ll actually get what you want.

As you can see, motherhood has a lot to teach us about virtually every aspect of life, including marketing. Even if you don’t herd small humans on a regular basis, you can still put these hard-earned lessons to use in your marketing efforts. So, don’t wait! Start working like a mother today.

By Katie Rottner, Senior Copywriter