Monetizing the Mommyblog: An ABDPBT 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.
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 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.”
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.