The Parent Trap: Marketers Need To Break Old Habits

I'm perplexed by how marketers speak to parents, especially working parents. Some seem to get us, but most seem to use the same words and phrases to remind us of our current plight:

"Busy." "Time-pressed." "Tired." "Stretched." "Too few hours in the day." "Striving for work-life balance."

In fairness, that's what much of the research suggests. USA Today last year published an article on multi-tasking families, "Working at home: Family-friendly?" The article noted that despite the availability of technology to make working parents more available, there has been a decline in parental availability over the past 30 years, "Working couples have crazy schedules. The majority of families headed by dual-earner parents have experienced non-standard job schedules (defined as other than 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday). In the late 1980s, 69% of couples had at least one spouse regularly working a night, weekend, rotating or evening shift. By 2002, that had climbed to 86%."



So, it's no surprise that marketers quickly draw the conclusion, "Parents need our help to make their lives easier." And if you watched my life for a few days, you would probably witness many things that validated that conclusion. In a day that starts at 6:30 a.m. and ends at 9 p.m., you would probably hear the following phrases I regularly say to my children that seem to demonstrate a total lack of control:

• "Because I said so!"-- I say that because I can't think faster than they can (and said so often I find myself looking for my mother over my shoulder)

• "Have you lost your brain?" -- What else is there to say when a child does something like get in the shower fully clothed and then throw soaking wet clothes out of the shower and into the toilet? (A true story)

• "You are going to make me late for work." -- When I've overslept and am taking it out on a child who is watching "Transformers" and completely ignoring me

• "If you don't do what I'm asking you to do, I'm going to do something. I don't know what yet, but you won't like it" -- Because, once again, I can't think faster than they can.

In short, there's enough chaos and frenzied parenting that it would be easy to assume that mom and dad need some better ways of handling life.

But what's not said or perhaps even witnessed, is how much my husband and I love the seeming insanity. How many times we've chosen more insanity. Two educated, experienced and well-traveled people don't just wind up with three kids, a hyperactive dog, two jobs, a houseful of neighborhood kids and a litany of commitments. No, this is the life we chose.

Is parenthood exhausting? Is it the hardest job you'll ever have? Is it omnipresent, disruptive and sometimes chaotic? Yes to all of the above. But I image a professional athlete would say the same things about their training; or a C-level executive about their travel schedule; or a college grad about their first job.

Yet, when marketers market to the athlete, we focus on performance, competition, personal dedication. To the executive, it's achievement, pride, influence. To the college grad, it's preparation for the future, vision.

Yet, when it comes to parents, it's "Your life's rough, and we can make it easier?"

Here are a few thoughts on how marketers might approach parents differently:

Do we really want a new tool or app or information resource? So many things already compete for our attention, be careful not to introduce another distraction. Consider sponsorships, partnerships or even acquisition if there's already a successful and well-utilized option out there. You'll be more effective with your audience and won't waste time or dollars reinventing the wheel.

Consider that perfection shouldn't be the aspiration. There are thousands of resources out there for parents filled with information about how to be a better parent, how to improve your children's lives, how to, well, fill in the blank. From having a greener family lifestyle, to cooking healthier meals, finding more time and saying the right things, to raising more confident kids, saving for the future and more. After a while, that's a lot of pressure. Dove got it right when they tapped into "Real beauty" and the backlash against media defined perfection. Maybe it's time for a "real parenting" movement.

Instead of need-based marketing (e.g., what's your pain point?), explore a stronger emotional connection (such as, what's the most surprising aspect of being a parent?). As marketers, we all know the rule -- the stronger the emotional connection, the stronger the brand loyalty.

If marketers approached marketing to parents, the same way they market to other audiences, they'd stop asking what their biggest challenges are and start asking what makes them tick.

And rather than finding us wanting, you'd find us among your most loyal consumers.

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