While we’re on the subject of mums……

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When it comes to making purchasing decisions we all know that mums are in the driver’s seat.  But what makes mum pull the handbrake or push the accelerator and how can you make sure they’re not pulling the handbrake on your brand? 

The ‘mum handbrake’ is a term I learnt from a client working in the media sector.  He used the phrase to refer to the influence that mums have on the TV packages that are purchased for a household, especially whether the household takes out a subscription to sports channels.  In other words if mum doesn’t feel they should have Sky Sports in the house, there’ll be no Sky Sports in the house.

Mum is often thought of as being the holder of the purse strings, but having researched the purchase pathways of mums and decision making processes in families across many products and categories I don’t think we should underestimate the power that mums hold on the decisions that are made within a household. 

If you ever watch mums in a shopping centre (or mindfully listen to yourself if you’re a mum) they say ‘NO’ a lot!  Behind that one little hope crushing word is a whole host of considerations concerning their child, family and financial welfare (Can we afford it? Have you had a lot spent on you recently? Will it do you any harm? Have you had already had too much sugar today? Is it going to mean you’re going to be sat in front of the TV all weekend? and so on…..).

And for that reason, it’s crucial that brands targeting mums and families really understand the factors that affect the decisions that are relevant to their category and product.

This can be a tricky aspect to unpick and can be dependent upon many factors such as current attitudes/trends in society, the age of the child, the category, the shopping environment/fixture, mum’s personality and  mood at the time. 

For brands and organisations wanting to understand the decision making process for family products, it is useful to think about the analogy of a car with mum in the driver’s seat. 

Handbrake factors

Hand Brake

Mum will pull the handbrake if a series of factors about the child getting or not getting the product or brand ring true. These include:

  • High cost
  • Value for money
  • Presenting any immediate harm or danger to child or family
  • Making child significantly unhappy in the short term
  • Being fair to siblings
  • Presenting any harm or danger to the child or family in the long term (this factor is more variable.  Some mums will be strongly influenced by this factor, other types of mums are less aware/sensitive to it).

It’s crucial that organisations have a clear understanding of how mums perceive these factors in relation to their brands and products and to understand the handbrake factors of your competitors so you are able to counteract these with positive messages about your product.

Accelerator factors

On the flip side there are other factors that can actually drive the purchase and make mum push the accelerator to purchase.  

These factors are what will make mum choose your product over another and require you to understand the passengers in the car – in other words, the kids and dad.

These are heavily driven by the child and the fact that ultimately mums want to make their children happy;

  • Short term child factors;
    • Child needs the product
    • Child wants/likes the product (creating short term happiness for the child)
    • Child will use/consume the product (balanced out with cost gives the feeling of good value for money)
  • Improve child’s physical welfare (long term factor e.g. good for their skin)
  • Improve child’s mental/emotional welfare (long term factor e.g. educational / makes them feel confident

These factors are more likely to ‘win’ the decision if there are no perceived handbrake factors or the handbrake factors are weak.  It is therefore important to understand not only what those factors are in relation to your brand but the relative strength of the opposing factors. 

For example if a child makes a very strong case for needing a pair of trainers because they’ll help him run faster and he really wants them because they’ll make him happy, he’ll get picked on if he doesn’t have this brand, then the cost factor that would ordinarily have made her pull the handbrake may be over ruled due to the perception that not letting her son have the trainers may harm him in some way,  resulting in her spending £100 on a pair of trainers. 

This example also illustrates the importance of understanding different mum typologies as there are some mums who pay more attention to the long term impacts of purchases on their child’s welfare v’s others.  In this example some mums will have seen spending money on an expensive pair of trainers and giving into their child as not only a reason to pull the handbrake because of cost but because they will be harming their child in the long term as they are not being taught the value of money or what is important in life.

Given that accelerator factors are child driven it’s really important that the perspective of the child is gained when targeting the family market, and to also understand the mum’s response to their child’s perspective.

car keys

In summary, if you want to increase your chances of success within the family market;

  • Identify the handbrake factors and strength of those factors in relation to your product category or brand e.g. what would be seen as harmful? What is seen as expensive or poor value?
  • Identify the accelerator factors and strength of those factors in relation to your product category or brand? Do kids want it? Does it make them happy? Could it have long term benefits? Are these perceived by mums?
  • Identify the handbrake and accelerator factors in relation to your competitor’s products/brands.
  • Understand the ‘types’ of mum who are most likely to purchase your product and understand how they differ in terms of their factors.
  • Understand the surrounding context that could affect the handbrake or accelerator factors e.g. sensitives around the age of the child (the increase in importance for tweens to fit in with their peers and hence the importance of having the right brands), media coverage of a particular issue e.g. changing attitudes of society (e.g. increasing awareness of food sensitivities may be changing what mum sees as being harmful). 

We have helped many companies within the family market inform their product and marketing strategies by applying this model for products such as ready meals, lunchbox products, toys, children’s apps, books, magazines and even baby toiletries.

We hope you will find it useful to apply this model to your brand or product.  Please give us a call if you’d like a consultation or to talk about how we can help you with your mums, kids or family research in the future and remember ‘Mother knows best!’ (or at least she thinks she does!).

Next time we will be looking at…..

Dad in the driving seat. 

When is dad in the driving seat and what’s his driving style when it comes to making decisions on brands and products for the family?




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Guest Sunday, 18 February 2018