Another year, another Mumstock – an event where the founders of Mumsnet, the UK’s most popular parenting forum, berate a room full of marketers and comms professionals about our ability to connect with mums. This year they decided to take a different approach and revealed the seven habits of effective brands in reaching mums, and celebrated the brands that best delivered on those habits. I welcomed the change in approach and particularly like the use of the word habit because it reflects one of my core beliefs about brand behaviour – that ‘repetition is reputation’.

While a habit is about consistent repetition, I started to think about the catalyst to action required to form a habit. You know, like we’re all aware we’re supposed to exercise regularly, but what actually gets us to the gym. Considering the research into effective habits, the perspectives of marketers in attendance and the harsh truths shared by the Mumstock ‘real mum’ panel (aka parents who don’t work at agencies or publish glossy blogs), here are some thoughts on brand actions that can grow into habits over time.

1.      Sprinkle magic into the mundane: Ella’s Kitchen is a brand that excels at creating magic. Think about it – there is nothing sexy about feeding little children – it’s messy and icky and before Ella’s Kitchen changed the game, no adult would dream of eating baby food. Everything about the brand is charming – the pouches are easy to hold/feed (no packing spoons, bowls, etc), the names make you smile because yes, kids really do say ‘I want the red one’ and even the brand story on the back is sweet and endearing. What’s most impressive about Ella’s is that they have cast their spell on both children and their parents.

2.      Get real: For brands to connect with parents today, they need to avoid the cliché of perfect parenthood and share a more honest portrayal of being a mother or father in 2017. As we move past sanitized images of smiling mothers in their perfect homes, Dove, a brand whose heritage is anchored in real, has nailed it with the launch of Dove Baby. I love their ad because it is one of the first pieces of work I’ve seen in which the environment reflects the insanity of the early days of parenting. Getting real can extend beyond the content you create towards the channels you use. The mums’ panel at Mumstock spoke about their preference for receiving brand recommendations from other real mums as opposed to celebrities who ‘probably have nannies living with them and don’t have the struggles and stress we do’.

3.      Make yourself useful: You know when you have a new baby and you are so overwhelmed ad exhausted and someone comes over and says ‘ how can I help?’ and you don’t even have the mental or physical energy to articulate an answer (oh, was that just me?). The most helpful guests just knew what to do and started helping. Since brands are basically guests in our lives (sometimes welcome, often not), it’s not surprising that the most successful brands work in service of the consumer. Nivea is amazing at this, creating tools and resources to help families enjoy their time at their beach – all the while building brand affinity for Nivea’s sunscreen line.

4.      Know what I want…before I do: We know brands and businesses are drowning in data about our online behaviours – smart brands use those learnings to anticipate what we want and deliver it before we ask for it. Tesco, who knows how much junk food we really buy thanks to the Club Card program, has made the weekly shop easier by understanding the many obstacles that mums encounter as they navigate through the aisles. They were the first supermarket to remove treats from the checkout and now offer free fruit to children to fight hunger urges that lead to sugar deprived demands and tantrums. Mumsnet identified that one of the most frequently asked questions on the platform was ‘what should I make for lunch today’ and in turn created what mums never knew they needed – a lunchbox generator, filled with suggestions on what to make and a direct link to Lidl to order the ingredients.

5.      Consistency is great, but be ready to embrace change: While consumers are often wary of new formulations and even new logos, many beloved brands have managed to successfully change over time. Disney has evolved from the damsel in distress template that shaped their early movies to introducing a diverse and empowered set of heroines who are able to save themselves without awaiting a kiss bestowed by a prince. Even Barbie got the message, showing how imaginative play with Barbie can help children to envision any future – beyond the ambition of matching your stilettos to your outfit. The reasons these brands got it right, while so many other attempts at relevancy fall flat, is because they maintained their core brand values even as they adapted.

Every mother figures out pretty quickly that it’s impossible to parent ‘perfectly’, and doing the best you can really is enough. The same holds true when it comes to marketing to mums –and the organisers of Mumstock don’t claim to have a magic formula. The best we can do is try our best to understand parents today and how as brands we can create value and sometimes, just make things a little easier. However… mums will be ruthless if they don’t feel understood, acknowledge and respected –suggesting that the ‘mother’ of all habits for brands to adopt is actually…listening.

Avra Lorrimer

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