When was the last time you properly felt like a customer? Not a marketing professional masquerading as a customer. A truly out of the bubble, not looking at the adverts/websites/product copy wondering what was said in the meeting that produced them customer. Can’t remember? 

Well nor could I. Until I had the immense (and immensely exhausting) privilege of going on maternity leave at the end of last year. And now I’m back at work, it’s made me reflect on some things. 

It’s so easy to get caught up in taglines, subject lines and ad copy. Sometimes I think we can forget that all we’re trying to do is speak to people in a voice they recognise. It should feel like we’re using their own words, reading their thoughts. 

I have been served many an Instagram ad in the wee small hours for various breeds of baby paraphernalia. But the ones that stuck with me didn’t have the most beautifully crafted copy. They spoke directly to me in the moment. And you know what, a lot of them didn’t actually craft any copy at all. 

They used customer quotes. Because the clever people at those brands realised that the only person a sleep deprived parent of a newborn wants to hear from is another sleep deprived parent. “My baby slept for eight hours the first night I put her in this.” I clicked, I bought. 

One of the many products sleep deprived Charlotte bought during her maternity leave.

Feeling like a brand has understood you in the moment is incredibly powerful. It will undoubtedly secure you the first purchase. But the proof, as ever, is in the product. Of course we need to understand our customers and know how to speak to them. But, quite frankly, if the product doesn’t do something meaningful for them, we may as well all go home.

Because having my opportunity to be a real customer again for a while, I realised that the product is one of our most powerful marketing tools. Possibly the most. Not because it has the logo on it. But because it unlocks virality. 

There are many products I bought in the middle of the night. But there are only a handful that I told all my new parent friends about. (I could write a whole other column about those, DM me if you’re desperate). And those friends are, I’m sure, telling their friends. 

A product that makes a meaningful difference to your life is the ultimate advert. Because you literally can’t stop talking about it. 

So what did I learn on maternity leave? Sleep deprivation is good for consumerism. But also that we are probably too fixated on how we can sell products to our customers, without thinking enough about how they can sell them for us. 

So here’s my suggestion. How about we all spend less time thinking about cookieless futures and how AI will change the marketing landscape. And more time thinking about the best way we could make our products a talking point amongst our target audience. Perhaps then we’d all be a lot more successful and find our jobs quite a bit easier. 

Charlotte will be writing a column for MAD//Insight throughout the year.