Mom Gets A Makeover In Family Dynamics

Marketers invest billions of dollars every year targeting moms on the age-old assumption that they make the key purchasing decisions for their families.  But a recent study conducted by The Family Room casts considerable doubt on this traditional belief.  In fact, when asked to identify the primary decision maker for family purchases, less than one in four of moms claimed responsibility.  The number was even lower for millennial moms, with only one in five describing themselves as the families’ final decision maker.

So, who is calling the shots when it comes to modern family decision-making?  Have moms thrown up their hands and turned things over to their husbands, partners, or kids?  The Family Room study discovered that the new, dominant form of family decision making in 2017 is some form of democratic collaboration.  From the fruit snacks that go in the lunch box, to the meals that go on the table, to the car that goes in the garage, there has been a wholesale abdication of mom authority, replaced by democracy.  Decision making on an ever-growing number of categories has gone from “me” to “we.”



For marketers, this means that their future success requires them to discard their traditional tendency to think of moms as “gatekeepers” and re-frame their marketing efforts around the new reality: Millennial families are no longer a hierarchy, they are a web. Here's how to do it:

Decode Decision-Making in Your Category:  A decade ago, family decision-making was binary, with the great majority of choices being made by the parent (usually the mom) and an occasional few reserved for the child.  Those days are over. There are now Five decision-making typologies most families employ ranging from parent control (“Because I Said So”) to pure democracy (“Family Meeting”), to kid control (“Kids Cut Loose”).  Knowing which of these five typologies applies to your brand will change everything, including who you target, what you say, to whom you innovate.  Failure to grasp these new realities could mean spending a lot of money on the wrong message to a target with limited control on the final brand choice. 

Determine Which “Face of Mom” To Target:  The foregoing notwithstanding, if your company is like most, you are still going to buy media against moms.  Most companies have internal regulations against direct-to-child advertising, and the complications of dispersing your media budget across several targets make this strategy impractical.  Furthermore, most brands are still bought by a mom.   But which face of mom will your brand encounter in the grocery store, the mall, or Amazon?  Is she really the chief decision maker or, more likely, is she simply “one of many” trying to balance the many voices whispering in her ear at the point-of-purchase.  Going beyond demographic mom target definitions to those that include her true role in your category’s decision-making dynamics can lead to vastly improved messaging, innovation, and event activations.

Re-Frame Your Messaging Strategy:  As counter-intuitive as it may sound, for a growing number of brands and categories, the best “mom” communication strategy may be speaking to “kid” or “family” needs.  For example, in highly collaborative categories like family vacations or restaurants where mom’s role is limited to “one of many,” the best communications strategy may be to address needs or desires the entire family share rather than discuss parent-oriented benefits like value.  And in decidedly kid-driven categories like snacks, where moms’ role is nothing more than that of a courier to fulfill a child’s wishes, perhaps the most compelling message for moms will have nothing to do with whole grains and low in fat and everything to do with kid delight and satisfaction. 

Re-Imagine New Product Innovation:  Knowing where the real center of decision-making power lies in a family can open some exciting doors for new product innovation.  Marketers operating in one of the many product categories where decision-making has transitioned from mom-driven to collaborative or even kid-driven, may discover a whole new set of product upgrades or new product development possibilities.  The key is to develop offerings that solve shared family needs rather than those of a gatekeeper who no longer exists.

Speak to Her Heart, Not Her Head:  Most mom decision-making is emotional, not rational. And while various family members often want different functional benefits from a product, there are often emotional benefits the entire family shares.  So, consider looking beyond the tried-and- true standard messages and new products that speak to moms’ head, and digging deeper to the less obvious but far more powerful emotional benefits that speak to her and her family’s heart.

To be clear, none of this is to say moms are no longer important for marketers. On the contrary, they remain extremely significant as the family’s dominant shopper, care-giver, and center of gravity in many households.  But in a world where about 60% of moms now describe her seven-year-old as her best friend, and only one if four describe themselves as the one in charge, brands need to take a closer look at how they can re-imagine engagement strategies around the remarkable new realities of modern family decision-making. 

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