Everything I Need to Know about Marketing, I Learned from my Kids

Kung-fu fighting, photo by author

Look at any job search board and you will see loads of jobs for experts in online marketing or social media marketing. It is part of our new normal that commerce has largely moved online. And why not? For consumers, there is the ability to comparison shop in minutes instead of hours or even days. There is a more vast variety than can be found in bricks-and-mortar stores. And everyone shares the love of convenience afforded by online shopping — shopping can be done anytime, anywhere, and in any clothes at all, even one’s favorite pajamas! Companies naturally need to position themselves in this new frontier.

I’ve recently started searching for a job for myself. I’ve been out of the job market for the better part of the past 16 years, raising my children (the job I’m most proud of, yet won’t show up on my resume). Seeing the immense need for online marketing personnel, I thought I’d try to throw myself out there. I’ve always been a quick study, and always been commended for excellent communication skills. I went out and bought the books, started researching acronyms like SEO and B2B online, checked out websites with an eye on how they’ve presented themselves, and somehow overlooked the biggest resources I had available — my 13 year old daughter and my 17 year old son.

Kids these days grow up in the world of social media. They learn online, they socialize online, they meet and play games with each other online. While getting my driver’s license was the most important thing in my teen life, my son can barely be bothered about it. I saved my allowance, baby-sitting money, and paychecks from McDonald’s to afford my first car, while my daughter has been saving to buy her first Apple iPhone 6S. They each use the internet differently, but it is nonetheless an integral part of their lives already, and it will only become moreso as they grow up in a world where technology is advancing by the nanosecond.

My daughter regularly refers to her “brand”. In my mind, “brand” was your company’s name; if you were a popular “brand” you might have your name become more of a verb or noun in the vernacular, like Kleenex or Xerox. I knew some athletes and celebrities referred to their own brand, but I thought this was a reference to the Michael Jordan shoes or the Hulk Hogan red and yellow t-shirts that you could buy. Why was my daughter branded? Should I be branded? Was my son branded? What could this mean?

I asked my daughter and she told me that her brand is “the funny one”. It’s how she sees herself and the personality trait she likes to put forward. Among her friends, she is the one most likely to be acting silly or making jokes. I asked her how she portrays this brand on her social media (she uses mostly Instagram and Snapchat). As a testament to how second nature this is to her, she simply didn’t know what I meant by the question. “I post funny pictures, make funny comments, share funny things I find on my social media; I don’t “brand” myself on social media.” I pointed out that these were probably good ways of reinforcing her “brand” on her social media, and she rolled her eyes and went back to her phone. So, the first thing I learned about using social media effectively is to create and reinforce a brand that is based on the personality of you or your company.

Then I showed her some photos I had taken when she and I went with a friend and her mother to a local haunted attraction. Of the eight or so pictures, I asked her which photos she would consider posting to her social media. She immediately gravitated to the silly posed shots versus the traditional posed shots. What struck me was that the silly shots not only matched her “Funny One” brand, but that they had a lot more personality than the traditional shots did. In one, she and her friend were play-fighting, in another her friend was giving her a piggy-back ride, and in the final one that she liked, they were posed in an exaggerated “I’m thinking” pose. Looking at the photos, I could see how someone would feel that they know her better after seeing the casual shots. So, the second thing I learned about social media marketing is to establish a relationship with your audience. This isn’t always done through words though written content, from website content to tweets, will certainly be part of online marketing efforts. But relationships can be established with just about anything you can post.

Now, I remembered her telling me once that she was taking down all the “orange-y” pictures from her Instagram account. I asked why she even had orange-y picture and she explained that she had been doing pictures with lots of oranges and browns in them, but she had decided to change her theme to blues. She said she liked them better and they better reflected her love of the ocean. As I write this, she has told me she’s going back to the orange-y pictures for her theme because she feels it fits better with the season (autumn). So, the third thing I’ve learned about social media is that it’s good to have consistency, but that consistency can be with your brand rather than written in stone and never changed. Her brand is to be the funny one. Having a color theme that changes every couple months seems pretty fun to me, and so is perfectly consistent with her brand.

I’m sure my daughter doesn’t realize what she’s doing. Talking with her, that was clear. This is just how she has learned to comport herself on social media — by watching other accounts that she likes and emulating them. She is already a savvy consumer of ideas and trends, and that influence of social media on her has the very real impact of her asking to go to specific stores that she’s seen featured in posts or videos. And that kind of consumer, who feels loyal to a brand, when so many choices are out there — who makes shopping decisions based on the feelings she gets viewing these choices through the lens of social media, is the kind of consumer that companies are going to need going into the future. I’m sure that this would bore her to tears!