Mother’s little helper

Offering everything from recipes to webisodes about parenting, brand-led online communities provide a stickier way to befriend busy moms in the social media sphere.

There was a time when having a basic brand website, along with a smattering of banner ads elsewhere, was considered enough of an online strategy to attract the lucrative mom market. That time is long gone, but marketers’ online learning curve has just begun.
‘Even though we think we’ve all marketed to moms forever, there’s still so much to learn [in order] to do it well,’ says Jill Nykoliation, president, Juniper Park. Her agency has done extensive research into how women think, shop and make purchasing decisions.
In order to build a lasting relationship with moms, and to create web properties sticky enough to encourage repeat visits, many marketers are building their own online communities, complete with brand-created original content. Pampers has its Pampers Village parenting site, which features webisodes, parenting tips and community forums, while General Mills and Kraft Canada have handy recipe sites geared toward busy moms.
So, what are moms looking for online? And how do online communities provide it?

Moms want understanding
From patching up skinned knees to maintaining family harmony, moms are problem solvers. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Nykoliation says the key to reaching them is understanding what challenges they’re facing and then helping to solve them.
‘You really have to understand what motivates her and show her how you provide a solution,’ she says.
The Pampers Village website at attempts to do just that, going beyond diaper talk to offer parenting advice on topics ranging from pregnancy to preschool. Users can subscribe to newsletters tailored to their child’s age group and moms can engage with each other in the forums or through blogs. But since these types of resources are available from other sources, both online and off, Pampers has upped the ante by introducing a series of webisodes unique to the brand. Welcome to Parenthood, which launched this summer, follows real couples as they tackle challenges like baby-proofing their homes and potty-training their toddlers.
The webisodes not only give moms a reason to return to the site and recommend it to their friends, they also create an emotional connection – something Nykoliation says is critical when marketing to women.
‘We embark down the journey of motherhood with moms,’ explains Zeeshan Shams, category brand manager, baby and toddler care, P&G Canada. ‘We leverage Pampers Village to maintain a constant conversation and relationship. Our online properties help to keep our brand top of mind.’
For Pampers, the online sphere is a particularly important touchpoint. ‘We know that moms are spending a lot of time online,’ Shams says. ‘Based on a Forrester survey conducted in 2009, on average, Canadian new moms spend nine hours a week using the internet for personal purposes. This is more than the combined time they spend listening to radio, reading newspapers and reading magazines.’
Developed by global IT services company Atos Origin and maintained by Pampers’ global AOR for digital, StrawberryFrog, Pampers Village currently gets 20,000 unique visitors per month in Canada, with visits driven through media campaigns, other sites, paid search, in-store POP and increasingly influential social media channels.
A strong online property in itself, the brand’s Facebook page (which also houses the Welcome to Parenthood series) has over 300,000 ‘likes’ and encourages moms to interact with the brand on a daily basis. So far, it appears to be working. Within three hours of posting the status update, ‘Think your child is your mini-you? Upload some photos of you with your little shadow’ in mid-August, 150 proud parents had uploaded pictures. Pampers cemented the connection by commenting on many of the photos.

Moms want answers
A worldwide study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in 2009 found that, in addition to their work outside the home, 88% of
women are responsible for grocery shopping, 85% are responsible for meal preparation, 84% are responsible for laundry and for cleaning and 77% are responsible for household administration. That’s a lot of tasks to accomplish before bedtime – and it doesn’t even factor in childcare itself. In effect, Nykoliation says, when moms visit an online community, what they’re saying is, ‘Help me get to the best answer as fast as I can.’
‘Women are solution-oriented,’ Nykoliation says. ‘I read somewhere that men will look at a freezer and say, ‘How many cubic feet?’ and women will look at it and say, ‘Will it hold a frozen pizza?”
Before moving to the agency side of things, Nykoliation spent a decade working at Kraft Foods, where she was involved in the launch of Kraft Kitchens in 2000. The recipe site was developed with the goal of helping moms answer an age-old question: what’s for dinner tonight? Nykoliation says that the site was successful because it was consumer-solution focused, not Kraft focused. ‘Make no mistake, Kraft Miracle Whip and Kraft cheese are part of the solutions, but they’re not the entry point,’ she says.
Although moms have many resources for recipes – from cookbooks and other websites to magazines like Chatelaine and Canadian Living – Nykoliation says a tight focus on 15-minute meals the whole family would love showed that the brand could relate to a mom’s challenges. ‘Kraft understood that the meal is not just fuel, it’s this conduit that brings people together,’ she says. ‘People didn’t mind [the site's content] being branded because it was a valuable resource presented in a consumer-centric way.’
General Mills is using a similar strategy on its recently rebranded CRM site (previously, before being relaunched by Toronto’s Digital Cement in late 2009), which serves up recipes, special offers and tips to make shopping and meal planning easier for moms. General Mills products are integrated into each recipe and users can give recipes a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, with the tally showing how many people ‘would make it a weekly thing’ vs. how many ‘would rather get a root canal.’ Coupons are delivered both on the site and via an e-newsletter, and right now the site drives to General Mills’ Canadian Facebook page, where consumers can ‘like’ the brand in order to receive a free box of Cheerios. (At press time, the page had over 58,000 ‘likes.’)
Of course, these Facebook fans aren’t all moms, or even all women. But a ComScore survey released this summer, called ‘Women on the Web: How Women Are Shaping the Internet,’ found that, globally, women are the more frequent users of social media. They spent an average of 16.3% of their online time on social networks in April 2010, compared to only 11.7% for men.

Moms want straight talk
Women spend over 70% of consumer dollars worldwide and are driving $12 trillion in global consumer discretionary spending, according to BCG’s study. The ‘busy young mom’ is a power shopper who’s using the net for due diligence on a lot more than just recipes and parenting. That’s why Sony Canada’s digital imaging division has recently been focusing its attention on online mothering communities.
When it comes to digital cameras and camcorders, mothers are an important demographic, since mom is often ‘the keeper of the household’s memory,’ says Samuel Yip, Sony Canada’s director, digital imaging, consumer products group marketing.
Over the past five years or so, Sony has shifted its focus away from television advertising, moving toward more SEM, social media, word of mouth and event marketing. The online sphere is a particularly good fit for Sony since consumers often research electronics purchases online, and since it allows the brand to target niche audiences.
But while some brands lend themselves to creating their own solutions-based online worlds, others do not. If you sell a product that moms buy every few years rather than during the weekly grocery run, the ROI might not be enough to justify building an online community. For Sony, it made more sense to visit mom in her own social setting.
To reach out to moms, Sony has been working with, and They’ve also been partnering with Today’s Parent magazine in print, online and at events, setting up photo booths at the magazine’s Kids Summer event programming, so that parents can test the cameras and print out their shots.
‘Advertising is very important but you really need to add one more layer,’ Yip says. ‘So, not just that it looks nice on paper or online; you need to have the end user experience the product as well.’
Yip says that when targeting moms, the focus isn’t on bells and whistles. Although some mothers may have the time and inclination to pore over technical specs, most just want to solve the problem at hand as efficiently as possible, so they can move on to the next thing.
‘For the mom market, what we’re trying to showcase is the benefit of the user experience,’ he says. ‘As a consumer, it doesn’t really matter if the camera is a 10 megapixel or 14 megapixel, it’s whether it actually produces a good picture quality. Especially for moms, they don’t have the time to look at the detailed specs.’
To this end, Sony has been promoting its new NEX-5 camera this summer through a combination of banner ads, contests and branded content on As part of the promotion, the site’s founder and editor-in-chief Erica Ehm – a mother of two, who started her career as a MuchMusic VJ in the mid-’80s – was given a NEX-5 to test out. When she visited the Calgary Stampede with her son, she used the camera to shoot all of her pictures and then blogged about the experience, while readers were given the chance to win their own NEX-5 camera.
‘I had no reservations about visiting the Stampede – cowboys are my cup of tea,’ she told her readers. ‘But the task of testing a fancy camera made me more than a little nervous – tech savvy I am not.’ After describing her learning curve with the camera and posting about a dozen sample shots, her blog post concluded, ‘I must admit, I took some of the best shots of my LIFE. I’m not exaggerating. Take a look at these!’ Ehm sounds like just another mom shooting pictures of her kid, and her readers responded as peers, complimenting the photos and noting that they’d be adding the camera to their wish lists.
The NEX-5 execution follows another recent program that saw one of the site’s bloggers test drive a Handycam, in conjunction with a giveaway. Sony Canada’s SVP of marketing, Ravi Nookala, told a crowd assembled for a Canadian Marketing Association breakfast in July that while execs were initially skeptical of the plan, the contest was a hit with moms and resulted in measurable sales.
Yip says word of mouth, whether it’s from a friend, family member or blogger, is powerful for moms. ‘As an advertiser, you can put ads on billboards or television, but nothing beats the compliment or testimonial of a mom that you know from a community telling you how good the product is or what features they like.’
In the three years since its launch, (which gets approximately 100,000 unique monthly visitors) has become a powerhouse for brand partnerships, working with H&M, Huggies, Frito-Lay, Microsoft and Mattel. Ehm says the site prides itself on integrating clients’ products and services in a way that serves both the reader and the advertiser.
‘We don’t want to just run banner ads,’ she says. ‘That is a nice addition, but we create programs with the clients that really resonate and are genuine.’

The bottom line
Hosting a brand-helmed online community doesn’t make sense for everybody – as the Sony example shows, there are times when you’re better off connecting with moms in their own environment, rather than creating a new one. But as Pampers, Kraft and General Mills have exemplified, for competitive categories requiring frequent purchases, building your own online world offers a way to generate loyalty and keep your brand top of mind. Unlike one-off campaigns or partnered programs, hosting a proprietary community means you don’t just walk away when a campaign wraps up and you’re not starting from scratch the next time you want to communicate.
As Caroline Craig, senior strategist, Juniper Park, puts it, ‘The community route is very expensive up front and requires an enormous organizational commitment to create the content and experiences that will keep consumers interested over time. But the cost to interact with community members online becomes relatively inexpensive once the community has scale and those content assets and processes are established. For brands who can also use their own packaging or transactions to invite new consumers in, the traditional media spend can be dramatically less.’
These days, brands have the distinct advantage of being able to become friends with moms in the social media space. ‘They can reach out directly – through email, or more and more through Facebook – to encourage them to return, to do more with the brand, get more solutions, and ultimately use more product,’ Craig says. ‘And in the process, they gather valuable information about what consumers do and like on their site. This kind of engagement with the same consumer over time isn’t possible through typical advertising.’
When you provide a branded community that puts the consumer’s needs first – while respectfully demonstrating how your product addresses those needs – you’re laying the foundation for a long-lasting relationship. And at a time when consumers are constantly sharing their brand experiences in real time, that’s a powerful thing.