The internet is well and truly woven into the fabric of family life and mums are the online gatekeepers.
That's the headline news from Bounty's new research on mums - Talking Over The Virtual Washing Line - and its findings paint a rich picture of mums' online behaviour and what that means for brands.
The report is based on in-depth immersion research, carried out by Discovery Research with members of the Bounty Club representing each stage of pregnancy and motherhood. Bounty's moderators spent a seven- to ten-day period with respondents, conducting extended in-home interviewing and video diaries with ongoing touchpoints, whether by phone, e-mail or face-to-face.
As the UK's leading parenting club with more than 2.5 million members, of which nearly one-third are active online, Bounty has the reach and trust only an established brand could muster - it celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2009. And, with the Bounty Club website www.bounty.com receiving more than one million visits every month, it is the UK's number-one online parenting destination and demonstrates that the business has truly logged on to digital.
"Bounty makes sure that at one of the most information-hungry, support-hungry times in a mum's life, when brand trial and promiscuity is heightened, brands can cut through the noise and talk to mum," Andrew Thomas, Bounty's e-business director, says.
UK mothers spend an estimated £2 billion on baby goods each year and £38 billion across all parenting categories, according to Mintel. Thomas says: "We have a critical window to reach mum when she's on the cusp of establishing loyalties to new brands."
The routes that brands select to reach mums are critical too. "Women who are mothers are media control freaks," Bounty's marketing director, Faye Mingo, says. "Using the right channel is key."
Bounty's research found online media gets a bigger share of voice with mothers. Mums read fewer magazines and newspapers and their TV viewing habits alter, but their online use, throughout pregnancy and beyond, remains constant. As a result, online accounts for a proportionally larger share of mums' total media consumption. Bounty's research also found expectant and new mums crave the anonymity of online.
Mingo adds: "The online environment provides support and information. Online becomes more appealing to women who feel that outwardly they should be coping and don't want to be seen to be asking for help."
As a consequence, online chat facilities and forums have become the new coffee morning equivalent. Bounty.com, for instance, runs more than 70 forums and attracts 18,000 posts a day, making it one of the most active sites in the family and parenting sector. Usage of Bounty forums, meanwhile, has increased from 19 per cent to 33 per cent of all members between 2006 and 2007.
In these expanding online communities, word-of-mouth recommendations or "word of mum" is the lingua franca. It holds weight and has the potential to influence mums' behaviour. The engagement mums have with other mothers and their interaction online is coupled with a change in the way women use the internet when they become a parent. Bounty found that while pregnant, women will use the internet more promiscuously. They are on a journey of exploration, seeking out information and support. However, once baby is born, they become more task-focused.
Mingo says: "The way women use the net changes on becoming a mum - they become organised surfers, focusing on tried-and-tested sites." Bonding with mums during pregnancy is vital to winning this loyalty. Bounty, which attracts 25,000 new members to its site each month - 70 per cent of whom are pregnant - is doing that. They spend around 18 minutes per session on the site and view more pages than on other specialist female websites, equating to 20 million pages per month.
While motherhood changes the pattern of a mum's internet behaviour and introduces her to new product categories. "Having a baby makes a woman re-evaluate her choices and she becomes more susceptible to brand switching," Thomas says. "This is true across all categories, not just baby brands."
Targeting women in a "mum environment" at this time allows greater cut-through than via other more general female lifestyle media, Thomas claims. "Media buyers should take advantage of this period to gain a shift in brand loyalty and connection to brands."
While life may have changed out of all recognition, attainable family brands take on new significance. "Mums may not be able to justify the cost of Karen Millen, but they'll certainly be buying into branded everyday products such as Heinz, Olay and Pampers in favour of own label," Thomas says.
And it didn't take the credit crunch for mums to switch to shopping at cost-saving retailers - they were already there. Bounty has found that mums will be also motivated by rewards, discounts and competitions. "An online campaign should consider these promotional mechanics alongside display ads to achieve engagement," Thomas advises.
Mums are online; they are chatting, focused and loyal. Brands with the right product, at the right time, with the right message can make a connection over the virtual washing line.