Published: April, 03 2008 By Thomas A. Prais
The Internet has long been compared to the “anything-goes” Wild West. New trends, however, suggest it is becoming an updated version of the sewing circle of yesteryear.
“Mommy blogs” and related mom-oriented social networks enable merchants to communicate with consumers in a space where they are actively engaged in product discussions. According to Maria Bailey of the consulting firm BSM Media and author of “Trillion Dollar Moms,” as well as an upcoming book about moms and the Internet, there are 10,000 active mommy bloggers (moms who post at least once a month) in the United States. Bailey’s research found that 60 percent of moms read blogs at least once a week and 75 percent said blogs are the medium they are most excited about.
Product evaluations are of special importance on mommy blogs. “Among moms, knowledge confers social status,” Bailey explained. “And knowing about new, useful products or good deals is highly valued.”
A white paper (“Online Communities: What Should Retailers Do?”) published in mid-March by Internet application developer Optaros articulated the advantage this will have for Web-savvy retailers: “What if a store can be placed where the customers are spending their time, rather than trying to get the customers to come to the [store’s Web site]?”
According to Bailey, one of the keys to reaching the online mom community is authenticity. “It’s very, very important,” said Bailey, “if you try to reach out to mommy bloggers, that you don’t just send them a press release.”
Kathy Ireland Worldwide has authenticity in spades. While the company hasn’t gone so far as to actively create an online network, it does allow members to communicate with Ireland. Sometimes, this communication takes unexpected turns. “I get a lot—a lot—of e-mails that are faith-related,” said Ireland. “It’s something that I’m very mindful of, because I never want to exploit my faith. That’s tricky when you sell stuff, but it’s such a huge part of who I am.”
Discussions of faith may seem pretty far afield from mainstream, brand-building operating procedure. But, according to Bailey, authenticity is the coin of the digital realm, in contrast to the lifeless, board-approved copy of press releases.
Not all communications are so personal. Ireland shared a recently received e-mail with Furniture Style as an example: “Your company is rather limited in window treatments. I own some hard window treatments that you've made, but I don’t want that in my bedroom. Why have you not addressed this lack of service, and where should I go to find soft window treatments that coordinate with the area rug in my bedroom and my top-of-bed, both of which are from your European Country style guide?”
According to Ireland, her team will respond quickly and might “ask [the customer] to e-mail us a photo of her rug, and we’ll help her tie it together with other items in the room. Any product we don’t carry, we’ll do some research, and find good manufacturers who are in line with our pricing.”
Such back-and-forth communication is a far cry from traditional advertising, where a brand delivers a marketing message—whether through a print, television or banner ad—that the consumer may or may not be receptive to at the time of delivery. Mommy blogs and networks give retailers, including those specializing in home furnishings, the opportunity to engage their primary consumer in a way that is far more meaningful than the typical “Labor Day Sales Event” ad buy.