Thursday, December 7, 2023

Attack of the Toddlers: How Marketing Automation is Giving Three-Year-Olds a Bad Name

There are few things more exquisitely strange than a three-year-old with an idea. Any idea at all will do. What happens is the enormity of the idea quickly spills out of their tiny heads and into their mouths and thence into the world. They will not be ignored.

Ignoring a toddler with an idea is not going to end well, and that’s why we are kind to them and try very hard to follow the stream-of-consciousness weirdness until nap time.

So what can marketers learn from three year olds? Nothing. I’m sorry, but they really don’t have anything worthwhile to teach us. They are adorable, if a little sticky, and fantastic fun, but not instructive. Naturally, that doesn’t stop a lot of us from Toddler Style Marketing.

Toddler Style Marketing (let’s call it TSM), is that insistent, pervasive, annoying crescendo of automated and manual interruption we so routinely unleash on the very people we are hoping to impress. You know what I’m talking about.

Some innocent project manager in Tulsa downloads a white paper and before she can open the document for a nice read, the phone is ringing. Guess who? That’s right: it’s the Third Party Toddler you hired to jump on the hot leads (hot, evidently defined as can click Download).  The project manager gently suggests another time since she hasn’t even read the document and thus has not got any questions.

As she waits for her tea to steep, there’s an email from your Auto Responder Toddler thanking her for downloading the white paper she hasn’t read and offering a free webinar next week – on an entirely unrelated topic.

The next day she’s got an email from the Sales Toddler, who caught the lead from the lead routing tool and he’s wondering when he can call to walk her through the solution she now realizes isn’t actually what she thought the white paper was about.

Later that day, there’s a LinkedIn request from a different Sales Toddler, and a Twitter DM from the Social Media toddler. Plus another email inviting her to a breakfast seminar in Seattle the previous week.

By Friday, the Sales Toddler has left a dozen urgent messages on her voice mail, and the Spam Toddler has managed to invite her to three irrelevant webinars and another breakfast, this time in Tampa.

The next week, the VP of Toddlers has sent an invitation to join him as he keynotes a conference in Chicago, while the Sales Toddler has taken to the email equivalent of scribbling on the wall, and is now offering free trials and ridiculous discounts if she will just return his call.

Toddler Bandits

The Direct Mail Toddler has sent over a large box with a printed copy of the original white paper and a useful pen. It takes the project manager longer to dispose of the Styrofoam packing material than it did to read the original irrelevant white paper.

On which, the Content Marketing Toddler is wondering if she’ll fill in a survey to rate the white paper, and subscribe to the blog. Clearly they haven’t been in the same sandbox as the Spam Toddler, who already signed her up.

The Sales Toddler has now left a final tantrum of a message that the project manager is clearly wasting his time and should let him know why she just won’t call him back.

Eventually, they all pass the hot mess to the Nurture Toddler who will insistently interrupt her for the next three years.

I think our automation tools have turned sales and marketing into a gang of Toddler Bandits ruthlessly attacking anyone who is naïve enough to attempt a genuine interaction with our brands. That we have the nerve to become impatient and demanding when our TSM backfires suggests that most three-year-olds can actually out think us on this one.

The reward for being nice to a real three-year-old is often a soggy goldfish cracker and a sloppy kiss. The reward for expressing faint interest in a product ought to be something a bit less damp and a whole lot more respectful.


Originally published May 15, 2017 on


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Elizabeth Williams
Elizabeth Williams
Elizabeth Williams is the President of Candler Chase Inc., a consulting firm specializing in employee communications and branding. She is a survivor of more than 20 years in the telecom, financial services and technology sectors, and can often be found blogging about brands and speaking at conferences. She keeps meaning to write a book.