When I was a teenager I took on all sorts of jobs to make a little money.
I cleaned pools, mowed lawns, raked mountains of leaves, and trimmed elusive palm trees. I painted houses. In a fast food place, I manned the deep fryer serving up greasy tacos and salty french fries. In a private kitchen, I assisted with food prep and made dishes sparkle. I even worked in a museum in downtown Phoenix for a summer.
For the most part, I did well in all these roles except for one.
I was an abysmal babysitter. Absolutely terrible.
With one babysitting job (my last one actually), things didn’t go as planned. A family in my neighborhood with two kids asked me to help out while the parents ran errands and went out for a weekend afternoon. I thought it would be easy. I got the kids settled in front of the television, popped some cartoon movie into the VCR, and retreated to another room where I could relax in peace.
An hour flew by. When I went to check on the kids, I couldn’t find them.
I heard some laughing coming from a bathroom down the hall. There they were – having just hurled literally dozens of soaking wet, wadded up balls of toilet paper at the bathroom mirror, walls, and ceiling. As luck would have it, the parents had just arrived home. Their lavatory masterpiece consisted of giant spitballs, only bigger and grosser considering the kids had likely used toilet water as a binding agent.
I showed them what their delightful and spirited children had accomplished in the bathroom and bolted home without asking for payment. Peace out.
Needless to say I didn’t get a call from that family to watch their kids again. Nor would I have accepted. And to make the situation more awkward, they lived directly across the street.
Despite the fact that those kids were undeniably demonic and they are both probably sitting in a correctional facility right now, I screwed up. I was a bad babysitter, who could have helped to keep the holy terrors at bay. My mistake.
Email Marketing is Babysitting
There are several similarities between the childcare occupation and my current role as an email marketer. Please know that I’m not trying to compare email subscribers and recipients to unruly brats. The two jobs – babysitter and email marketer – sharing a striking likeness. Here is what I mean.
You Have to Get Acquainted
To make any babysitting adventure a success, the caregiver must invest in learning about the children in his/her care. What do they like to eat? What do they consider fun? What do they view as exciting, funny, scary, or tedious? Asking a few simple questions of a child to learn her interests will guide the babysitter’s approach for the rest of the gig.
Similarly, email marketers must first understand the needs, wants, and expectations of their audience before sending too many messages that run the risk of being irrelevant. There is no more important time in the sender-recipient relationship than during the subscription process. Email marketers must gather what info they can upon sign-up or gradually glean interests during a “welcome” series to convey pertinent messages moving forward.
Make Unyielding Efforts to Entertain
So much of a babysitter’s job is about appealing to a child’s interests and keeping them happy, content, and entertained. This requires planning. This demands creativity. This necessitates good, old-fashioned hard work.
Some of the best email marketers are also seasoned content marketers. They make certain to produce and deliver the best possible information, resources and content via email and always place a priority on relevance. Just like the babysitter’s task, content development and refinement can be a grind for email marketers. Regardless, every email you send is competing with dozens if not hundreds of other inbox inhabitants on a daily basis. Your email content must captivate. No exceptions.
Avoid Taking Shortcuts
With my own misguided attempt to “entertain,” I sat the kids in front of a television – a classic rookie move from a lame caregiver. In other words, I took a shortcut.
You know who else takes mindless shortcuts? Email marketers who rely on misleading subject lines, avoid optimizing their templates for mobile devices, or send without permission. These kinds of tactics just don’t work, but they do tend to trigger a collective gag reflex among desired audiences.
Read the Signs of Boredom & Apathy
As a child-care worker, it’s important to detect when the kids are disinterested. Every yawn or expression of general malaise is a clear indication that it’s time to move on to something new.
As an email marketer, a continuous lack of response or disinterest from an email audience speaks volumes. In some cases, it’s time to re-engage them or find out what they would prefer to receive from you with a “tell us your preferences” campaign. Extended periods of inactivity call for removal from the list completely. If it’s obvious that certain segment of your recipients are just deleting every email message you send, give them an easy out.
Learn from Each Interaction
Like I said, I never received a call-back from the parents of the miniature sociopaths. A better babysitter with a more successful experience would take account of every care giving gig with an individual family or group of kids. What did the kids enjoy? What bored them to tears? What should we do differently next time? Keeping tabs on small successes and failures can help a babysitter improve the experience for the next job.
In email marketing, we also have to measure rigorously. Metrics like delivery rates, open rates, and click rates tend to get the most attention, but there are likely micro-moments (interactions with a particular content element) that we can monitor. As ongoing communication with an audience proceeds, measurement of what individual segments respond to or ignore can aid in the decision process for what to deliver with each subsequent send.
Babysitting is no picnic. It brings panicked challenges and unanticipated hurdles. While I may have been the worst babysitter in recent history, my missteps in that occupation certainly helped me to become a more empathetic and prepared email marketer. I hope they do for you as well.