Last week I went to the annual Mumstock conference, a daylong event focused on the state of marketing to mums.  It’s my second year in attendance and I do find it entertaining, if not masochistic, that brands and agencies who spend their days marketing to mums, pay money and give up eight hours to hear what a crap job we’re all doing.  The premise of the day was that we, as marketers, are ‘faking it’ when it comes to understanding mums, instead of intelligently analyzing all of the data that is available to us to understand the varied and various experiences of motherhood today.  The danger of faking it is that we are missing the opportunity to create real and meaningful connections between brands and mums – which begs the question, how can we Get Real?

Get real about segmentation: Mumsnet unveiled research they undertook by analyzing conversation across the top UK parenting forums to gain insight into how mums self-identify – in comparison to the ways marketers tend to segment them.  The research uncovered 66 distinct groups, for example: mums with new-borns, mums with multi-cultural families, mums who are divorced, mums with addictions, mums who follow a religion, etc., etc., etc., which was then further substantiated and explored through quantitative research and focus groups.  When you hear from the mums who participated in the research, it is clear that they feel misrepresented in the communications and advertising that they encounter and misunderstood by marketers. Put bluntly, the segmentation (or lack thereof) we are currently employing to reach mums is failing to connect.

Listen to real women: While I love hearing from leading marketers and watching glossy Cannes-submission films, the most eye opening part of the day was when real mums (translation: people who don’t work in marketing or at agencies) took the stage.  When asked by one well-meaning attendee which brand’s hand they like to shake for representing them well – the stage fell uncomfortably silence.  There weren’t any brands that they loved – they talked about products, specifically ones that made their lives easier as busy women with children and responsibilities.  They also spoke about feeling excluded from the advertising they see – they are not represented by smiling, smug mothers happily unpacking groceries in pristine kitchens.  I took this as a poignant reminder to get out of the comfort of our conference rooms and to work harder to listen and understand how we can add genuine value to the lives of actual, real mothers.

Take real action: In my mind there is no better way to prove your value than by offering a tangible benefit to the consumer – make mums’ lives easier.  Starbucks gave some great examples of concrete actions they have taken – such as being the first company to adopt the NCT’s Parent Friendly Places Charter.  Starbuck ‘partners’ (Baristas to me and you) are trained to be mum-sensitive, to do things like bringing hot drinks to the table and offering to warm baby bottles.  I also like the introduction of the Mini Tough Mudder by our client Fruit Shoot.  It’s one thing to run an ad featuring children busy having adventures, but it takes it to a whole new level when you actually offer kids the chance to get down, dirty and active.

We need to bring our real selves into the office: It seems incongruous to me that in an industry where women and mothers are reasonably well represented (yes, I know we could do better), we are failing mothers so terribly.  During the conference, there was a call to action for mums in marketing to bring authentic insights and experiences into the workplace, instead of hiding our mum personas under a carefully-crafted professional veneer.  I am a passionate advocate of the work/life blend and happily share my parental experience to help shape the campaigns I work on.  In fact, I very literally bring my home in the office — like the day I accidentally brought my daughter’s snack box and PE kit to work…oops! However, Carrie Longton, one of the founders of Mumsnet, made the valid point that mums need to bring insights, but not the insanity, that comes with being a mother.  We want to increase understanding of what ‘real’ mums look like and care about without reinforcing stereotype of working mothers as bedraggled messes forever torn between two worlds. I hope that by being a working mother who shares my views not just as a marketer, but as a mum, I can be a barometer for brands and for those who don’t have patience for my unique brand of controlled chaos – I may serve as a form of contraception– and I’m OK with that.

So I’m ready to stop faking it and will work harder to understand mums whether through crunching data, attending focus groups and by being brave enough to be the lone voice in the brainstorm who says ‘Guys, I actually am a mother, and this is a terrible idea’.   Only when we stop faking it will we start to create real and meaningful connections with mums, and start doing work that we can really be proud of.  After all, when you stop faking it, it’s more fun for everyone, right? 😉