Mums make up a vast audience for many brands, but how is this large consumer group feeling about the future? And how should marketers best target mums? Exclusive research aims to address these issues.
When it comes to being a parent, times are tough. On average, childcare alone costs nearly £64,000 from cradle to college, according to a study done last year by insurer LV=. That’s a 2.6 per cent rise on 2012, bringing the total cost of raising a youngster to more than £222,000.
But mothers are more optimistic than they were 12 months ago, according to a study by parenting club Bounty shown exclusively to Marketing Week. Of the 20,000 surveyed, 29 per cent say they are in a better financial position than they were a year ago, and 35 per cent think they will be better off in a year’s time. Meanwhile, the proportion who feel they will be worse off in 2015 has dropped.
“What strikes me is the contrast between the pessimism of the last 12 months and the underlying optimism for the future,” says Brian Walmsley, chief marketing officer at Bounty’s parent company, the Treehouse Group.
“It’s almost as if mums have this duality of [feeling] that life is tough, but having a child is wrapped up in hope and aspiration for the future. So there is an underlying emotional state of being a mum which is linked to optimism.”
The costs that mothers are most worried about are utility bills (75 per cent), food (68 per cent) and petrol (54 per cent). The price of childcare comes fourth, with 48 per cent expressing concerns.
“It is quite a harsh change when you take on childhood for the first time,” says Walmsley. “It is a point of market entry, change, increased expenditure and decreased income, all at the same time.
The danger is that brands can play on mums’ insecurities. Equally, they can show empathy
“There is a sense for many parents that they have a new baseline of spend and they restate their expectations.”
If and when bills do go up, the response of many mothers is to cut back on treats for themselves (76 per cent). A significant 61 per cent switch from branded to cheaper, own-label goods, and 45 per cent forsake premium supermarket ranges for cheaper value goods.
Many people have switched from branded to own-label nappies, with own-brand sales going up 37.3 per cent last year, according to Nielsen figures. This is likely due to Kimberly-Clark pulling its Huggies nappies out of the European market in 2012.
Yet a favourite nappy brand – which could be own-label – is cited as one of the categories that mothers tend to stick to, with 61 per cent staying loyal. In terms of sticking with the same one or two brands, washing detergent and tea and coffee are the only items on their shopping list that rank higher.
Own label versus branded goods
Just under half (45 per cent) of respondents say that they buy branded products the most when shopping, followed by 42 per cent who prefer supermarket own-label and 13 per cent who like retailers’ premium own-brand goods.
This is backed up by IRI data showing that private (own) label had 51.1 per cent of UK market share by value in 2013, up a marginal 0.6 percentage points on 2012.
However, value share for own-brand is going down in most parts of the household goods sector, with laundry products dropping 10 per cent year on year.
In Walmsley’s opinion, manufacturers and retailers need to tread carefully when it comes to offering products on promotion, as opposed to maintaining price. They may be able to help mothers cope in other ways, though.
“The temptation – particularly in the UK – is to go down the price or promotional [route], and what mums are saying clearly is that they are interested in brands helping them in other ways,” he says. “Yes, [own-label goods] are clearly a threat but mums are open to brands proving themselves.”
Fifty-four per cent of mothers want more useful information and tips from brands, according to the research, followed by loyalty schemes (53 per cent) and evidence that labels care about families (36 per cent).
One challenge for brands is to realise that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to communicating with mothers.
As Walmsley points out: “There is a wider degree of age of mums having children than ever before and there is a very wide degree of income and attitude. While pregnancy and birth is the point of market change for everyone, there are some commonalities.”
Thirty-eight per cent of mothers surveyed say that advertising portrays families and babies as too perfect, while 34 per cent find it somewhat patronising. On the other hand, 23 per cent find it informative and say that it helps them choose what to buy.
Some mothers are concerned about the way they look post-birth, with 58 per cent of first-time mums saying that they don’t look as good as they did beforehand. At the same time, 49 per cent say that they feel confident about themselves.
One sector that can come to mums’ aid is skincare, suggests Walmsley.
“What gives marketing a bad name is feeding the insecurity. What can give it a good name is supporting and championing that optimism and hope for the future,” he says.
“The danger is that [brands] play on mums’ insecurity and almost feed that paranoia, but equally, what they can do is show empathy. Providing information and tips is [one way to do that].”
Having a first child is often seen as tough but rewarding. The good news, though, is that second-time mothers will save up to £200 when they have a baby, according to research done by Sainsbury’s Little Ones last year. Of those surveyed, 78 per cent of first-time mums said they bought unnecessary baby items for their first child.
Mums are also keen to make money, given that they are likely to have lost income since taking maternity leave.
Thirty-eight per cent have sold items on eBay, according to Bounty, and Walmsley says that during certain points of pregnancy there are more Google searches for how to make money than how to save it.
“There is a group of mums that go through that process of pregnancy and birth,” he says, “that are incredibly creative about how to balance the books.”
Bounty sent an online questionnaire to 20,000 mothers, made up of those who were pregnant and those who already had children up to the age of 16. The survey was completed during two weeks in September 2013.
Corporate marketing director and head of marketing
Procter & Gamble UK & Ireland
I agree that mums want to feel good and valued, which is nowhere better expressed I think than our Thank You Mum campaign, which started again recently for [the] Sochi [Winter Olympics].
They have real challenges, but what they are seeking is value and brands they can trust, so it is not about buying the cheapest option. We haven’t seen such a dramatic change to own-label in the UK as in some other markets, although clearly that is showing some increases.
We haven’t seen any research that suggests mothers are feeling less confident, so that is one finding we’d disagree with. We have seen that they will reward themselves with a Max Factor mascara, a new nail polish or Aussie conditioner, rather than big things like shoes or handbags.
(Former marketing director, Mamas & Papas)
It is still a tough economic climate and mums do want quality. They want something different and they are expecting a relationship with your brand as well as fantastic customer service.
Customers have products at their fingertips now. If you don’t talk to and engage with them in whichever channel they want to shop in, they will quickly move on. It is very easy for people to have access to price comparison sites and mums’ sites, and you have to make sure you have a strong proposition and you deliver on it.
What we will look into is a type of loyalty scheme – but we are not going to rush into launching something. It is a good way to connect with customers. It was quite interesting to read in this research that [people want rewards].
In with the skin crowd
Of all the product categories in Bounty’s survey, the one most influenced by word of mouth is skincare, with 36 per cent saying they would switch on a friend’s recommendation. For Sian Jones, co-founder and director of beauty brand Balance Me, this finding is particularly pertinent.
“When you have your first child, you research everything,” she says. “You rely on other mothers for recommendations, [including] those you don’t even know, and that reiterates what is happening digitally within our industry. Facebook, Twitter and reviews are really important.”
Jones – who is a mother herself – says that word of mouth is more potent than marketing. “It is really important because [consumers] like to see through the advertising or marketing and they want that more personal approach.”
The research also finds that efficacy is key to getting mothers to stick with a brand, with 44 per cent saying they go back to the same one because it is the one that works. Helpful tips are also important to this group, with 54 per cent wanting brands (in all categories) to provide useful information to them.
“We do lots of recommendations about things that aren’t our own brand,” notes Jones. “That is really reassuring for customers [as] it is not just about projecting our own products – we are all about helping people.”
The company also runs skin clinics every two or three months to tackle particular problems or concerns, she says. “It is about being available and open and engaging to mums.”