Engaging mums

Since launching Razor Kids, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking and talking at Razor HQ about kids and parents. Our new senior research director (and head of Razor Kids), Lesley Salem, is our resident expert. In May, she spoke at the Engaging Kids and Marketing to Parents conference on the topic of how brands can best engage Generation Alpha kids and Millenial parents.

I’m no expert, but I am a mum. Everything we’ve been talking about has got me thinking about what it means to be a parent in 2017 – and what that means for brands. Here’s my two pennies’ worth based on the mums I know along with the parents I have spoken to on past projects:

1. We run in packs

There seems to be much more awareness of the challenges that face new mums in terms of mental health. There’s now a wealth of support networks and means of connecting with other mums online. The growth in popularity of WhatsApp etc has given rise to on-the-go mum chat groups where you can share everything from parenting tips to amusing memes. Parents are often members of multiple groups at any one time. When you combine this with the popularity of organised antenatal courses, such as ones run by the NCT and NHS, new mums have instant access to a whole new network of people.

As a result, word of mouth and recommendations from other parents become far more important than brand communications. To me, it’s because unlike in my pre-baby world, decisions are no longer down to my personal taste and preferences developed over the years (I know what I like when it comes to fashion and food for example). It’s that there’s always the slight sense that you don’t really know what you’re doing or what’s best for your baby. So if Zoe – who reads all the baby blogs – and Charlotte – who always seems so put together and never has sick on her top – recommends a new sippy cup then I’m going to buy it; and you can bet your bottom dollar I won’t be the only one!  Brands need to become part of these conversations and accessing the influencers within these networks.

2. Humour is the glue that holds us together

I don’t know when this started – the growth of digital technology surely plays a role – but much of the communication that occurs between mums today has a humorous tone. It’s all about creating a sense of solidarity while putting a funny spin on difficult experiences that everyone is likely to have been through. It’s epitomised by successful blogs like Hurrah for gin, The Unmumsy Mum and Selfish Mother.  It feels like there is a link here to the new wave of feminism and the sense that women should be actively pushing back against the social pressure to be the perfect mum (serene drug free homebirth, pureeing their own organic baby food, etc). By accepting the fact we’re all just doing our best, facing the same challenges and the ‘perfect mum’ is an unachievable illusion, you can actually enjoy motherhood (a joint 2016 report by Mumsnet and Saatchi & Saatchi showed that mums are constantly being sold short by marketers who have the ‘perfect mum’ image in mind).

Brands could do more to adopt a humorous tone and seek to portray the realities of parenthood – the joys and the challenges – in their communications. In the US for Mother’s Day, Kraft Mac & Cheese ran a successful campaign called ‘Swear Like a Mother’ all about (surprise, surprise) mums swearing. Brands could also look to do more to partner with bloggers who have so much cachet in mum circles (Hurrah for Gin’s book made the Sunday Times bestseller list last year). 

3. You don’t judge

During my first pregnancy, I was told to look out for those ‘competitive mums’ who’d make you feel guilty by acting like their lives, and babies, are perfect. Maybe I’ve been lucky but I haven’t come across any of those. It feels to me like there is an unspoken understanding that motherhood is hard enough without other mums making you feel bad about your choices. As long as you love your baby, whether they’re breastfed, bottle fed, co-sleeping, sleep-trained, spoon-fed, baby-led…it doesn’t really matter. Ultimately it has little bearing on how healthy and happy your child is. The mum code seems to be, unless it’s utterly outrageous (a friend of my friend’s baby pooed in her paddling pool and she left without offering to clean it up – now that’s unacceptable!), we’ll leave it to the likes of the gutter press to lay on the guilt trip. We certainly won’t be doing it.

In a similar vein to humour, brands can do more to capture this tone and show that they’re on the side of mums. The American infant formula brand Similac nailed this with their globally shared ‘Sisterhood of Motherhood’ video. It pokes fun at the different parenting ‘tribes’ and makes the point that despite these superficial differences everyone is linked by the desire to do the best for their child.

4. We have fun

Gone are the days of mums spending all day scrubbing the skirting boards whilst simultaneously making a delicious meal for hubby and caring for her three kids. Most of the (granted, middle-class/urban) mums I know have a cleaner, never iron, have regular girls’ nights and spend a lot of time outside the house going to baby classes, lunches or anything involving wine. Of course there is an inevitable element of monotony and tedium to motherhood (which becomes fodder for the humorous content referenced above!), but it feels as though mums are determined to make having a child as fun as possible and to continue doing the things they enjoyed prior to having kids. This ties back to the rejection of the ‘perfect mum’ ideal and the sense that you have to give up who you are and make yourself a martyr to the cause because you’ve had a baby. It also ties to the wider social trend of joyning – the desire people have to get out there, connect with others and partake in shared, immersive (and Instagram-able!) experiences.

Many mums are constantly looking for new, cool things to go out and do with their kids and other mums. Just look at the success of the Hoop app which shows kid friendly activities and classes based on your location. Brands could be doing more to get in on this space and help mums make the most of the time with their kids.

For me, the common thread running through all of the above is empowerment. Modern mums (and women!) don’t want to be put in a box and constrained by outdated and narrow ideas of how they should behave or feel. They want to continue to act, and be seen, as the multi-faceted people they were pre-children – and for brands to cut through all the guilt and stereotyping to portray the positive, funny, joyful (but not in a sickening way – no #blessed here please) sides of motherhoods. It’s time to focus on what unites mums rather than what divides them.   

Embrace failure!

Last month, the world’s first museum dedicated to failure, opened its doors in Helsingborg, Sweden. Rather than ridiculing its innovators and their ideas, the space explores reasons for failure and sees these mistakes as learning opportunities.

Working in the world of innovation research for the past decade, we recognise the importance our clients put on crafting winning concepts and getting these to market as quickly as possible. As we know, corporations place emphasis on speed – but how does this allow for any time for meaningful reflection? Launches that fail to make targets are quickly delisted or disbanded, and brand managers fired or moved swiftly onto the next big thing. Rather than covering up mistakes, companies should encourage a culture where small failures are noted before they become much larger.

One reason why innovations exhibited at the Museum of Failure didn’t make the cut was a refusal to accept that the market or category would change. Be it the world’s first digital camera by Kodak launched in 1995 – the board deemed that their corporation was in the business of film photography and that they underestimated the role for online photo sharing. Or conversely, Blockbusters that went bust in 2010 because it refused to acknowledge or accept the death of movie cassettes unlike Netflix that posted movies to people’s homes before investing in streaming. How the story might have been different for these two companies, had they allowed an innovation unit to flourish, challenged with the mantra to obliterate or transform their current business. In fact, that’s exactly how we see start-ups and kick-starter projects rise to success so quickly. These companies need to take the challenger stance, so why can’t big corporations do the same?

The companies that we see winning in the innovation space are those that allow themselves to make mistakes and aren’t shy in sharing these with their team. They see the process of innovation as iterative, and are always evolving. Sometimes it’s just one element that needs tweaking. Too often early ideas that fail in research are discarded but with a little more reflection and bravery, they could flourish.

Find ways to inject a bit of healthy competition within your business to learn from failure. Next time you embark on a piece of innovation, consider multiple work streams that vie against each other with significantly, different approaches. Rather than worrying about the competition, look internally at how you can transform your business to reset the parameters of consumption and experience.

For more information on how Razor Research can transform your business, or aid your innovation research, contact me at [email protected].