Del Monte to Take Its Cues From Moms

Company Mines Custom Social Networks for Insights on New Products

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Del Monte is the latest marketer to find as much value in listening as in talking to customers.
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The Moms Insight Network is a less custom version of what Del Monte has with its pet community -- multiple marketers will tap into the network's panel of 10,200 moms.

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A little over six months ago, the company created a custom social network focused on dog owners (the clever name: "Dogs Are People Too") to tap for insights into its pet-food business, which includes Kibbles 'n Bits and Milk-Bone. Now the marketer is signing on for another network from the same market-research company, MarketTools, but this time targeting moms.

Marketers increasingly are tapping consumer opinions to help shape and market their products, and Del Monte is one in a string of examples that also includes Dell, which in February began soliciting customer suggestions (and allowing them to air grievances) via a new initiative called Ideastorm, and Starwood, which tapped Communispace to help it mine the insights of savvy travelers.

Refining products
Del Monte's pet community helped the company refine its products, such as a recently launched Snausages Breakfast Bites, which was born out of research that there is a dedicated segment of dog owners who love to share events such as holidays and mealtimes with their pets. Del Monte hopes to tap moms to advise it on several new product launches, said Senior Consumer-Insights Manager Gala Amoroso.

"The idea is to develop a relationship ... create ad hoc surveys and get feedback," she said. "If one of the brand managers has a new product idea or a different positioning, instead of just internal brainstorming within the company and before putting real research dollars behind, it we'll float it with the communities."

Ms. Amoroso said a company needs to makes adjustments internally to make sure it can use that kind of data. "It's different than receiving a report from a study," she said. "It's about taking the time to go to the community and listen."

Multiple marketers
The Moms Insight Network is a less custom version of what Del Monte has with its pet community -- multiple marketers will tap into the network's panel of 10,200 moms, said Emily Morris, director of product marketing for panels and communities at MarketTools, while a custom network is only tapped by one marketer. However, it's less work for a marketer than running its own single community, she said.

Though marketers such as Del Monte do not have category exclusivity, MarketTools can tap the moms in the panel to answer custom, private questions for a marketer if, for example, it is preparing for a product launch and doesn't want to tip its hat to competitors.

Ms. Morris has already gleaned a few insights from the mom network. For one, moms trust experts less than ever, Ms. Morris said, and are more interested in hearing from other moms in similar situations. They're also dissatisfied with school systems and are interested in products that help them teach their children at home. And they are starting to understand what it means for a food to be organic -- although they're still struggling to understand the direct benefits of eating organic products.

A research perspective
"People are talking about communities for influence and building your brands, but there aren't that many marketers yet looking at it as a research perspective," Ms. Morris said. "It's how do you talk to them or influence them vs. how you learn from them, using that info as a road map to follow."
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