With System 1 thinking, marketing to millennial moms is surprisingly simple

If there’s one consumer segment brands go wild for, it’s parents – specifically, mothers. As traditional guardians of household spending, moms are prized for their purchase power, their capacity for amplifying positive word-of-mouth, and inculcating brand preferences in their offspring.

What’s not traditional? Contemporary mothers.

These aren’t the maternal influences we grew up with. Baby boomers, gen Xers and older millennials were raised by women who lived – and spent money – very differently from how today’s mothers do.

The impact of this shift has been significant. Now that moms are more informed and concerned about things like ethical sourcing, natural ingredients, and manufacturer location, the CPG category has been especially affected. Brands that had been synonymous with their product category for generations can no longer coast on past domination.

One thing established and new brands have in common is their all-out effort to engage moms. Fighting for the attention of moms includes – but is not limited to – new product development, rebranding, corporate social responsibility initiatives, advertising on emerging digital platforms, enabling direct-to-consumer purchasing, investing in social “influencers,” and utilizing sophisticated social listening programs.

Success has been mixed. Simply revamping packaging or running campaigns that pander to this new generation of mothers are no substitute for building mental availability for the brand in the minds of moms. Without establishing strong mental availability, no brand can succeed. If a brand is already on the consumer’s radar, failing to reinforce the brand and its story risks everything.

Many marketers have turned to the System 1 concept to help build and strengthen ties with consumers. In brief, System 1 is Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s assertion that decision-making is not entirely based on conscious, rational thought. According to him, people use their intuition – often based on cemented habits and emotional connections formed in childhood – to make fast, often-automatic decisions. This processing (System 1) is much more influential than conscious reason, which is rooted in hard facts and reflective consideration (System 2).

Of course, most people think they make decisions from System 2. Because they don’t, it makes sense for marketers to focus on establishing and strengthening their presence in consumers’ System 1 thinking. Tapping into System 1 dynamics can yield compelling results; marketers are correct to explore how to do so.

But for advertisers vexed by how to win over moms, System 1 dynamics can be amplified by combination with another powerful approach.

The MAYA Rule, recognized and coined by industrial designer Raymond Leowy, aligns perfectly with System 1. MAYA stands for "Most Advanced Yet Acceptable." Leowy’s rule asserts that people are most drawn to things that are already familiar, but that have a new or fresh aspect rather than being completely original and unfamiliar.

For marketers, that means building on what consumers already know and associate with your brand – your brand’s ‘story’. Adding just enough newness to make the story fresh and interesting works better than inflicting the completely unfamiliar on them. This is especially relevant when introducing a new campaign or product. Grounding the new in what’s familiar is the first step on the path to success.

This contrasts sharply with the approach many brands have taken: radically new campaigns, discarding distinctive brand assets, deviating from the brand story already established in consumers’ System 1 thinking, and hoping the “bold” and “fresh” will captivate these elusive Millennial Moms.

Such advertisers would see more ROI – immediately and long-term – by using those foundational aspects of the brand story to strengthen their mental availability among today's moms. Some brands are already doing it.

Cheetos’ character Chester Cheetah, who made his debut in 1977, is still working well for the brand. In fact, Communicus research shows 85% of consumers strongly associate him with Cheetos. Also in CPG, the multicolored M&Ms characters introduced by Mars decades ago are still popular today – enough to warrant their own dedicated retail stores.

In both cases, these familiar characters have helped launch multiple new line extensions. Years ago, M&M’s feared consumers were growing weary of the characters. When they pulled the talking candies from their ads, consumers demanded to know where they went. M&Ms swiftly reversed their error.

Marketers can also learn from the missteps – and course-correcting – of other CPG brands.

Soup brand Campbell, for example, has readjusted their approach to attracting contemporary mothers. In recent years, the company replaced its recognizable "Mmm Mmm Good" slogan with "Made for Real, Real Life." One ad showed a mom pinning recipes on Pinterest while watching a cooking show on TV, then taking and sharing an Instagram shot of her microwaved Campbell's Soup with her mobile device.

But after going down a road that disposed of distinctive brand assets already known to consumers, Campbell displayed a more effective strategy: combining System 1 and MAYA to integrate those valuable, historical assets into new marketing.

Perhaps recognizing the value of their discarded slogan, Campbell’s recent series of commercials – even for their new brand line extension, Well Yes! soups - recall it by using the "Mmmm" sound effects throughout each ad. Research conducted by Communicus shows that 75% of consumers strongly associate the "Mmm Mmm Good" line with Campbell, so the brand’s marketers were smart to make use of it.

In a frenzy to meet aggressive sales goals and jump on board with a plethora of emerging advertising venues and technologies, many brands don’t realize they are turning their backs on a treasure trove of distinctive brand assets. The good news is, these can be lucratively integrated into advertising with a MAYA approach, while reinforcing moms' System 1 brand connections.

Developing ads that tap into sophisticated neurological processes and the human desire for new things can – and should – include what is comfortingly recognizable to consumers. Such approaches work with every consumer segment, including moms. But brands eager to build and reinforce their mental availability among Millennial moms will leverage those distinctive brand assets at every opportunity.

Jeri Smith is the chief executive of Communicus

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