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Andrea Newell headshot

Brands Court the Considerable Influence of Mommy Bloggers

Brands are well-aware that women make 85% of consumer purchasing decisions. Moms, in particular, are targeted by companies wanting them to spend their family budget on their products. Although many moms have always been discriminating, concerned and vocal consumers, they now have a new forum in which to express their approval or disdain for businesses and their products: the mommy blogosphere. You’ve heard the term “mommy blogger” and might want to dismiss them as whiny, stay-at-home moms that sit around and complain about their kids to other moms. However, underestimating the power of this group of consumers would be a mistake.

Part of the Popular Crowd...
Although Jennifer Mendelsohn’s NYT article, Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy. I’m Too Busy Building My Brand both dismisses mommy bloggers as borderline ridiculous and at the same time makes fun of their efforts to become more business-like about their websites – it’s clear that major brands are not laughing. Mendelsohn herself cites a 2009 study by BlogHer, iVillage, and Compass Partners that found that 23 million women read, write or comment on blogs weekly. Forbes’ Jenna Goudreau states that women are more active in social networks (than men) and are more apt to trust information they find on online women’s communities, especially when it comes to buying decisions. Goudreau then reached out to the ForbesWoman Facebook community to see if they concurred. Not surprisingly, most of them did.
eMarketer estimates that advertising on blogs will top $746 million by 2012, and when Mendelsohn interviewed Pamela Parker, senior manager at Federated Media (which sells ad space for superstar bloggers) she said, “The blogosphere is where authentic conversation is happening. Marketers are recognizing that they want to be there, associated with that authentic conversation.” (Conversation as a crucial way to reach consumers? Where have we heard that before?)

What if They Don’t Like You? With those numbers, brands are taking notice and moving to influence that market, but some have found it to be like navigating a minefield.

While they want to sway this powerful demographic, many have found it to be a double-edged sword if their products don’t pass the mom-test. Pepsi, Wal-mart, and ConAgra, (among others) have all courted mommy bloggers and gained supporters, but also felt the sting when that authentic conversation has turned against them. In 2010 alone, mommy blogger dramas included a Nestle boycott, dissatisfaction with Air Canada, vilification of corn syrup, and outrage at Amazon’s choice to sell a book about pedophiles, among others.

Pepsi Pepsi has been working to reposition its image as a junk food peddler and reach out to mothers. Pepsi’s Refresh project has garnered much acclaim, but at least one reader lamented that it was too bad that their product was so bad for you – implying that it was hard to cheer for their social responsibility when many see Pepsi, Doritos, and similar products as contributing to obesity.

Despite that, Pepsi is working hard to convert moms by emphasizing their Tropicana, Quaker and Dole brands, which currently only make up 18% of total revenue, but the company estimates that these healthier alternatives will reach $30 billion by 2020. Pepsi made an appearance at the 2010 BlogHer conference, and is sponsoring the 2011 Social Media Week, during which it will unveil its Women’s Inspiration Network (WIN). Pepsi is hoping to draw women in by covering topics like the environment, sustainability, health, and stories of inspirational women.

Wal-mart Wal-mart has drawn fire for any number of business gaffes – most recently their announcement of the launch of their Geo Girl line of cosmetics for tweens – but they are also working hard to change their image and improve their social responsibility efforts. Their lead strategic planner, Katherine Wintsch, founded The Mom Complex to study modern moms and improve the advertising that targets them.

ConAgra ConAgra, who, like Pepsi, has its own high fructose corn syrup image issue, has been working to thwart that lasting impression with a new social effort working to combat childhood hunger. They invited 11 mommy bloggers to come to Dallas to witness their support of Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters program that teaches low-income families how to budget, buy and cook healthy food at home. Several bloggers posted about their enthusiasm for the initiative, but at least one high profile blogger, Jessica Gottlieb, condemned ConAgra and the other bloggers for supporting their efforts.

Their stories beg the question – can you support one aspect of a business or their social responsibility efforts if you despise their business practices or their product?

Customer Service Beware Whether or not you are courting mommy bloggers, brands should always remember that social media gives everyone a voice and you never know how loud the one on the other end of the phone may be.

Heather Armstrong of Dooce.com is widely regarded as the queen of mommy bloggers. She has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and was invited to the White House to discuss flex work arrangements (a Department of Labor staffer told her that many people in his office read her blog). Products she endorses leap off the shelves, but when her brand new Maytag washer broke and repeated efforts over several weeks to get it repaired failed, she was frustrated. She finally asked a disinterested Maytag customer service rep if it would make a difference if she had over a million followers on Twitter (she has 1,557,858 as of this post)? The rep said no, and hung up.

Armstrong took to Twitter to express her dissatisfaction with her Maytag washer and the service she had gotten (to her 1.5 million followers). The next day a VP from Whirlpool (owners of Maytag) called and resolved her problem immediately (she promptly thanked Whirlpool online). A VP from Bosch also contacted her and sent her a brand new Bosch washer and dryer – which she donated to a nearby homeless shelter and shouted out her appreciation of Bosch. (I admit, I cheered for Heather in this story. I only wish that I could ask her to wield her power on my behalf toward a few major brands that have ignored my pleas for service at the same time they were cashing my checks.)

Social media gives everyone a voice these days - not just moms. Companies are learning that conversations can be both rewarding and painful, but they are essential to reach your target audience and improve your brand. Consumers are learning that brands are listening, and their opinions matter. And moms everywhere are realizing that they wield the power to effect change.

Andrea Newell headshotAndrea Newell

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

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