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The target audience you shouldn't ignore

The target audience you shouldn't ignore Tina Sharkey

Let's start with a little memory game. How many times did you mention a brand name in the last week? I'm not talking about ordering a Diet Coke or telling a friend to call you back on your BlackBerry. I'm talking about a meaningful conversation about a brand that included a review, recommendation or even a rant. Now, I'm not much of a gambler, but I'd be willing to bet that it was in the range of three to 12. Maybe even more. 

New research from BabyCenter and the Keller Fay Group backs up my hunch. In fact, pregnant women and new moms have more than 100 conversations per week about brands, products or services. For those keeping score, that's one-third more word-of-mouth conversations per day than for women in general or the total public. That's a whole lot of brand conversations flying around out there.

Add in the fact that the mom tribe is responsible for $1.7 trillion in spending on consumer products across every category, including travel, autos and electronics, and it's easy to see why word of mouth is so powerful among pregnant women and new moms.

Know your tribe
Having a child is a life-changing event that forces soon-to-be parents to rethink everything. During this time, women tend to reconsider almost every category of goods and services. With a baby on the way, the two-door coupe and savings account with a measly one percent interest rate just won't cut it anymore. Even everyday things like cleaning products are re-evaluated to make sure they're safe for the newest family member. Naturally, women seek advice from other moms in the tribe, and they are happy to oblige with their advice and recommendations.

The study found close to one in five pregnant women and new moms were identified as word-of-mouth leaders based on their recommending behavior and size of social network. To put this into context, that's a whopping 60 percent more than women in general or the total public.  

Idle chatter? Bite your tongue.
In this age of citizen journalism and social media, we've all had to come to grips with the fact that all talk isn't necessarily positive talk. However, when it comes to pregnant women and new moms, 60 percent of their conversations carry with them a recommendation to buy, try or consider, and positive brand sentiment in those conversations outweighs the negative by a 10:1 margin. The even better news is that after hearing brand recommendations from other moms, 37 percent are motivated enough to seek out more information, and half say they're likely to purchase the recommended brand. In the shopping, retail and apparel category, it's even higher, with 69 percent likely to purchase based on what was passed along.

We've established that moms talk a lot, but what exactly are they talking about? A lot more than sippy cups and diapers. Half or more of all moms surveyed reported having at least one conversation per day about technology, financial services, health care, food/dining, media/entertainment, packaged goods, shopping and retail experiences. In fact, the majority of the most talked about brands listed in the study are not children's brands but rather big box retailers, consumer electronics and soft drink brands.

It's not surprising to find Target and Wal-Mart atop the list, and of course Pampers and Gerber as well. But it is interesting to see so much talk about telecom brands. The prominence of these brands, along with Apple, demonstrates the wide variety of things moms are discussing.

Among pregnant women and new moms, the internet is the No. 1 driver of word of mouth. While we found the majority of discussions about brands and products still take place in person, much of the talk is stimulated and informed by content that moms have been exposed to through the internet and other media channels. And the opportunity online is only growing.

By the end of this year, there will be 35mm U.S. moms online. We know from past research that the vast majority of moms use the internet to help them stay connected to their world and for support and guidance. The opportunity for them to share and receive advice is far greater today than it has ever been, making word of mouth even more powerful. Web 2.0 affords multiple avenues for mom-to-mom connections, making it even easier to find and compare notes via blogs, chats, message boards and social networks.

The most important thing to remember is that brand growth today starts with consumer conversation. Find ways to engage in dialogue with consumers and create opportunities for consumers to talk with each other. Moms, in particular, like to share, and they trust what they hear from their friends, family members and peers, so use that to your advantage. Here are a few tips to help you reach this valuable audience using word-of-mouth marketing:

  1. Give them something to talk about. Encourage word-of-mouth components within your brand briefs and marketing objectives. Leverage partnerships with sites with deep audience affinity, and gain strategic insights to hone in on what's going to resonate with the audience. According to a recent Booz Allen Hamilton study, consumer insights topped the list of the most important capabilities to marketers by 2010. But don't just gather them, use them.

  2. Encourage participation. Give consumers access to simple tools and applications like video and photo uploading to encourage collaboration and contribution. Make it easy for them to show their creativity and become part of the mosaic. Marketing today is becoming more about co-creating experiences with consumers than pushing messages. Arm your consumers with ways to pass along what they've heard. Think send-to-friend, IM and email.

  3. Enable sharing. It's imperative to make sure your technology is in sync with the digital ecosystem, so sharing activities are not only possible, but better yet, enabled by you! Encourage virality by allowing users to post to YouTube, Facebook and other social sites. Create sharing tools so people can easily send executions through Outlook or AIM. Also, don't forget to negotiate sharing rights into your contracts up front so there aren't any last minute surprises.

  4. Observe, listen and learn. Pay attention to and rely on the wisdom of crowds. Create a feedback loop and troll blogs to see how your brand, product and message resonate -- which leads us to tip No. 5…

  5. Iterate. Iterate. Iterate. Make your campaign and creative flexible. Use your feedback loop to refine creative to better serve the needs of your audience.

At the end of the day, regardless of what audience you're trying to reach, the insights generated from your research are arguably the most valuable form of media today. These findings not only help shape your media and marketing plans, but they can also be extremely effective when developing creative execution, and even product decisions.

Tina Sharkey is chairman and global president of BabyCenter, the largest online resource for expectant and new parents around the world.

Tina Sharkey, Chairman, BabyCenter, LLC, is a pioneer in the development of new media applications that bring value to consumers' lives, with more than 20 years of experience in the evolution of new media, ranging from the introduction of HDTV in...

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