The Mayflower Model: Design Mom Pitches A Deal To A Brand That Already Appeals To Her Readership

by anna on February 23, 2010

Design Mom chooses Mayflower

Monetizing the Mommyblog: An ABDPBT View definition in a new window Personal Finance Series

This is the first in a series of posts on the topic of monetizing mommy blogs that I’ll be featuring on ABDPBT Personal Finance. The models I’ll be discussing have not yet been implemented on a large number of blogs, and thus the use of them is still pretty experimental. You can try these at home, but for the love of God, please BE CAREFUL.

Design Mom’s Big Move

The Mayflower Model for monetizing the mommy blog was first developed by Gabrielle Blair of Design Mom in the Spring of 2009, when she managed to match a brand to her readership and the circumstances of her life at the time. Blair pitched a deal to the moving company Mayflower that would exchange their sponsorship of a cross-country move for a certain number of placements within the content column of the Design Mom blog. These placements would be made via a series of posts documenting the Blair family’s move across the country, which was expected to figure heavily into the content of the blog, regardless of which moving company was ultimately used. This was a particularly elegant use of product placement, and if you go through the various posts documenting the move, you can see that the placement is woven pretty expertly into the tapestry of the blog, with little change to the typical, expected content.

Design Mom chooses Mayflower

Blair says that the deal she ended up brokering with Mayflower was “purely a trade” for services rendered based on “what a cross-country move would cost for a family of my size,” rather than an exchange of a flat fee. I asked Gabrielle for specifics of the deal, and she said that she researched the price of a move, and then came up with a social media plan valued at that same amount. The plan “included specific instances I would write about or mention Mayflower (either in posts or tweets).” The key to this arrangement working, both for Mayflower and for the integrity View definition in a new window of the Design Mom brand, was that Gabrielle made sure to specify only those instances where she knew she could refer to Mayflower without altering the site’s content: “For example, when they came to take measurements. When they came to box things. When they were on the road and called to check in on progress.” I asked if Mayflower requested any type of graphical ad or sidebar placement in exchange, and she told me that, as part of the trade, she had also offered Mayflower, “some ad space in my sidebar for a specific amount of time.”

Blair approached Mayflower for various reasons, not the least of which was the fact that Mayflower has the best logo and most aesthetically appealing look to them, which made it a natural choice for her blog (which deals with aesthetically pleasing presentation and design). Also, Mayflower had a wholesome reputation that fit the demographics of the Design Mom readership, and they had made themselves accessible by including a number for the company’s public relations representative on their website. Mayflower was able to move fast — the announcement of the move was at the end of March, and the move was to take place at the end of April, so Mayflower’s prompt response to Blair’s inquiries facilitated the choice.

The whole move, from the initial consultation, the progress of her packing to the final day in her old home to the day that all the furniture arrived was documented in the content column of Gabrielle’s blog, and Mayflower was mentioned in each of these instances, because of course they were part of her life at that point in time, so references to the brand were not forced, but rather the natural result of her experience with the brand.

This Is A Placement, Not A Sponsored Post

The thing that makes the Mayflower Model different from a garden variety sponsored post is that Design Mom’s content was not altered in any way in order to accommodate the inclusion of a brand. She was moving, and whatever moving company she hired was going to end up within the text of the blog. So getting Mayflower to sponsor just meant that there would be a brand name attached to references to the movers, as opposed to just generic mentions of “moving guys” or whatever.

With a sponsored post, a company is paying to have a post written specifically about their product, which is more awkward and really a lot less valuable, because it usually results in content that readers do not have much interest in reading. To see the difference, juxtapose the comments on this sponsored post about Crystal Light with the comments on the posts at Design Mom — the comments on the sponsored post is devoid of intelligent reflections about the brand, or any kind of positive reflection on the brand beyond, “Yes! I’m going to drink more water!”, whereas the other is filled with heartfelt sentiments and readers reminiscing about their own moving experiences, saying that they love Mayflower or that they plan to use Mayflower when they have to move. It’s tough to argue that this isn’t very successful advertising.

Most important to note here is that This deal was brokered by Gabrielle herself. She went to Mayflower’s PR department with information about her blog and the people who read it, and showed them why it would be worthwhile for them to deal with her, and how her readership was already a good fit the brand. She did not wait for a brand to approach her, and this is an essential thing to note because the brands that are good for you are not probably going to come to you. Because they are not going to know your readership, and they are not going to know where you are. Nobody knows your readership better than you do, so you have to make the placement opportunity happen, rather than wait for it to come to you.

What About Disclosure?

Does having a sponsor like this require that we tell people we are being paid in these instances? This situation reminds me a lot of a product placement within a television show or a movie in that, even without a direct statement of the relationship between the blogger and the brand, it seems like we might get to a point where we understand that any placement is a paid endorsement. Then again, I mention brands on my blog all the time, and I’ve never been paid to do so. Design Mom’s deal with Mayflower took place long before the FTC policy went into effect, anyway, but it seems to me that if movies don’t have to advertise to you that a product is featured because of a monetary deal, why should a blogger?

And does it matter, really, if a brand pays? Would we feel better to know, up front, that the brand name is going to be mentioned because it’s a sponsored move? In theory, I want to know this, but in reality, I’m not sure I care, as long as I’m still able to buy the idea that the product placement is coming from a genuine place — like, this is a company I would have used anyway, and I’m genuinely happy with their service. Gabrielle told me that, were she to do it again, and given the new FTC regulations, she would be more explicit about the nature of the relationship between herself and the sponsor: “I would probably build the disclosure around a campaign idea (something like: Moving is hard. Moving with kids is even harder. Mayflower is helping making it easier . . . ) and then include that with each post.”

Still, even without an explicit, up front disclosure, the reception of the Mayflower campaign seems to have been overwhelmingly positive — there was only one negative comment throughout the whole campaign from an (of course) anonymous commenter, and many of the Design Mom readers were forthcoming in their praise of Mayflower in the comments. This is no doubt due to the seamlessness of the placement, the quality of the brand, and the fact that, as Gabrielle noted, “I’ve built my blog (Design Mom) to be very positive, G-rated site. I don’t write things that encourage controversy. So readers don’t arrive at my site ready to argue.”

Mayflower is pleased

I have to imagine that Mayflower was happy with the placement, given the fact that they feature links to all of Gabrielle’s posts on the social media section of their website. They also asked Gabrielle to be a part of their Moving Tips podcast to give readers tips on moving across the country. UPDATE: I spoke to Carl Walter, Mayflower’s in-house PR representative, and he gave me a statement about Mayflower’s experience working on this campaign. It’s definitely positive, and here’s the sound bite takeaway:

It’s often difficult for the Mayflower brand to communicate the raw feelings that people face when moving. Gabrielle and her readers beautifully captured these dynamics in the blog posts and comments. The most exciting part of this endeavor was seeing a community of people come together to share their moving experiences, and Gabrielle helped facilitate that conversation.

In other words, the blog placement accomplished something that could not be accomplished in any other medium. Pretty high praise. You can click here to read the statement from Mayflower in its entirety.

Where Is This Mayflower Model Likely To Work?

This all took place between April and July of 2009, and at the time, Design Mom had between 170 and 200K pageviews per month (according to quantcast). That’s with a readership of about 35K people per month, which means that each visitor is staying on her site for about five page views. At present, there are about 8,000 subscribed readers of Design Mom in Google Reader alone, so she clearly has not only a substantially sized readership, but also an engaged readership. People are not just reading Design Mom, they are subscribing, they are going to multiple pages, either to read more content or to comment, and then they check back to see the comments of other people. These kind of stats suggest not only popularity, but also the presence of a community, and this is an important distinction, because what is really valuable when it comes to online monetization is influence, and influence is not always directly translated into number of page views. For example, if you get a bunch of search engine traffic, you might have a ton of both people and pageviews on your site, but these are all people who are just passing through — they are not going to take your recommendation on things, necessarily. You have virtually no influence. Design Mom has healthy traffic on her site, but she also has a lot of influence with her readers, and that is why she was attractive to a large company for a deal like this.

But you don’t necessarily have to have that amount of traffic to be attractive to a sponsor in this capacity. When thinking about how to match your blog’s readership to a brand, you also want to take into account the size of a company. There might be a smaller business that is interested in working out a placement deal with you, or a barter exchange of some kind. If your blog has some kind of local focus, then you might want to look at businesses and services that thrive on a local customer base. The main way to pitch yourself to any of these businesses is to draw up a picture of your readership, including not only stats but also what kind of people it includes — are they married? do they have kids? are they college educated? what do they like to do in their free time? what kinds of movies or tv shows do they watch? etc. This is the best way to show a brand that you’ve got an audience that shares some ground with their ideal customer. It’s not always about numbers, it might also be about being a good fit.

I think the main thing you want to take into account in any attempt at using the Mayflower Model is that the integrity of your own brand must not be compromised by the deal. You need to think about things from the perspective of your readers: will they be interested in this brand? Is the nature of the brand engagement going to annoy them? Or is it going to be something that sort of fades into the background and kind of whispers at them, without drawing too much attention to itself? And, don’t forget, you’ve got to ask for what you’re worth — don’t agree to do this for a can of air freshener.

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{ 30 comments }

1
beth aka confusedhomemaker February 23, 2010 at 7:27 pm

I find this kind of brand/blogger connection to be really intriguing because if done right it is very natural. It’s an outgrowth of who both the blogger & the brand are versus a forced & awkward relationship. DesignMom did this & reading those posts they are very natural feeling, I don’t feel like I’m being sold anything but I admit I would consider Mayflower from the posts she has.

As for me I’ve gotten requests to do sponsored posts but they have fallen into the following categories a) don’t feel like me b) would be forced c) aren’t worth my time or effort d) would annoy me if I saw them on another blog & so why would I do them? I’m not saying that they don’t work for others, I think some folks can do them in a way that they are an organic outgrowth of their blog but in general they are awkward & for me I haven’t seen one that would be a natural fit. I think the relationship formed that is more natural would benefit both parties more long-term.

And I’m really looking forward to more posts on this whole topic of how to move forward as a business woman & mother (when these are connected elements) in the blogging world.

2
anna February 24, 2010 at 7:37 am

Beth, I think that’s the key . . . what makes it work is that it’s done well. It has to be something that starts with the blogger, because only the blogger (or perhaps a regular reader/member of the community surrounding the blog) can figure out which brands will fit into the blog in this kind of seamless way. The people who wait for PR people to come to them are going to get offers from big brands only, and their ability to fit naturally into a blog is going to vary from blog-to-blog. A well placed ad like this can give a brand a huge return on investment, and it works for the blogger as well, because if you pitch it yourself, you don’t have to pay commission to anybody, and you’re going to be able to price out your content column at what it’s worth, rather than the cheap price a company offers you in a sponsored post. I’ve had sponsored posts offered to me for as little as $10 each. I was like, “Do you know how long it takes to write a post?” COME ON.

3
Steenky Bee February 23, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Anna, I’ve been following your tweets on Mom2Summit and was so looking forward to seeing your posts! (I’m not an avid commentor, sorry, I lurk more than anything.) if anywhere, I think the “Mayflower/Design Mom” product placement would work it would be here, especially in your personal finance section. I’ve been reading Gabby for years, she’s one of the first bloggers I found (imagine the luck!) and I adore her. And I didn’t realize it until you pointed it out, but I do find myself going back to her blog, bookmarking pages and looking to her for inspiration. I didn’t realize how much until right now having you spell it out for me. I read her during the move. I was mildly, if at all, aware of the product placement. She frequently points out items she finds beautiful or helpful so it seemed natural and helpful. I didn’t feel as though she were patronizing me.

As an aside, I can’t tell you enough how much I really cringe when I see finance advice, HOWEVER, I find myself coming back here to read what you have to say, and have implemented many, many of your suggestions (cash in envelopes divided, selling something each month on eBay, etc.)

4
anna February 24, 2010 at 7:42 am

Hi Jen! I’m excited you’re reading, I thought I had lost you. I’m glad you like the financial advice — this blog is kind of schizo in its focus but I’m trying to keep it loosely centered around things that interest me in my work/professional/financial life. Hopefully there are enough people out there who can take an interest in that, too, though it certainly doesn’t fit with the other big PF blogs out there.

I really like Design Mom’s blog. It’s very well-done, and I can see why she’s had success with it. I also got a chance to talk to her at Mom 2.0 and she’s very friendly and down-to-earth. She was patient with my questions for this post, too, so I appreciated that.

It’s interesting to look at a blog from a statistical point of view and build a profile of what the readership is like. It sounds like it’s pretty accurate, based on your experience. People think that web stats are so confusing, but really they’re not, not if you’re in the community and understand how things work. You can get a really good idea of what a readership is like by just doing a little bit of snooping around.

5
Adrienne February 24, 2010 at 4:41 am

I think this is brilliant. I always thought bloggers were paid whenever they reviewed a product so it doesn’t matter to me if she said they paid her or they bartered for it.

I was asked to do a sponsored post but I couldn’t figure out how to relate it to my topic and turned it down. It would have been out of left field for me to do it. Oh well, maybe there will be others offered that fit.

6
anna February 24, 2010 at 7:45 am

Adrienne, most of the time (right now) I think bloggers are not paid for reviews. There are exceptions, and then there is the much more common practice of getting a free product in exchange for reviews. You are supposed to disclose if you’re paid or receive any kind of compensation, but it’s really difficult to prove that kind of stuff one way or the other, so many people don’t know one way or the other. Generally, I think it’s good to have a policy stated on your website. For example, I have a commodity fetisihism section that features all kinds of products that I like, none of which are paid placements. There’s been one or two times where I got something for free, and I’ve disclosed those times, though they have been more a result of just somebody in real life giving me something, not for the purpose of review (like my hairstylist, or whatever).

It comes down to trust that your readership has in you. If you do a bunch of sponsored posts for products that don’t fit, and that feel awkward, I think you’re going to erode that trust. People might still read you, but your recommendation of a product is not going to mean much to them.

7
Kerry February 24, 2010 at 7:03 am

Fascinating. I love that SHE went after THEM for this…and that she didn’t do it for peanuts (a cross-country family move is five figures for sure…that’s no can of air freshener). It’s nice to see a real businesswoman out there, y’know?

I do wonder how she would have handled things if something went wrong.

8
anna February 24, 2010 at 7:50 am

Oh yeah, I was thinking it had to be pushing $20,000 or so, though I have really no frame of reference for this kind of thing. They had a piano, so that must have added something to the price.

Yes, I’m not sure how they would have handled it if something had been lost. But on the other hand, I would imagine that Mayflower had been told to make sure nothing went wrong with this particular move. And, to be fair, Mayflower has an excellent reputation, so the odds were that nothing would go wrong.

My understanding is that Mayflower knew how many mentions would occur, but they did not have any kind of editorial control on how those mentions appeared. So presumably, if something had gone wrong, she could have reported honestly. Though the nature of her blog is such that she could have left it out and it wouldn’t necessarily have seemed strange — her blog is not always about the day-to-day problems of life, more about how to make life more pleasant, attractive, and fun.

9
Deb February 24, 2010 at 10:01 am

I like this model of product placement for a few reasons, most of which you pointed out, especially that it was a service the blogger would have used anyway, and so was in no way forced. Some of the ease comes from Mayflower appearing as a character in a series of more natural posts, as opposed to one post, which is how I sometimes see similar gigs portrayed. There are things to work out, though. Bloggers have to be cautious, because I don’t care how much good will you have with your readers, a sponsored life becomes suspect. In some ways it’s like how each time a lender pull a credit report you get a ding to your credit. Might be worth it or necessary for your financial goals, but it’s still a ding. Mindful strategy is important for the blogger, and my guess is that businesses won’t be interest in getting into a heavily dinged vehicle. Also, some details don’t play well. For instance, if it were my campaign, I wouldn’t like the way Mayflower framed it on their site (your image and above.) “After receiving several bids….” Makes it sound as though Gabrielle selected the company after assessing relative value, which is not what happened and creates an inauthentic endorsement which might not be in her control. But there are risks with every set-up, and I agree that this is a much more meaningful use of blogging paid endorsements than typical sponsored posts.

Good case study snapshot! Thanks!

10
anna February 24, 2010 at 10:17 am

That’s a good point — you have to be careful not only in choosing a brand but also how often you do it, et cetera.

Yeah, that’s dishonest about the “receiving several bids” part. It does mislead people into thinking the deal is something other than it is. That might be something to write into a deal when you pitch it — along with editorial control specifics, put something in that you don’t want them framing the deal in their media in any manner that might mislead consumers.

I contacted Mayflower and am hoping to hear back from them about their experience with this placement, thoughts on doing it again. That will be a good question to ask them.

Mr. Right-Click and I are going to put together a placement experiment in conjunction to our trip to BlogHer. I haven’t done any legwork yet, but I think it will be interesting to document the whole process here, and see what kind of response we get from sponsors, and what kind of response we get from readers as a result of the experiment. If anyone has any ideas, let me know. I’ll be posting more on this later.

11
beth aka confusedhomemaker February 24, 2010 at 10:51 am

I have no ideas but am interested by how you do this (the placement experiment) & then looking to how others have (like the example above for Gabrielle at DesignMom). Knowing more about the process of building a sustainable model for blogging is something that I think many crave knowledge on but have no idea where to go for it. Obviously what works for you might not work for someone else (or vice versa), but the general plan could (meaning how to write up a proposal, how to find & connect with a pr contact, etc…) translate to anyone.

12
anna February 24, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Well, I don’t think anybody has the information except the few people who have done it. So if I try an experiment with this, and document every step, then at least people would have some kind of model to use. It could be pretty interesting, just to see the various different levels at work.

13
anna February 24, 2010 at 6:20 pm

I have to amend my earlier statement about the “misleading” language on Mayflower’s website, as it turns out that it is actually true. Gabrielle DID consult with several companies, both to get bids and to consider pitching, because she had to get a moving company no matter what, even if no one wanted to sponsor. So that is actually true.

I would say, personally, that it might be an instance where it’s better to just not say anything, just say “Gabrielle chose Mayflower,” to be safe. But in point of fact, it’s an accurate statement.

14
Becky February 24, 2010 at 10:02 am

Interesting. And good for her, I read a few of those posts and that it was a paid placement was not at all obvious to me. I do think that move could have cost $20k, easy.

A big takeaway for me is the idea of approaching companies yourself. I get the weirdest, random crap in my inbox, and I’m like, huh?

15
anna February 24, 2010 at 10:18 am

Yes, I thought that was the most valuable part, because when you are on the outside, especially as a new blogger, you think that all these PR opportunities just land in people’s laps, and it can make you feel like crap. I do think that some people get things thrown at them that are actually valuable, but most of the really good deals require some finagling on the part of the blogger.

16
Noemi February 24, 2010 at 10:38 am

Anna- I just wanted to say that I really enjoy your analysis of these conferences and the financial aspect of blogging. I mostly stick to twitter, and it’s all a little side hobby for me anyways, but I’m really happy to see that someone out there is explaining more about what happens on the back end- both the “muckracking” (because, let’s be honest, I enjoy a good dose of schadenfreude as much as the next person), but also the sort of hard work that goes into a blog that makes money or is in the public eye. So, thanks, and keep it up!

17
anna February 24, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Noemi, thanks. I have fun doing it, even if it’s a little tough on occasion in person.

18
Stephanie Smirnov February 24, 2010 at 10:41 am

This is a really thoughtful look at Gabby’s partnership with Mayflower, great stuff. I think it’s an example of a content campaign at its best and am glad she had the chance to share it at our Mom 2.0 panel. Really good analysis.

19
anna February 24, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Stephanie, I was so glad you were the one moderating the panel, because there was so little time for questions, but I had three of the questions you asked written down in my notebook at the time, so you saved me the trouble!

20
Jenny, Bloggess February 24, 2010 at 11:10 am

Gabby is brilliant and a total inspiration. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write up my proposal to the makers of xanax.

21
anna February 24, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Xanax should really be coming to you, Jenny. But as long as you get what you’re worth, I say go for it.

22
Ryan February 24, 2010 at 11:27 am

Long before I started yammering on the internet, my background was in film. Specifically the Art Dept. During pre-production I worked in the office many times handling the films product placement reach outs. It is a nice skill set to have. She executed this perfectly from top to bottom.

The comparison to films and blogs is interesting. Being the Property Master on films often times I would have the task of making sure scenes did not look like commercials. I spent a lot of time making sure labels were positioned just right, so you could tell what the product was, but so that it didn’t take the scene over screaming “I’m drinking a COKE, look at this can of COKE!” It would appear that she also gave that same consideration, making Mayflower part of the natural story, where the product/service had relevance to begin with. As I said. Perfect execution from top to bottom. Now get this idea in the wrong hands and it is a completely different story. I can’t think of an example off the top of my head.

Great post. You are on a roll.

23
Kerry February 24, 2010 at 11:36 am

You know, this brings up an interesting point: the skillset that leads to success in blogging may be changing.

Up until now, the things that made you a successful blogger were mostly writing skills and the ability to drive traffic. Going forward, however, bloggers are increasingly going to have to be able to do this sort of think without making it look clunky. That’s hard.

This may winnow and sculpt the “A-List” considerably.

24
anna February 24, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Or they will have to rely on just display ads, or they will have to hire narrative consultants or something — some equivalent to the people who work in product placement on a movie set, and can bring it to blogging.

25
anna February 24, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Yes, the use of this is really going to depend upon the ability of the blogger to understand all of the moving parts. Either they will have to develop that skill on their own, or they will have to hire somebody to help with consulting. I was thinking about how product placement progressed in TV and films, and I think there’s some guidance there . . . I will elaborate on that later, but in short I think that at one point product placement didn’t happen at all, and then it became ubiquitous. The way to use it in blogs is probably not too far off from what happened there.

26
Kerry February 24, 2010 at 4:26 pm

I just read the update.

What’s interesting now is that I never read DesignMom, but based on what Mayflower just said about her and about this project, I have a higher opinion of them than I did before (not that I had a strong opinion before). I’d rather do business with a company that “gets it” and treats people well. The fact that they were willing to a reporter (you) and say the things they said makes me think they might be that company.

Interesting.

27
anna February 24, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Yeah, I was impressed with their willingness to deal with me, too. And they did it pretty quickly — I contacted them yesterday, and they couldn’t get back to me until today — that might be slower than I wanted to go, but it’s pretty quick for a big company to provide you with a response. I got the feeling that they understood the whole process and what the online campaign adds that cannot be done elsewhere.

28
Susan Tiner February 24, 2010 at 5:18 pm

I was talking to Anna on Twitter, but decided to come here for one final comment. I pointed to http://www.brandadvisors.com/, a brand advising company I’m familiar with. Charles Rashall seems to have figured out making a story of a brand, but bloggers want to weave a brand into an existing story that is itself a brand without diluting either brand. It’s hard to say whether the more traditional brand model informs this new model, but it’s tempting to look for commonalities since in both cases its fundamentally all about connecting story and brand.

29
Jennifer (Conversion Diary) November 29, 2010 at 3:10 pm

This is a great analysis. Very interesting. Thanks!

30
Mariko December 12, 2010 at 7:14 pm

I only just found your site (Why am I only seeing it now? Now that I can tell I have way too many posts to catch up on in your archives???) and this is fascinating. I dislike product placement when I notice it, but I appreciate when people I trust (which happens in blog land) exposes me to products that they trust. It certainly wouldn’t have worked if the move had not gone well. This kind of advertising goes much further than any possible commercial.

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