‘Brands are creating bland marketing by failing to serve the individual needs of mums’

New research by Mumsnet has found 66 identities that mums relate to, including many not often recognised by brands, painting a picture of a vast and varied group whose particular needs marketers rarely make an effort to serve.

Starbucks has signed up for the NCT's Parent Friendly Places Charter to support those with small children.
Starbucks has signed up for the NCT’s Parent Friendly Places Charter to support those with small children.

There is arguably no group in society that is generalised quite so much as mothers. They are repeatedly targeted using bland audience segmentations defined largely by their age and role in the family.

By doing this, brands are failing to understand the individual needs and circumstances of different women who merely share the fact they have children. This results in consumers getting increasingly irritated and marketers struggling to deliver relevant and engaging messaging.

By looking at environments where women talk most openly and honestly about motherhood, a new study by parenting network Mumsnet, shown exclusively to Marketing Week, reveals there are 66 distinct identities that women relate to, some more intensely than others.

These were identified by looking at what distinguishes different women with children
and how this shapes their lives on popular internet forums such as Mumsnet, Netmums, Baby Centre, Emma’s Diary, Gurgle, Gingerbread and Made for Mums.

The study, which has been conducted by creative agency Saatchi & Saatchi and brand research company Ipsos Connect and is being revealed at Mumsnet’s third annual Mumstock event today (15 March), is designed to help marketers better communicate with this vast and varied group.

Although the 66 identities include typical marketing segments based on age and employment status, there are also more unconventional characteristics that mothers define themselves by. Such identities include mums from one parent families, mothers who live in rural areas and those that have children with special needs, which marketers are sometimes guilty of overlooking. Other more specific identities include mothers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) or have LGBT children; mums with disabilities; mothers who home school their children; and those who have kids with allergies.

Mumsnet stats

“Some of these identities may seem controversial for marketers to embrace so we need to
prove to brands that these areas are key life-shapers for modern British mums that they cannot afford to ignore,” says Richard Huntington, group chief strategy officer, Saatchi & Saatchi London.

Understanding individual needs

Starbucks’ UK marketing and category director EMEA, Steve Flanagan says the coffee chain tries not to target mums as a distinct audience but to treat every customer as an individual.

He says: “For us as a brand, the defining point is to be there for people in the moment – whatever it is: a need for escape, a need for connection with their family or friends, needs that are felt by mothers and the rest of us.”

Flanagan believes women with children value Starbucks as a safe space for them and their kids between home and work.

He says: “We love it when we see people coming into our stores and moving the furniture around to get comfortable. We see new mums meeting each other, also mums with older children coming in straight after school.”

Earlier this month, Starbucks signed up for the National Childbirth Trust’s (NCT) Parent Friendly Places Charter to support those with small children. This initiative includes training staff to offer more proactive help to all parents, including those women who identify with the special circumstances outlined in the Mumsnet research.

“We understand it can be difficult with some of the issues women encounter, so with the help of the NCT we have trained our store partners to be better equipped to recognise how they can assist with small actions that can make a big difference. For example, finding a suitable seat, carrying drinks to the table or warming a bottle,” says Flanagan.

Most prominent identities

Of course, mums relate more intensely to some identities over others, so in order to determine which of the 66 groups matter most, a survey of 1,977 working and stay-at-home mums aged 16 to 60 was also conducted. Those that took part have varying numbers of children aged 0 to 18 and are from different socio-economic groups.

“Marketers tend to treat mums as one homogenous audience but brands need more detail on their customers to show they care. This is what these identities are all about, and this is not a definitive list,” says Huntington.

The research reveals several marketing truths that brands can learn from, such as the fact one-parent families are forced to waste food because of pack sizes, and rural mums turn errands into days out (see ‘The seven truths of marketing to mums’ below).

Key to this research is the fact that the 66 identities were chosen from discussions on mums’ forums and phrased in the same way as mums expressed them, helping to avoid the generalisation and stereotypical traps marketers can fall into when designing research. For instance, some women do not feel as defined by the fact they are a single parent as other lone mums.

Women identify with six identities on average. The top 10 are not a surprise as they relate to how women give birth, the age of their children and whether or not they work. The top two are women who breastfed and those who had a natural birth, both accounting for 32% of respondents, and representing 5.8 million UK mums each.

The top 10 also includes mums with children at secondary school (31%), those who live in a town (28%), mums who had a caesarean section (22%) and mums who work out of home (17%).

When looking beyond the first 10 groups, there are a number of identities that particularly resonate with mothers, but because of their nature are often ignored by marketers. These include mums who have suffered a miscarriage (16%), those that have elderly parents (14%), mums who are going through the menopause (14%) and those that follow a religion (9%).

“Women with children told us that some of the most intense identities are areas that brands which market to mums tend not to touch on in product development or communication,” says Huntington. “For instance, women would like to see more minority groups, such as gay parents or a disabled child, featured in advertising.”


Penny Herriman, global brand director at fashion brand Boden and a mother of two, says the research reveals some identities she has not previously considered as a marketer, particularly around the special circumstances some women face.

“I spend a lot of my time at Boden making sure we do not label women as mums but view them as individuals,” she says. “There has been a perception of Boden in the past as a brand for ‘yummy mummies’, which we are not, so we know how it feels to be pigeon-holed.”

She adds: “As a woman with children, I want brands to appeal to my values as an individual, whatever role I am playing in my life. I am also a mum working in marketing so I will often share my insight with colleagues who do not have children.”

Creating an intensity score

Women in the online survey were asked to rank the five groups they identified with most in order of importance to create an ‘intensity score’ out of five. It reveals that the identities relating to the special circumstances women cannot control are  some of the most intense. These include having twins or triplets (4.26), having a child with special needs (4.21) or having adopted a child (3.96).

Those marketers that base much of their activity on the age of children will be relieved to know that most women identify strongly with themes that relate to whether their offspring are babies, toddlers or at primary or secondary school. However, mums with children who have special needs rarely feel they are on marketers’ radar, the research finds.

Having more knowledge of how different women with children live their lives, and the different factors that affect their particular families, will also help brands improve their content marketing strategy.

It should mean that stories, videos and recommendation articles are more relevant because content is not being produced for a standardised audience known as ‘mums’

Saatchi & Saatchi is making the methodology available to brands to help organisations improve product development and retail experience when marketing to women with children. “This is a toolkit that enables marketers to generate the most applicable identities for their brand and category and produce intensity scores so their marketing is relevant and more targeted,” says Huntington.

Andrea Newman, global head of marketing for wealth and brand communications at HSBC, believes brands need to be empathetic and relevant, which means knowing as much about their customers as possible. This includes being aware of the life stages women are at and
the cultural differences that might affect how they react to marketing activity.

She believes brands should take a storytelling approach and make use of as much data as possible to understand how women make purchasing decisions for themselves and
their families. Ultimately, says Newman, you can slice mums into many different segments.

“As a working mother myself, I think brands can differentiate themselves by looking at their customer experience rather than just their marketing. I believe service brands that extend their opening hours, for example, will have a much greater effect on the lives of their customers, whether they be working mothers or fathers,” she says.

Louise Fowler, former interim CMO at First Direct and founder of management consultancy Davenport Strategy, says that as with most research the findings appear obvious once they are pointed out. She has held senior marketing posts at Barclays and The Co-operative Group in the past and believes this insight “will help marketers answer the fundamental question of what problems they are trying to solve for women with children”.

Fowler believes that one of the reasons brands struggle to target mothers effectively is because many young marketers do not have children.

“When I was working in banks, it was a similar story with helping younger marketers to understand the problems that people who will soon be retiring might have. Also, in large brand owners there can be nervousness towards segmentation as brands get used to certain patterns and habits and it is harder for marketers to take risks.”

She adds: “A woman can call herself a mum and self-select the areas of life she identifies  with but when someone else calls you a mum they are defining you, and that can be unwelcome.”

The seven truths of marketing to mums

In order to determine how best to communicate with different types of mum, six mothers were trained in research techniques and asked to organise gatherings with other mums to add some real-life human experiences to the identities and see how they impact on women’s choices.

Working with Ipsos Connect, Saatchi & Saatchi singled out six of the most common identities for mums through qualitative research.

The six identities chosen were: lone parents (2.3 million women in Britain), mums whose children have special needs (1.4 million), mums of teenagers (6 million), self-employed mums (1.7 million), rural mums (2.2 million) and mums with one child (2.5 million).

The research reveals seven ‘truths’, which the research suggests could be marketing game-changers.

TRUTH ONE: One-child families can find it hard to shop effectively. They create a lot of waste or spend more money because they buy single packs. Mums blame brands for encouraging waste because multipacks are often cheaper but the contents is not always consumed. The feedback from women is that marketers should look carefully at their pack sizes to ensure they are not alienating customers.

TRUTH TWO: Mums with special needs children see package holidays as trustworthy, reliable and stress-free. This knowledge provides travel marketers with a meaningful story to use in their campaigns and content marketing.

TRUTH THREE: Many brand experiences can alienate instead of attract target audiences. In retail environments special needs children in particular can feel overwhelmed, so for many women the retail experience is as important as the products being sold when they are with their children.

TRUTH FOUR: Mums with teens are increasingly sharing tastes and opinions, which is important for brands when it comes to promoting films, fashions, technology and music.

TRUTH FIVE: For mums living in rural areas, a trip to a shopping centre is often a day out, either with their children or as an opportunity to enjoy some ‘me’ time. The research demonstrates how rural mums want retailers to understand that for them shopping needs to be an experience, especially as they will often visit a number of shops during their visit.

TRUTH SIX: Lone parents can be more motivated employees because they are often the sole bread winner. This means they often push themselves and progress their career.

TRUTH SEVEN: Lone parents will often rely more on the wisdom of the crowd and use online review sites because they can lack the emotional and financial support that others enjoy. Brands should bear this in mind when drafting their website Q&As and publishing ideas and recommendations.

“These Seven Truths relay things that are obvious yet unique. They demonstrate how there has been a discrepancy between marketers and mums for years,” says Saatchi & Saatchi London Group chief strategy officer Richard Huntington.

To view the full Mumsnet report click here.



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