Over the holidays, I was watching Gremlins with my 8-year-old nephew. It was my favorite movie as a kid, and I thought he might also enjoy the ridiculous antics of those 12-inch monsters that plague an unsuspecting community on Christmas. It's both scary and hilarious--no matter what age you are. To my surprise, he was more mystified by that weird "black box that goes into the DVD player" (VHS tape) and the mind-boggling "phone on the street" (pay phone). So I spent an entire evening explaining antiquated '80s technology to an 8-year-old. And what I am about to say about marketing "focus groups" feels about the same way.
Back in the day, focus groups were all the rage. You'd get a group of people of a similar demographic in one room and introduce them to a new product--then a moderator would ask them questions and gauge their response. Getting a bunch of (sometimes paid) strangers in a room together and forcing them to answer questions was (and still is) an unnatural process, but it was the best we had before technology arrived. So business owners would shell out the money to conduct these surveys and hope that the results were accurate.
Using the internet, and social media in particular, has given brands a platform to gain consumer insights in a much more organic way. In fact, you don't even need a budget to create an effective (and unknowing!) focus group. Nobody knows that more keenly than Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and Jessica Ziegler, the authors of Science of Parenthood.
Norine, a former journalist, got the big idea for this book project when her son came home from school gabbing about Newton's laws of force and motion. As he was telling her that "an object at rest will remain at rest until acted on by an external force," she thought about how similar that sounded to her son when he was playing video games. She promptly went to her Facebook page and posted: "Newton's First Law of Parenting: A child at rest will remain at rest ... until you need your iPad back."
She got a good chuckle out of her network. So she started posting more of these science-y, snarky parenting observations on Facebook, to a big response. Then it dawned on her that this might make a nice gift book--if it had some awesome illustrations. Luckily, her longtime friend Jessica Ziegler is a great illustrator. The two put their heads together about a book, but realized pretty quickly that the idea was bigger than that. They would call this project Science of Parenthood. Almost instantaneously, they secured a website domain, a Facebook page, and a Twitter handle and began testing out content.
"That turned out to be the best decision we could make, because in doing the blog and social media around it first, we were able to develop our concept of what Science of Parenthood was and grow our audience," says Norine. "Plus, we were able to experiment and learn about what worked and what didn't. And we developed a network of bloggers who not only helped us grow our audience by introducing us to their readers, these very generous bloggers and authors taught us what we didn't know about blogging and publishing so we weren't floundering around in the dark."
The partners spent three years creating a solid blog and a network of fans before they wrote the book. Because of this, they had hundreds of people (namely, parenting bloggers) who wanted to help them and were emotionally invested in their success.
Science of Parenthood: Thoroughly Unscientific Explanations for Utterly Baffling Parenting Situations was published in November 2015 by She Writes Press. The book hit No. 1 on Amazon's hot new parenting humor releases in its first 30 days. Just goes to show how powerful a product can be when its creators know their demographic inside and out.
These two moms operated their project the same way a large company would have--and were successful without the benefit of expensive social listening tools. So if you have a great product and very little budget to start, think about getting creative with social media, as the ladies behind Science of Parenthood did.
Mother knows best.