The mommy brand

December 5, 2013

Mom jeans or minivan? Breast feed or bottle feed? Work in the home, outside of the home or both? Let your child cry it out or use a no-tears sleep training approach? Daycare or nanny? At what age do you begin to potty train? What’s the best stroller?

Along with constant mentions of exhaustion, these questions seem to be at the root of every mommy blog, every parenting magazine and many gatherings of my girlfriends, most of whom are mothers. These topics define what is at the core of the “mommy brand.” They are the common bonds that link all mothers together.

Yet I am a mother too – and I’ve never had to consider any of these questions. Because I do not fit into what has been defined as the traditional “mommy brand” – does that make me any less a parent? This question was particularly on my mind today as I read a silly quiz being passed around on Facebook. The focus of the quiz was to calculate your age in mommy years. Beginning with your chronological age, you added or deducted years for things like hours in labor, airplane flights taken with toddlers, sleeping past 8am, and two or more children in diapers simultaneously.

While I know the quiz was meant to be lighthearted, it really struck a chord in me both as a mother and as a brand strategist.

As a mother, it made me feel badly. I gained no points because I hadn’t had any of these experiences. It reminded me of how I felt when I disagreed with a friend’s behavior and her response was, “Get back to me when you have a three-year old.” Well I don’t have a three-year old. And I’ve never had a three-year old. Because I am a stepmother.

I was gifted my children when they were just beyond their toddler years. And while my access is somewhat limited, my concern is constant. Yet it encompasses different issues, such as: Is it my job to discipline? What happens when my parenting style differs from the “real” mother? Do I change our house rules or expectations to match their mother’s for the sake of consistency? Is it my responsibility to contribute to paying for the children’s clothes, books, school and activities? What should I say when they complain about things going on in their other household? And then there are the tween and teen issues: What about when they ask about when to start shaving? What about when they use food as a coping mechanism? What about when I need to drive an hour to pick them up at school because they’ve been shoved down the stairs? How old before they get a Facebook account? A phone? And the list goes on and on.

All of these things make me a mother. They make my life consumed with parenting and worrying and love and stress and joy and frustration and all of the other emotions connected to motherhood. And yet, the “mommy brand” that seems to pervade popular culture is largely focused on mothering from birth to age five. This brand often makes me feel like a second-class mother, at best.

As a brand strategist, I find the “mommy brand” intriguing. Intellectually, it makes sense. The brand is built around the consistent experiences that most mothers have. During those early years, the questions and the experiences of many mothers are awfully similar. Yet as children begin to develop their own personalities, pick their own interests and find their own friends, the parenting experience begins to diverge. And as children gain independence, the mothering job changes.

Brands are built on commonalities. The best brands make emotional connections. What is more common and emotionally driven than the early motherhood years? It makes logical sense that the “mommy brand” is as it is. But because it makes sense, does not mean that it is the best brand available for mothers.

In the absence of a proactive brand being built, consumers will create their own.

And that is what has happened with the “mommy brand.” There is no industry group or president mother or corporation of mommies that can take the reigns. Therefore a brand has been built without intention. And so mothers on the fringe – stepmothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, grandmothers raising their grandchildren, families with two mothers or two fathers – are not included in the overriding brand profile.

What is the answer? I’m not certain. How can we create a more encompassing “mommy brand?” Perhaps we can’t. But we can continue to become more aware and more accepting of differing experiences and the differing paths toward motherhood. As a mother, it would certainly make me feel much more included.

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