BabyCenter is a lifeline for expectant mothers all over the world and its usage figures speak for themselves.
The Johnson & Johnson-owned advice and support hub for mums, dads and those soon to be parents, has a panel of more than 40,000 mums in the US, with seven in every 10 babies born there last year 'BabyCenter babies'. In the UK, one in five expectant mums uses BabyCenter every day - and it is the number one site for mums in Brazil, Canada, India and Malaysia.
Dubbed the 'mum’s ESPN’, it's engaging and works cross-platform. In total, the site reaches 30m mums across 22 markets every year, which Mike Fogarty, BabyCentre's SVP global publisher, says makes it the biggest information source for mums (or ‘moms’, as the American calls them) in the world, as well the one with the deepest relationship with its users.
68 per cent change beauty routine
“When women get pregnant, everything changes,” says Fogarty. “Their brand preferences, their shopping habits. Virtually every category in the household is affected. 68 per cent of moms even change their beauty routine. But the space is now really crowded. There is so much investment in the mom marketing area today.”
So what’s special about BabyCenter? “Nobody knows moms like we do,” says Fogarty. “We were mobile before everyone else because we knew moms were disproportionately moving to mobile. If you want to reach a mom today, she is mobile. That guides our product strategy and business development. It's about re-tooling the consumer experience. Moms are far more mobile much faster than any other segment of the population." Recent research conducted by BabyCenter found that UK mums are the most tech-savvy in the world, and even more than most members of the British public.
“We are right there trying to keep up, but sometimes her usage is outpacing us. Moms are the ones buying the new devices and networking their homes. A whole industry is being built up. It has to happen, it’s going to happen. But a lot of the time, publishers pull folks along.”
New consumer experiences
Apps are BabyCenter's biggest source of new registrations. Its apps are available in 16 markets worldwide in eight languages, and of course, while every baby is unique, BabyCenter content works on the fact that every pregnancy goes through the same stages. From My Pregnancy Today, the BabyCenter Birthclass tablet app, to My Baby Today and the PhonyPhone app for your little one to use, each is tailored to the stage mothers and their babies are at.
The mobile-optimised site works in the same way, with content curated by stage right back to planning the pregnancy. But it immediately encourages users to download the app, or at least join the Birth Club by entering their due date so they can learn more about their baby’s growth or find others who are due at the same time.
With the rise of the apps, Fogarty admits, BabyCenter is working in a 'different economic paradigm'. “Advertisers need to create new consumer experiences for these new behaviours,” he says. “Which means reinventing what advertising is. It means a willingness to invest. Some are very forward-thinking - Heinz baby food is a good example of someone we work with. It’s about a content-based experience. Email has a big role and mobile plays into this. Video is hot. Social media of course – we have our own proprietary social platform. Brands need to be aware of the platforms that moms are using to consume content or interact with each other.
“There is an opportunity of form factor for users to touch and interact with the brand. It's a big opportunity for marketers who let themselves be available for that type of interaction. This is such an exciting time, because advertising needs to be reinvented for mobile. But it is also super-challenging - there isn't a roadmap you can follow. For those who are focussed on mobile – this is your laboratory, where you should experiment. ”
BabyCenter recently contributed to the new mobile ad standards being created by the IAB, along with AOL, Microsoft and Google, winning one of its Rising Star awards for its submission. So what works in terms of ad formats – are mums any different to other consumers with respect to the advertising they like?
“Moms don’t like regular ad campaigns. They want advertising that is useful, stuff that offers a solution like showing your nearest store or providing a voucher. And for advertisers to demonstrate that they 'get them'. They are using mobile as a remote control for life, so anything that’s distracting and that takes you away from the task at hand is not relevant.”
So how does BabyCenter get to know its audience – what makes its approach different? “We do a lot of social listening and the conversations change depending on the stage of the pregnancy,” says Fogarty. “We actually see a massive spike in conversations relevant to nappies quite late on [in the pregnancy] - a culmination of a lot of thinking. But these conversations double 30 days after bringing baby home. They are influenced by one and other and open to brand choice.
“'What brand are you using?' This is about changing hearts and minds of the modern mom. Advertisers have to think 'she's making a choice in my category - I need to be there. I need to be in her hand'. Our editorial team has lots of expertise and every country has its own team of medical experts. We divert way more resources to the development of content and the review of that by experts. If you don’t do it right, you lose trust and mean nothing to your audience.
Based on the insights it has gained over the last four years while taking BabyCenter mobile, the company is now talking to brands about mobile’s potential in physical stores. “Moms are price checking, taking pictures, scanning barcodes and unlocking deals right in the aisle. Retailers have the opportunity to add value through good content. Mom has done objective research and she is ready to make a decision so will look for feedback from others.
“They should use digital displays to give real, live feeds of information, providing technology ‘at shelf’. The more a retailer knows about you, the more they can use technology to understand you, offering relevant deals.
So what does the future look like for BabyCenter? “We are really aware of the changing face of the modern family - stay at home dads, same sex couples, we are always reconsidering our offer,” says Fogarty. “Lots of women on the site are 'defenders of the dads'. Dads now do a share of the grocery shopping and the laundry and are taking on a much bigger role. And men actually make up 10 per cent of our audience – so we must be doing something pretty special.”
BabyCenter is pretty good at understanding pregnancies, and as the face of families is changing, so too is how parents interact with content and experience advertising while juggling work and childcare. With little time for TV and no chance to hang around on your laptop, mobile looks to be the platform where brands can deliver useful, contextual and increasingly sophisticated messages. But if you’re going to interrupt – it had better be good.