Is Your Brand Targeting Millennial Mom ‘Drifters’ or ‘Planners?’

Is Your Brand Targeting Millennial Mom ‘Drifters’ or ‘Planners?’

Millennial Moms are the focus of many brand marketers, and for good reason.  With the average age of First Time Mom in the US now at 25, the critical first-time mom group is primarily Millennials.

Is Your Brand Targeting Millennial Mom ‘Drifters’ or ‘Planners?’

While there are differences in age by ethnic background and income level, the fact remains that most first time moms are Millennials, and that they will continue to be Millennials for the next ten years.  Millennial Moms’ “Digital Native” status has been well documented, and presents marketers with a bevvy of opportunities.   With the M2Moms Conference going on in Chicago on October 22 and 23, a wealth of new research will be shared about these consumers.

An area that’s receiving increasing attention is the marital status of these Millennial Moms, a new dimension that was recently surfaced by Isabel Sawhill, economist and author of Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood Without Marriage.  On a recent NPR program, Sawhill stated that 50% of children born to US moms younger than 30 are born outside of marriage. Comparatively, a recent Millennial Moms study by Weber Schandwick found 32% of Millennial Moms were never married, instead were either single or cohabitating with a partner. All of this information points to a large number of non-married moms in the Millennial generation.

Sawhill’s work is rooted in economics.  She finds that there are two distinct segments of young mothers:

  • Planners: These moms are better educated, typically finish school and often get a college degree. They marry in their late 20s and have their child within marriage. They generally don’t have children before marriage.
  • Drifters: These moms “drifted into parenthood too soon.”  They have an unintentional child, tend to be younger, without stable partners and have less education.  They may lack a good job or be unemployed.

According to Sawhill, Drifters make up 70% of pregnancies to women under the age of 30. It’s important to recognize that teen pregnancies are down, so these Drifters are the majority of first time moms.

Market Strategy Implications

What does this mean for marketing? I believe these facts about Drifters mean more thought needs to be put into Single Moms.

Our quantitative research has found that moms strongly prefer to see images of Mom interacting with her kids in a high-quality activity, rather than images of a nuclear family. And, while images of Dad interacting with kids set a positive tone for some moms, for others they can be off-putting. These findings make even more sense in light of the large number of unmarried moms who are not living in traditional families.

While some marketers are choosing to target only the more affluent Planner Millennial Mom segment, the size of the Drifter group commands attention and thought.  Some companies, such as P&G, offer multiple brands, one more upmarket (Huggies), and one more affordable (Luvs).  The distinction, however, is Luvs targets second-time moms, most likely some Gen X and older Millennials, not Millennial Drifters. In this instance, there doesn’t appear to be a diaper brand targeting Drifters. How many other product categories also avoid or ignore this market?

Are Our Market Strategies Stuck in the 50s?

Is Your Brand Targeting Millennial Mom ‘Drifters’ or ‘Planners?’

I had the great pleasure this summer of taking a class called “American Popular Culture: 1950’s to Present,” taught by Professor Glenn Altschuler of Cornell University and TA Jonathan Warren Pickett.   Through literature, TV shows and documentaries, the class clarified how the image of the American family and role of Mom has evolved.  As a small example, consider the evolution of TV family portrayals from 1950’s “Consensus culture” with Ward and June Cleaver’s homemaker mom and breadwinner dad, through troubled families in the 1970’s such as the Bunkers in All in the Family (1971-1979), to non-traditional families in the 1980’s such as Who’s the Boss?  (1984-1992) to today’s Modern Family (2009-2014).   

Have marketers fully evolved their thinking, or is some of the thinking is still rooted in the 1950’s Mom image? Portrayals appear to delete the homemaker part, but still make Mom the center of family life, and very ‘in control.’ June Cleaver and Claire Huxtable certainly seem like Married Planners to me—and not that different from portrayals of family life in most marketing campaigns.

I’d welcome a dialog about this, as I’m certain brands are taking this on, although some in subtle ways.  Still I wonder, if your brand targets first-time moms, are you thinking more of the “Married Planners” than the “Unmarried Drifters?”



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  • Here's more about Drifter Moms from the December 2014 Atlantic Monthly

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    Michal Clements

    Michal is co-author of Tuning Into Mom and an experienced consultant. Michal develops winning growth strategies and detailed go to market plans for some of the world’s outstanding organizations including McDonald’s, Gatorade, Abbott, Barilla, Tylenol, Clorox, Key Bank, Eagle Ottawa, Quaker and the Baker Demonstration School.

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