Marketing to Mom

How Moms decide where to spend their time and money in restaurants, stores, theme parks, and other family attractions.

By Nora Lee

Listen to your mother. It’s good advice for practically everyone. But if you own or manage a store, restaurant, amusement park, sports arena, museum, or any other location where families go to spend money, this friendly little admonishment takes on a whole new meaning. Simply put, mothers control America’s purse strings. And that truth is reason enough to get them firmly in your corner.

It is estimated that women engage in 80 to 88 percent of all consumer spending in the U.S. Now, consider that three-fourths of America’s 108 million adult women are mothers. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that Moms make well over half the consumer buying decisions in this country! That is staggering financial power . . . so why don’t businesses bend over backwards to attract us?

It’s a good question, and one that needs to be thoroughly explored. Considering that there is almost no hard data on Moms, per se, this is a strong reason for retailers and others to take note. What happens when companies ignore Mom and what happens when they acknowledge her? Well, it’s what I call “The Mom Factor Checklist,” eleven elements that make a store, restaurant, or other family venue appealing to mothers. Here’s the checklist:

1. Health and Safety: Planting the Seeds of a Customer Dynasty. Moms can see danger around every corner. Spills in the aisle, cholesterol-laden food, inedible decorative plants, rickety roller-coaster wheels, bad sightlines at the arcade, and nasty restrooms at the stadium all represent a very slippery slope. On the other hand, if a business provides quick cleanups, appetizing healthy alternatives, barriers to over inquisitive little fingers, evidence of regular safety inspections and maintenance, a clear view of the little ones, and sparkling restrooms, it might well have a customer for life, or, even more important, the beginnings of a customer dynasty with Mom at the center.

2. Customer Service: The Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow. Mom says, “Pay attention to me,” but often in a soft, self-deprecating voice. Snooty waiters who prefer adults lose both tips and repeat business, but the waiter who brings the toddler some crackers and the first-grader a set of crayons—without being asked—is golden. In good mall design, service and safety include a well-marked pickup and drop-off location for the teens who don’t want to be seen with Mom. The clerk who is empowered to make a decision on a return or a sale price beats the heck out of “Duh, I’ll have to get the manager, who might be back after lunch.”

3. Value: Cheap Does Not Always Equal a Good Deal. Some of the wealthiest among us could be found at Target on a Saturday afternoon. Mom’s idea of value translates to a balance of reasonable prices, decent quality, and good selection. Just as Mom will pay more for good customer service, so will she pay more for good quality, but it’s always a balancing act. Cheap flip-flops make sense for one summer of beach-going. But it might be worth it to get a good, warm, more expensive coat (maybe a size too large) to last her youngest the whole winter.

4. Efficiency: When Money Buys Time. Efficiency is why grocery stores now have banks and Jamba Juice, and banks have a Starbucks, and ATMs sell stamps—for those moments when time is of the essence. It’s often a little thing. For instance, there are grocery chains in the United States and the United Kingdom that actually listened when Moms asked them to remove the gum and candy impulse items from the checkout areas. Moms were tired of ending their trips to the store with a battle with the kids over the “I wannas!” Grocery shopping instantly became more pleasant and more efficient.

5. Social and Community Conscience: Why Pink Ribbons Work. Companies that hire a range of people, even those who may be disabled, or give a set portion of their profits to local schools are more likely to see Mom repeatedly than those that do not. Products displaying pink ribbons attract attention and dollars because Mom’s mother or aunt or sister had breast cancer. She’ll drive the extra miles to take the kids to the family entertainment center that is holding a fundraiser for the Humane Society because then her role as cheerleader and as a purse with legs has some meaning. And if she is so inclined, she has an opportunity to give one of those Mom speeches about putting your money where your mouth is.

6. Story: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of. At a zoo, establishing a personal connection with an orangutan named Clyde, who’s 22 years old, loves blueberries, and has a jealous mate named Audrey, helps both Mom and child immerse themselves personally in Clyde’s story and, more broadly, in the story of a Southeast Asian forest habitat in danger. Story helps not only in theme parks, zoos, museums, and attractions, but to a lesser extent in malls, stores, restaurants, and sporting events. Even the flashing lights and thunder that accompany the misting of produce in many grocery stores represent a kind of storytelling.

7. Comfort: Now, It’s Personal. OK, my feet are killing me, and I’ve spent $213 for bags full of stuff that are now dragging me down. Where do I sit for a minute? How about my kids, who of course have all the energy I lack? Mom wants to be comfortable. She wants clean restrooms and plenty of them, good ventilation and smoking control, effective queue management, tables that don’t smash Dad’s knees when he sits down, room to maneuver around racks of merchandise, and maybe even a peaceful place to retreat to for a few minutes, before tackling the to-do list again. Invest in her comfort and she will invest in you.

8. Learning and Teaching Opportunities: The School of Mom. Mom looks for education everywhere: the milking display at the county fair, the furniture factory tour, the traveling display on the life of Ray Charles at the mall, the hayride outside of town, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at Disneyland, and Hall of Fame displays at the football stadium. Even restaurants can offer lesson opportunities, if Grandpa draws on the paper tablecloth while the little ones watch, or the décor consists of World War II flyers’ memorabilia.

9. Fun: The Pursuit of Amusement Equality. Whether the destination is a family entertainment center, museum, local mall, sporting event, or the beach, Mom aims for the most fun for the most people, and all too often sacrifices her own enjoyment for that of others. After all, she knows firsthand the cost of disappointment; it’s written on the faces of those kids. The destination that helps her in her quest will win her dollars and her loyalty. The one that considers her own pleasure and then delivers will win her devotion—and a small shrine on which she will place generous offerings of chocolate and comfortable shoes!

10. Continuity and Change: Baby, Don’t Ever Change . . . Much. The paradoxical appeal of both change and continuity has a special fuzzy place in the Mom Factor. Mom likes variety and a degree of cool to keep the kids interested. So the new ride at Disneyland is a good thing. So are an array of choices on the café menu, and spring fashions, and the new joey at the zoo. But you’re in peril if you mess with the Tiki Room and its animatronic birds, or white Jockey Classics in the boys department, or the meerkat habitat that has always been at the entrance to the zoo. A balance between change and continuity is necessary to keep Mom and her family happy. If change is for the better, then make sure better is really better.

11. Connection to the Heart: A Moving Experience Doesn’t Mean Installing an Escalator. Care, concern, conscience, community, wonder, engagement, love, comfort, fun, enjoyment, loyalty, pleasure, delight and passion. These words all denote a personal, emotional connection between Mom and her world. In an increasingly impersonal, technology–addicted society, Mom is the touchstone for matters of heart. Even in commercial transactions, Mom takes things personally. If a business demonstrates disregard for the safety of her kids, or inattention to its own responsibility to her community, or disrespect for her or her family, she won’t just turn away—she’ll get angry. Hell hath no fury like a mother scorned.

There’s one more undeniable reason to cater to Mom: she has lots and lots of influence. She’s doing the purchasing not just for herself but for an average of three additional people. Make her happy and she’ll see to it that those additional people continue to be loyal customers for years to come.

You know the old adage, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”? Stitch it on a sampler and hang it over your desk. Mom should drive every business decision you make if you want to entertain her and her family. It’s simple. If you build it so that Mom will come, she will bring everybody else with her and they will love it, too. If it’s good for Mom, it’s good for others. And it’s especially good for your bottom line.

About the Author:

Nora Lee, catalyst/principal of Nora Lee et al, has been observing and writing on the family entertainment market as a professional and as a Mom for many years. As a content developer, she has contributed her story ideas to clients as diverse as the AOL Time Warner Experience, ObieCo, BRC Imagination Arts, and the Rochester Museum and Science Center.

About the Book:

The Mom Factor: What Really Drives Where We Shop, Eat, and Play (Urban Land Institute, 2005, ISBN: 0-87420-944-7, $19.95) is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, , or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 321-5011.




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