Markets Focus: The Baby Buggy Brigade Buys

Searching the Web to reach freshly minted moms

Online marketers talk about new mothers in the same blissed-out tones that the mothers themselves use when talking about their newborns. They laud new moms for their facility with and willingness to adopt new technology. They tout them as word-of-mouth warriors, empowered as never before by Internet connectivity.

Yet there’s still a sense that online marketers have barely scratched the surface in communicating with this large, vibrant audience. It’s fair to question whether marketers have made the tonal and tactical changes necessary to keep new moms interested once a relationship has already been established. To put it succinctly, they’ve got a long ways to go.

“[New mothers] are mentally juggling all the dimensions of their life all the time. It’s much harder to reach them with a message than it’s ever been,” says Kelley Skoloda, a partner at Ketchum, who’s currently at work on a book, tentatively titled Too Busy to Shop: Reaching the Multi-Minding Woman.

Stacy DeBroff, founder and CEO of Mom Central Consulting, gives marketers, online and off, even less credit. “There still hasn’t been a realization that most moms resent and tune out traditional advertising. A naked woman sprawled with a bottle of water in her hand on a grassy mountain — that’s not relevant to anybody. With only a few exceptions, like the Dove campaign, [companies] aren’t doing all that much,” she shrugs. 

This much most pundits agree upon: New mothers are online in greater numbers than ever before, and there are any number of potential benefits in attempting to connect with them. For example, they’re intimately familiar with the technology, in many cases having grown up with it, so there’s no cap on the creativity and sophistication of campaigns designed to reach them.

On the other hand, this is a time-starved audience. Online pitches, more than any other, must sound essential. Prompting a reaction of “Wow, this looks kinda cool” isn’t enough, as busy moms tend to put non-essentials on the back burner. Whatever the message is, companies must learn how to get it across quickly and with minimal marketing-speak.

What many of them miss is that new mothers are going through their share of emotional changes, in addition to lifestyle ones. Online campaigns tend to dwell on the pragmatic aspects of motherhood, serving up time-savers, semi-practical parenting tools and the like. 

“Moms are saying, ‘I’m having identity issues here’ and I’m not sure anyone’s listening to them,” notes Sal Kibler, publisher of “They’re thinking, ‘This should be the happiest time of my life and in some ways it is, but I’m struggling to evolve and be more than just a mommy.’”

Along those lines, campaigns should more than passingly address the notion that today’s new moms feel somewhat isolated and appeal to their desire for community. Decades ago, advice and comfort were easy to come by. There were picket-fence discussions, coffee klatches and other regular in-person get-togethers. Today, the virtual community of the Internet has largely replaced such actual community neighborhood-centric resources.

“You can find a lot [of information] about how to cook healthy for your kids or about shopping tips or looking good,” explains Robin Gorman Newman, cofounder of the Motherhood Later … Than Sooner ( community. “What you can’t find as easily are support systems. You don’t just snap your fingers and meet other moms. [Companies should] let new mothers know that they’re not alone.”

They would also be well served to make sure their definition of motherhood includes mothers of all stripes: adoptive moms, single-parent moms, older moms. “I don’t think [marketers] realize that not all moms are alike. There are so many niches within the motherhood label,” Newman continues. 

Skoloda agrees, adding that the Internet enables what she calls “hyperconnectivity” with women in similar life situations. “You may not be able to find another mother on your street who’s in her second pregnancy or dealing with a special-needs child or debating [whether] to go back to work, but you can find her online,” she says. 

Indeed, online social communities have become extensions of most new moms’ friends-and-family networks. In the past, only those people one knew personally were deemed to be friends. Now, new mothers tend to assign that lofty designation, and the trust that comes with it, to people they only communicate with online.

Individual flourishes, especially those that tap users’ desire to share everything from thoughts to videos, remain incredibly appreciated by this audience, though. Even the Web behemoths are getting in on the action — take iVillage, which this November, in a campaign by the online marketing platform Brickfish, asked mothers-to-be to submit photos of their pregnant bellies as part of a contest to win clothes and baby goodies. 

Marketers might also consider forging relationships with providers of online games. The exact numbers vary from study to study, but most estimates suggest that younger women play more games online than do any other audience. Yes, that includes teenage boys and Gen-Y males, who tend to be more enthusiastic about console gaming.

PopCap Games, in fact, conducts a “mom test” for all its games in development. If its women beta-testers are still playing a game 30 minutes after they’ve been left alone with it, the company knows it has a hit. “Companies view us with some suspicion,” admits Garth Chouteau, communications director for PopCap Games. “But there’s a level of [audience] involvement with everything we do that you don’t get in banner ads or these huge online programs.”

As for where savvy companies should be spreading their online dollars, they can find eyeballs at the expected places — eBay, iVillage, BabyCenter, et al. For credibility, however, they’d be smart to align themselves with the very best of the mom blogs — in a fully transparent way, of course.

“If you go in there blindly, it’s dangerous territory,” Kibler says. Adds Skoloda, “Marketers will be welcomed where there’s a real place for them in the dialogue. It’s when they don’t reveal the whole truth or pretend to be something they’re not that they get in trouble.”

Still, brands have been pleasantly surprised at the willingness of top mom bloggers to drop the snark and work with them. The best way to do this? Be 100 percent straightforward: Here’s who we are and here’s how we think we can be useful to your audience. The blog, for instance, is said to favor those companies that give readers a way to sample products or services (via coupon codes or other means). 

The CafeMom, Busy Mom and Mommy Tracks communities are also fast becoming favorites, with consumer goods, fashion and even automotive advertisers. Their appeal, not surprisingly, boils down to that single word: community.

“Moms can go in there, ask questions, take advantage of the people there in bite-size increments or in big gulps,” Kibler says. “Communities and publications like ours are what will keep moms interested. And where they’re interested is the only place to really reach them, given their schedules.”

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