Household brands observe parents’ needs in defining segmentation tactics

As households brace themselves for the annual back-to-school shopping season later this summer, marketers will rely on digital media, and in particular social media, to reach time-starved parents. Those efforts are evolving well beyond merely “friending” favorite brands. ?

Marketers and agencies are conjuring up more relevant content to increase engagement and making those outreach efforts more targeted by slicing and dicing the online parent community into more discrete segments through behavioral targeting and sophisticated analytics. ?

“We don’t see digital and social as separate media,” says Mark Stewart, VP of global media services at Kraft Foods. “We see them as ingredients in everything we do.” ?

Kraft Foods is sponsoring HerSay, an online video series aimed at young mothers that covers lifestyle topics drawn from online blogs in a talk show format. ?

“For big brands, 2011 is the year of convergence, where your digital supports your traditional and your traditional supports digital,” says Rustin Banks, CEO of BlogFrog, a blogger platform that works with brands including Horizon organic milks by WhiteWave Foods Co. and Sears Holdings Corp.’s Kenmore appliances. ?

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Digital media have won the race for parents’ limited free time, though. According to Experian Marketing Services research, parents’ Internet use exceeds that of the average American by a wide margin. Experian’s technology segmentation survey found moms are 34% more likely than the average US adult to buy products online and 33% more likely to participate in a blog.?

In order to maintain engagement online, marketers are experimenting with different types of content, trying to harness word of mouth or add expert tips and useful advice for families. ?

“We’re now really trying to understand how to deliver engagement and leverage the blogosphere,” says John McCarus, SVP of brand content at Digitas, which worked on HerSay with MediaVest‘s Kraft Foods One Team and Deca TV, a women’s digital media company. The content on HerSay has to be portable to enable it to be forwarded and embedded in other blogs and social as part of that leveraging process, he adds.?

“We don’t want to indict other legacy media channels, but I do think this is a space where we have incredibly time-starved audiences that are hungry for information that they need right now, and brands are stepping in to facilitate and curate that,” says McCarus. ?

Parents’ need for information opens a door for marketers to start brand conversations, say experts. It’s a challenge to offer something relevant and creative. This is an area where experts and word-of-mouth programs come in handy. ?

For example, Kimberly-Clark is launching an effort for its GoodNites diapers that includes a panel of experts offering advice on bed-wetting, and a brand website redesign to make advice more available to parents. ?

The panel lends “unbiased, third-party credibility to the brand,” but it mainly provides an outreach to parents with information they need, says Tim Abate, marketing director at GoodNites.?

“The very good marketers are creating content that goes beyond product descriptions and why you should buy product X,” says David Sladack, VP and senior group ?account director at Brunner, a direct and digital advertising agency. ?

Brunner recently conducted a program with Aquafresh toothpaste that included child behavior experts giving advice on how to get kids to brush, coupled with sampling and an animation app for smartphones that encourages kids to brush for the two minutes experts recommend. He couldn’t share the results, but said the client was “very pleased” with the spike in online traffic and downloads of the app.?

“When you’re dealing with parents, anything for them has to be framed in a way that inspires trust; genuine trust, not purchase validations,” says Richard Goldsmith, social media manager at Kenmore. ?

Goldsmith is working with BlogFrog on a promotion, Genius Tip, which asks social media users to share their best tips on a particular topic, such as surviving a family road trip. It offers a monthly $3,000 Kenmore gift certificate for the best one. Social media efforts such as the Genius Tip contest offer the best opportunities to harness word-of-mouth marketing, which carries great weight with parents, according to experts. ?

“The playground social network is very important,” says Richard Gottlieb, CEO of USA Toy Experts, a consulting firm that advises toy manufacturers. ?

Gottlieb’s survey of parents found the main influence in their toy purchases is the child’s wish, followed by recommendations from other parents and blogger suggestions. Advertising came in far behind those channels. However, like traditional media, social and digital are also increasingly targeting their audiences more effectively. ?

Marketers are targeting more carefully based on both the parents’ life stage and consumer behavior, says Jan Jindra, senior product market manager at Experian Marketing Services. Younger parents, and those of smaller children, have different information needs than parents of older or college-age children, she says. “It’s not only the life stage they’re in, but the lifestyle,” Jindra says.?

There is an increased amount of demographic and consumer behavior information available, but it has to be rationalized, Jindra says. A lot of information available on marketers’ databases has duplication and overlap, and the cleaned data still has to be married to transaction data to get a complete view of the shopper’s behavior, she adds. ?

Retail and consumer packaged goods companies have been segmenting better because they have multiple touchpoints with customers, making it even more important to link all data, says Jindra. ?

“It’s really just good marketing to have as defined a segmentation as you can,” says Sladack. “Like anything else, you have to have the right information and start with developing a very targeted profile.”

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