June 30, 2008

What To Expect When You're A First-Time Expectant

I was talking with a baby gear company executive last week, and when she offhandedly used the term "first-time expectants," I stopped to quiz her about it. It's pretty obvious what and why the concept exists--if I were selling piles of baby gear, I'd have a term for my most unprepared, inexperienced, impressionable, wallet-emptying target customer, too. But for all my fascination with the Baby Industrial Complex and my business school love of buzzwords, I'd never heard it before.

"First-time expectants" doesn't appear too often online, but at least someone else at a baby company used it the same way, which makes me think it's common industry language. In an interview last spring with a "moms are so hip" site, The Family Groove, Graco's VP of Marketing Kim Lefko referred to two groups the company observes and talks to: "experienced parents and first-time expectants."

Unfortunately, just about the only thing Graco talks to them about is "style." Maybe it's the Groove interviewer's setup, but after getting the obligatory namechecks for "safety and quality" out of the way, the entire product conversation revolves around "style" and "fashion," where new products boil down to annual changes in "prints, patterns and colors" influenced by something called a "Moms Night of Fashion."

Where are dads in all this, you might [and TFG did] ask?

We have found that moms play a primary role in the decision making process when it comes to baby gear. As I mentioned, more and more moms want products that are not only going to keep their baby safe, but fit their lifestyle and fashion tastes. We watch soon-to-be dads at baby fairs and at expectant parent product seminars and it’s obvious that they trust and respect their wives’ opinions and selections. Dads get more involved in the stroller and car seat purchases, as well as in technical equipment such as baby monitors.
Which all sounds exactly like 2003 when we were First-Time Expectants. If the only decision put forward is picking the right fabric patterns that "fit their lifestyle and fashion tastes," is it any wonder that guys will check out? Likewise, an emphasis on fashion and trendiness is a way to keep the shopping urge alive with "experienced parents" who presumably now know how much gear they really didn't need the first time around, but who are still supposed to be worried that their baby gear is now out-of-fashion.

When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail; and when you're a dad trying to deal with the entrenched market mentality of the baby industry, you're just as likely to get screwed.

oy: WHAT A MOM WANTS [thefamilygroove.com]


I understand Graco's point of view, and to be fair to new parents, it's the moms who feel like crap after pregnancy and childbirth. Sometimes you want that extra something pretty to make you feel good like the right pair of flattering jeans. What's so horrible about that? A lot of moms feel fat and frumpy. I don't begrudge their wanting to be more stylish.

[if only there were an entire industry oriented to cater to their insecurities. And a website or two for moms to kibbitz. I'm not calling anyone frumpy or begrudging any moms anything; I'm pointing out the ingrained bias of the marketing paradigms of multi-billion-dollar companies. If I'm just pissing into the wind on this, well, I piss standing up, so it's a risk I have to live with. -ed.]

In the birth biz we call these "primips" (prym-ips). Most of the time it refers directly to the mother, as it is a med term describing a pregnant woman who has never been pregnant before. But, for those of us whose work involved more than just the medical care of mom, we use the term to describe the first time mother-father dyad.

One thing I've learned when dealing with selling to primips is that you have to engage dad. Often times I see that mom clearly rules the roost and makes the bulk of all decisions related to baby-related expenditures, but if you can capture dad's imagination, even just engage him a little bit, you've almost always made your sale.

But, I think the problem is two way. Retailers must work harder to engage men, but men must work harder at being willing to be engaged. I can't tell you how many times I've sat down with couples and had the men instantly glaze over and remain remote for the entire process - and then, after I'm hired, many don't care to participate (fully or sometimes at all) in preparation classes or meetings.

I get pretty excited when dads come to the table genuinely excited about having a baby and wanting to talk about their own point of view for the process of becoming a parent but it is a rare case.

Yes, it's ingrained, but it's because the mom is the one who goes through it and can feel like a trainwreck (I know, because I did feel like I got hit by a car). So yeah, the marketing goes toward moms. By the way, in San Francisco, this type of postpartum catering IS a business, and I know someone who does this kind of stylist business for moms only. She even runs seminars and such for moms' groups.

[forget I mentioned it. parents ARE moms. from now on, we'll just shut up, do the dishes once in a while, and babysit the kids on Saturday. -ed.]

This is a very good observation: the idea that larger companies have (as they should if they are doing their job correctly) specified markets, then distinguished these markets as "new" and then "experienced". Style trends, in all things, will always play an important role in the decision making process for new parents, both men and women. This is where larger companies should take note and develop products that are BOTH stylish AND durable/functional. In the industry, the rise of bugaboo's is a perfect example: what has become a status symbol of sorts still remains one of the most durable, long-lasting stroller lines of its kind. Not the ONLY stroller of this kind: but one that caters to both style and function/durability. In the last few years, BOB has begun releasing more color choices for their extremely durable and well-engineered products to cater to these trends, and has clearly expanded their market (how many of those do we see out and about?). And then the release of the Orbit, etc., etc. If these trends continue - and are learned from, companies are better off re-designing now in order to stay ahead of the pack instead of trying to create over-styled (let's be honest - Graco is not on the cutting edge of fashion trends) gear.


What is wrong with wanting to look good and feel good as first time parents or not while having children?
To look good is to feel good, and it really helps when you're a parent that you don't fall into the: "Mom jeans" wearing, suv driving, surburban nightmare.

Give me my style, now please!

And also along with this thanks to Target for introducing stylish and affordable products to the common family!

Lesley in Tokyo

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