Baby Blues and Buyers Remorse: Expectations are Everything

Idealist Legacy

This month’s Word Carnival topic is Parentpreneurs: What Being a Parent Can Teach You About Business.

You might not know this, but I recently became a father.

Actually, very few people knew about it… I didn’t even tell my own family until my wife was about 6 months along, so don’t feel bad if you didn’t know (though I have been sneaking hints into my recent PSAs on the WTF Marketing Facebook page).

If you haven’t had the experience of adding to your own family, I highly recommend it.

The best way I can describe it is a series of increasingly amazing moments interspersed by insane amounts of demands on you mentally and physically, all coupled with healthy doses of frustration and helplessness and joy.

Fatherhood is the sort of thing that I assumed would happen “someday”, sometime around the installation of the money pool through which I would swim Scrooge McDuck style through unending waves of benjamins. I told my wife, “Look, 10 years – it’ll be great.” Well, there’s no money pool yet; it’s still in the works. And 10 years was more like two. So I sought out as much information as I could find on the subject.

This whole “Fatherhood 101” thing isn’t really covered in Star Trek. I mean, there are stellar parents galore in Trek, but they don’t ever really cover the first month or what it looks like. I’ve watched the episodes countless times and found that, unlike other things I’ve learned from Star Trek, I have a hard time believing that I know what I am doing.

So I reached out to other sources. Did you know there’s a 12-week birth crash-course? That’s how my wife and I spent most Monday nights before junior arrived.

We learned, bonded, massaged, hee-hee-hee-hoo’d through fake contractions, and grimaced at gory “actual birth” footage videos together. Arrogant bastard that I am, I was thinking, “Man, we’ve got this in the bag.” I high-fived myself for having completed The Expectant Father – what I considered required reading. I knew about what tingly fingers meant and how to boost junior’s IQ in-utero and what to pack in the baby bug-out bag. I knew what to say and how to say it during labor to ensure that I wouldn’t get punched or kicked out by my wife, or chastised by the doctors and nurses.

Meanwhile I knew next to nothing about what happens after. There’s another book for that.

I learned dads look at the whole “we’ve got a baby” thing a bit differently than moms. Dads tend to think about activities we’ll be able to do with junior. Things like board games and tossing a ball and exchanging jokes. Things that occur roughly 2-5 years from birth.

Dads don’t think about the equally amazing experiences.

Things like holding the baby for the first time; this tiny thing looking back at you and knowing with absolute certainty that you’d fight Kirk AND Picard to the death if you had to do it to protect your kid. Or burping the baby and then having the kid fall asleep right there on your chest. Or changing yet another blow-out diaper and then wolfing down your oddly similar snack of peanut butter on toaster waffles without skipping a beat because the second the kid senses you have a free hand for too long, it’ll be back in use and there’s just no time to be grossed out.

In short, I’d woefully mismanaged my own expectations and nothing – not the books, not the class, not any advice I could have received – would have fixed that.

You know what they don’t tell you in that class, though? Or, in the books, for that matter?

They don’t tell you that you should prepare your body by sleeping in 2-3 hour chunks, max. Everybody tells you, “Stock up on sleep,” like that’s a thing.

For the record: it’s not. I’m not a goddamn ZZzz battery. I don’t know anyone who can “stock up” on sleep, do you?

They don’t tell you that you’ll find an insane drive to hustle. Everybody tells you, “Oh, you won’t be able to do those up-til-4AM marathon working sessions for a long time.” That’s bullshit, too. 4AM is just after 3AM feeding time, and you’re already awake and nobody’s sending you email, so it’s a great time to bust out a chapter of your great American novel. Afternoon power naps FTW.

They don’t tell you about cluster feedings, a joyful 7-12 hour marathon boob-mania for baby, during which any attempt to set the baby down results in what can only be described as the epic wails of old world banshees.

They don’t tell you that postpartum depression comes in a male variety as well as a female variety.

They don’t tell you what that looks like, either. They don’t tell you that in dudes it appears as sarcasm, indifference, and guilt. That you can be perfectly helpful and dutiful and caring and kind to both wife and baby and still feel like a total failure because that diaper change could have been smoother or you could have done more or because you slept through a 4AM water bottle refill for your wife.

They don’t tell you that it’s not getting spit-up on, peed on, or pooped on or even the baby’s crying that will bother you, but the hopelessness of not knowing what’s causing the crying or that he hasn’t pooped in the last 4 feedings and understanding why is a total crap shoot because logic and reason are on holiday for now. That what will really bother you is that you can’t hear anything else while the baby is wailing and you’ll have to say, “WHAT?” a million times and the other person momentarily wonders if they should even bother.

You’re the man. You’re the coach. You’re supposed to help her hee-hee-hee-hoo and push through the pain, and then there’ll be fishing and ball games and storytime and naptime and diaper changes. Only a little epic wailing because there’s a handy-fuck-dandy checklist for any baby-sized ailment (never mind that it will only work on Tuesdays at 3:52 AM after you try it the fourth time).

That’s the expectation I’m sure most dad’s have. Boy, oh boy, is it dead wrong.

They also don’t tell you, despite all that, you wouldn’t trade it for anything. That you’ll learn and grow in ways you never knew were possible.

I wouldn’t give this up for anything.

So, what does all this baby stuff have to do with marketing? Only one of the most important marketing topics ever: expectation management.

Expectation management is one of the best things you can do for your customers before they become customers. It’s what prevents expensive customer service calls; giving the customer a list of known issues or side effects before they happen allows them to normalize what would otherwise be considered a problem requiring intervention.

Let me put that another way: if your customers perceive a problem where there is none, you’ll be required to spend time to intervene when you could be spending that time delighting them instead. And that makes everybody pissy.

For example, here’s the rather innocuous description of a checked-by-default option in the LinkedIn settings: “Yes, I’d like to get announcements, tips, and insights into new products and features.”.

And here’s the title of an email which fell under this category (and repeated once a week since I left the LinkedIn Premium demo): “Nick, get 50% off for 2 months on your LinkedIn Premium account”

See a problem? Does this fall into the category of Tip, Insight, or Announcement? And is it about a new product or new feature? I’ll capitulate to the first: it could be an announcement. Is it about a new product or feature? Absolutely not. It’s about a feature I left because I didn’t see the value in it.

Why didn’t I see value in LinkedIn Premium? Maybe because I sent In-Mail (Premium members can send LinkedIn mail to anyone, effectively eliminating the 3-degrees of separation rule) to the Marketing Director at Playboy asking a question about their Pinterest strategy and never heard back. I sent In-Mail to a few other folks asking marketing questions, extending guest blogging invitations for clients, etc.

Did I get ANY responses? Hell no. LinkedIn swore up and down that In-Mail has a high response rate. What I got was crickets. Value promised, precisely zero value delivered. Expectations mismanaged.

Just like the checkbox. Value promised: hear about new features, get tips, get insights. What was delivered? Spam.

Expectations mismanaged in both cases led to frustration and nearly a rage-quit.

I LOVE LinkedIn, I have since I started my profile, I get a lot of value out of the NORMAL membership. I really DO want to know about new features and new ideas they have there… but for fuck’s sake, don’t spam me about an OLD product that I cancelled on, just because I never turned off a checkbox checked by default.

Expectation management (also known colloquially as “honesty”)  is the thing that prevents that kind of frustration. It’s the thing that precludes buyer’s remorse and baby blues and rage-quit-inducing customer service calls. Figure it out and your customers will love you. Fail at it and you’ll become their worst enemy.

Your choice.

PS – all is well in the newly expanded Armstrong household. That’s the thing about mismanaged expectations: once you realize you were way off base, you create a new normal from reality.

This blog post is part of the Word Carnival. Each month, a bunch of us small business owners get together and blog about… stuff. This month’s topic: Parentpreneurs: What Being a Parent Can Teach You About Business. Be sure to check out my fabulous compatriot’s work!