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Infant Formula, Social Listening and the Art of Persuasion

A young mother fills in a short online survey to enter a draw for free baby goodies. Another joins a mother and baby club promising discount vouchers and daily ‘how your baby is growing’ information sent directly to her phone.

Still another joins a mother and baby ‘community’, where likeminded ‘friends’ can talk to each other about their experiences and take part in free live chats with nutritionists, midwives and doctors. Still others spend their free time scrolling through pages of nutritional advice, information and products, casually signing up to newsletters for alerts of upcoming sales.

Today more than ever before, women use the internet to exercise what they see as control and independence. Free from the pushy middleman in a physical shop, they can make their own choices in their own time.

What most don’t realise is that every keystroke, interaction and piece of personal information is being collected, analysed and used to shape not only their online experience but also their perceptions of motherhood as a whole. In the marketing world, this is known as social listening.

Instant analysis 

With social listening, the demographic information that once would have taken months to collect is available instantaneously. Companies actively mine this data to tweak their online presence to increase reach, engagement and ultimately sales.

The Code expressly forbids manufacturers of infant formula from reaching out directly to mothers to promote their products. But social listening gives companies an entirely new set of tools, which use deeply effective emotional hooks to subtly steer woman towards a brand and its products.

It’s not called ‘selling’ anymore, it’s a ‘brand conversation’; and marketers aren’t salespeople, they’re ‘friends’ taking part in the mother’s ‘journey’. In the online world, companies rarely need to mention infant formula anymore to gain a customer’s trust and make a sale.

‘Digital is the way to manage the brands in the future. The relationship, brand conversation through the digital media, is so powerful that it has an impact, even before print or television advertising happens’, notes Patrice Bula, Nestlé EVP, Strategic Business Units, Marketing. 

Nestlé’s Digital Acceleration Team, which began as a central listening post in the company’s headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland, now has satellite stations worldwide. The company refers to the information gleaned as ‘digital vitamins’ that help boost its performance.

Because women are less guarded among ‘friends’ in their online ‘communities’, they are often more open about what they think and feel, like and dislike. What they may not realise is that some of the other mothers are paid to be there.

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