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Idle chit-chat not so idle in mom-land

IF you're harboring any uncertainty about whether the mommy blogosphere is a bona fide opportunity or a passing trend, google 'moms online' sometime and prepare to be blown away. This particular virtual community - women with children under 18 in the house - is pegged by eMarketer analysts to hit 36.6 million in the US alone by 2010, and its denizens are spending an average 87 minutes a day online, according to internet market research firm ComScore Networks. And this momentum isn't going unnoticed in brand management circles.
September 1, 2007

IF you’re harboring any uncertainty about whether the mommy blogosphere is a bona fide opportunity or a passing trend, google ‘moms online’ sometime and prepare to be blown away. This particular virtual community – women with children under 18 in the house – is pegged by eMarketer analysts to hit 36.6 million in the US alone by 2010, and its denizens are spending an average 87 minutes a day online, according to internet market research firm ComScore Networks. And this momentum isn’t going unnoticed in brand management circles.

‘Marketers are really trying to listen and look for ways to tap into the organic word of mouth, the conversation that is already happening out there,’ says John Bigay, VP of marketing at Bzz Agent, a Boston-based company that gauges product popularity amongst moms. Bigay adds that this consumer group is more inclined than any other to engage in product-related conversations – both online or offline.

But even the most daring brand manager isn’t keen to throw the doors wide open in the blogsphere and hope for the best. So more and more third-party marketing services are setting up systems that let companies have candid dialogues with consumers about their wares, but on a platform that’s organized and measurable. And the strategy has even caught on with companies that are traditionally conservative when it comes to corporate image control.

Proctor & Gamble is one notoriously market-shy company that recently set up an advertising deal with ModernMom.com‘s newly formed Modern Moms Tested panel. The thrust of the partnership gives P&G clearance to send products to more than 5,000 moms who’ve agreed to try them out and post uncensored reviews on the site.

And looking to improve its image and communicate to moms that it offers healthy food and is concerned about their families’ health, McDonald’s has recruited a panel of moms to go behind the scenes of its operations as ‘quality correspondents’ and share the experience of visiting the fast-food chain’s farms, suppliers and restaurants with the world through blogs, chatrooms and public forums.

To facilitate similar relationships between brands and matriarchs, San Francisco, California-based Markettools recently launched Moms Online Network, a community specifically created to tap into conversations moms are having in more than 50 million blogs, message boards and media sites. The company analyzes the information and creates quarterly reports on product categories including baby care, education, toys and health. For an annual subscription of US$80,000, clients can access quarterly reports pertaining to one category, and a 20% discount off additional ones.

Morris says listening to uncensored mom chatter is key to identifying hot-button topics and issues that wouldn’t otherwise show up on a marketer’s radar. For example, advice moms shared online about kids and veggies provided valuable insights for food companies to consider in their packaging and product plans. Moms talked about sneaking shredded carrots and broccoli into casseroles, cutting veggies into fun shapes and putting them together to make faces on their kids’ plates.

Markettools can also customize discussions specifically for clients by tapping into its proprietary ZoomPanel of 10,200 moms. The forum’s moderator posts polls, activities, discussion topics and questions on behalf of subscribers and pens a specialized report. The company recently conducted a survey to find out how moms feel about licensed characters. A full 39% of respondents said they buy them occasionally, and the commentary that followed the core poll question touched on elements such as favorite characters, the above-all importance of product quality, and situations where character endorsement actually makes their job as parents easier.

Sylvan Learning Centers and Del Monte have already signed on with the network. For its part, Del Monte uses it to get an inside perspective on what moms are cooking and eating at home, so as to identify under-served needs in the market.

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