My youngest son is seven years old. Sometimes, he takes what I say a bit too literally.

“Hey Dad!” he exclaims in between bites of Cheerios, “Can we play baseball today?”

“Sure,” I mumble distractedly while scanning my Facebook account. “After school.”

As he steps off the bus that afternoon, what’s the first sentence out of my son’s mouth?

“Ready to play baseball, Dad?”

What my all-too-brief early-morning response neglected to fully explain was that at 3:00 PM, I would still be chin-deep in my workday, a crushing project deadline looming, and I wouldn’t be available to play until 5:30 PM. Instead, he heard that I promised to play ball with him right after school.

The kid did not let up until I donned bat and glove and met him in the backyard.

At the other end of the scale, my oldest son is 15. Sometimes I fail to shift gears after chatting with my youngest. Let’s just say those conversations with my surly teen tend to be less-than-productive.

“Bud,” I say, poking my head into the den of teenage squalor. “Make sure to turn the lights out by 9:30 and get some sleep tonight. It’s getting late, and you’ve got a busy day at school tomorrow.”

“Dad, seriously?” he says, voice dripping with snark. “I’m not in second grade!”

Now, my wife is a teacher, so she is MUCH BETTER at communicating with our children. But even I, Clueless Dad, have the potential for marginal improvement. Better yet, some of the lessons I’ve learned in talking with my kids are highly transferable to the world of marketing.

So here are my five rules for effective marketing (and parental) communication:

Rule #1: Know your audience. Clearly, I have room for improvement here. With my seven-year-old in the example above, I generalized where I should have been very precise and time-specific. You must cater your message to the knowledge base, emotional readiness, and needs of your specific audience.

Rule #2: Never talk down to your clients. How many times have you watched a TV commercial and thought, “that was really moronic?” Most likely, the ad agency aimed at the lowest common denominator among its target audience. The problem is, by taking such a broad, dumbed-down approach you end up alienating and irritating a major slice of your prospect base. Just like I do with my teenager. Every time.

Rule #3: Provide the exact right amount of information. It’s very easy to give your prospect too much, or too little information. Too much, they will get bored and tune out. Too little and they won’t understand what it is you are offering. With my seven-year-old, if I simply provided the extra critical detail that we would play baseball right before dinner-time, all would have been well. In the case of my 15-year-old, I could have just poked my head into his room, said good night, and my message would have been effectively (but more subtly) delivered.

Rule #4: Communicate clearly. Nothing is more important than clearly stating your message. Again, in the example of my seven-year-old, I could have averted an unnecessary crisis if I had simply stated exactly when I would be available to play baseball.

Rule #5: Communicate often. My 15-year-old strenuously objects to this rule. But even with a snarling, anti-social teenager, it’s important to maintain regular contact and to nurture a long-term relationship. He may think he doesn’t need me right now, but the time will come when he has a rough day at school, or gets in a fight with his girlfriend, or washes his red socks with his whites. He will need me then, and it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. The same rule applies to your prospects. They may not need your services today, but will they remember you six months from now, when an urgent need arises? Stay in touch, and they will.


Bonus rule: You can’t force funny. My other child is a middle-schooler. My mission in life is to get her to laugh at my “jokes.” Or if not to laugh, at least crack a smile. I am tracking every eye-roll I get as a minor win in my journey toward parental redemption.