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CGM: The Parenting Megaphone

  |  September 20, 2005   |  Comments

First-time parents create a disproportionate amount of CGM. How can marketers take advantage of that?

Two weeks ago, my wife and I were blessed with the birth of twins. It's hard to put my finger on the emotional high I'm feeling, but it's absolutely incredible.

I just can't stop looking at them, and I can't resist the urge to tell everyone the news -- family, friends, strangers, even my readers. I've taken no fewer than 300 digital photos, sent hundreds of email messages, made dozens of phone calls, and even created a blog to celebrate this life-changing event. In short, I've become a consumer-generated media (CGM) machine.

Should marketers take note of my behavior? Is Pete a bizarre aberration or an untapped marketing opportunity?

P&G Inspirations

A key lesson I learned at Procter & Gamble (P&G) is that so-called "life stages" really matter. Nowhere is that point more obvious than in the context of entry-point sampling. Much of what drives P&G's success is targeted trial of new products at critical life stages, or key consumer "inflection" points.

Half the game in branding is figuring out aperture -- the moment in which consumers are most receptive and open to relevant messaging or trying new products for the first time. When you move, you open up to new product categories. When you get married, the slate of brand preferences is often wiped clean as you now must make brand decisions with your partner.

First-time parenting is one of the most important life stages to understand and manage. Here, we test new brands for the first time; assess current brands through a more critical, high-involvement lens; and emotionally and loudly discard disappointing brands.

Indeed, if a brand comes to the rescue or exceeds expectations in service to our twins, you can bet a case of diapers that I'll stand on a mountaintop and sing its praises. If it lets me down, expect to see a digital trail of discontent on my blog... or in my next column.

Engaged Parents vs. Typical Online Consumers

Don't chalk this up to anecdotal observation. I recently completed research establishing consumers in a parenting mindset create a disproportionate share of CGM. We analyzed the CGM behavior of consumers who actively research parenting content, let's call them "engaged parents," on the Web versus all other online consumers. We also took into account viral patterns of parents on messaging boards, forums, and blogs.

Engaged parents consistently outpace typical online consumers across a host of CGM factors, including propensity to share content with others and online forum and board participation rates. They are less tolerant of advertising and have a higher message receptivity than other consumers. They use text messaging, digital cameras, and other gadgets at a much higher rate. They do tons of online research, especially around health-related issues. Indeed, nearly 90 percent actively use the Web to research health and medical content versus 60 percent of typical online users.

Not surprisingly, engaged parents also create a disproportionate amount of CGM around issues such as safety, rumors, and threats. They are over 30 percent more likely to share a negative or positive product or service experience with others, and well outside parenting categories. They have, for instance, a high propensity to spread "warnings about things like scams and computer viruses," nearly 20 percent higher than typical consumers.

This outspokenness also extends to high-impact forms of expression. Engaged parents are over 20 percent more likely to send email to companies or politicians and tend to outpace other consumers in providing feedback on Web sites. Nearly 20 percent are more likely to share information about an "interesting Web site."

Key Question Index of Engaged Parents Versus Typical Online Consumers
Stories from real people are a much better way to evaluate products and services than what the company or store tells you. 113
When I feel wronged by a company, I'd rather tell people about it than receive a response from that company 112
I would be very interested in hearing the company's side of the story after seeing someone's personal account of a really negative experience with that company's product or service. 116
If I don't see a company defending itself, then I tend to believe the accusations. 114
Notes:1. N = 660 2. Responses made on a scale of 1-10, where 1 is strongly disagree and 10 is strongly agree. 3. Study conducted in August 2005.

How Should Marketers Respond?

Are parenting-related brand Web sites sufficiently primed for consumers who create more CGM? Presumably, media planners would overemphasize the importance of brand Web sites, given that parents have stronger research appetites and such a high propensity to create free media. Moreover, if parents are extra curious and receptive to the company's or brand's side of the story (as the chart suggests), what are interactive marketers doing to satisfy that need?

The truth is most parenting-related brand sites are average at best when it comes to managing influence and CGM. I looked critically at the big ones, including Pampers, Huggies, Gerber, and Evenflo. (Full disclosure: I've worked with a number of these brands at one time or another.)

All the sites have useful, highly relevant content and some measure of community, but none are fully equipped to maximize parents' latent CGM power. They all have ambitious email newsletter programs, but none enable RSS feeds. I didn't see a single blog, nor any place where parents could partake in their favorite parenting activity: photo sharing.

With the exception of Gerber, all the major parenting brand sites push consumer feedback -- the activity with the highest correlation to external CGM creation -- deep into the site.

Search tools overall were OK. Content for dads was hard to find, which offended me since I'm doing most of the shopping these days. Content on multiples or twins was limited, which obviously frustrated me. Evenflo didn't even have a search engine on its site.

One of our parenting analysts, Jennifer Klenke, mother of a one year old, noted that she stopped going to brand Web sites once her brand preferences locked in. She found the content overly generic, non-customized, and limited in key areas, such as nursing moms. Said Jennifer: "I have relied solely on reading message boards to find ongoing information on those topics."

Final Takeaway

Here's the baby rub: When you have your first child (or multiples), you are smack in the middle of a inflection point. How brands cater to consumers at key life stages affects not only long-term loyalty but also the permanent trail of CGM related to that brand.

To be competitive, brands must manage and facilitate meaningful conversations with consumers, and that includes treating their Web sites as CGM incubators. First impressions matter. Does this brand care? Is it responsive? Does it listen to me? Is it in touch with my world?

No, Pete the proud and viral parent is not an aberration. I'm just riding an emerging wave.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pete Blackshaw

Pete Blackshaw, whose professional background encompasses public policy, interactive marketing, and brand management, is executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, a combination of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a firm Pete helped cofound, and Nielsen//NetRatings. One of Pete's key focuses is helping brands interpret, manage, and act on consumer-generated media (CGM). A former interactive marketing leader at P&G and founder of consumer feedback portal PlanetFeedback.com, Pete cofounded the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). He authors several blogs, including ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and is the author of an upcoming book from Random House, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World."

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