In China, slightly more than 50% of internet-using moms of young children visit the parenting site Babytree, said CEO and co-founder Allen Wang, who spotted a need for a place to turn for parenting tips in a country full of only children raising only children. Before starting Babytree in 2007, the U.S.-educated Mr. Wang was a McKinsey management consultant, a Procter & Gamble brand manager for Pringles, and Google's CMO in Asia. Babytree, which is sponsoring Ad Age 's inaugural China's Women to Watch dinner in Shanghai on Sept. 5, is a Chinese-language site but deliberately selected a global-sounding name. Ad Age talked to Mr. Wang about Babytree's growing role in China.
Ad Age : How does Babytree differ from BabyCenter, the U.S. and global parenting site?
Mr. Wang: In China, you don't find one or two general platforms quite like Facebook. We think of ourselves not as an information site [but] rather as a Facebook for parents. We're a network of moms trying to help themselves and each other.
It's a slightly different philosophy from BabyCenter, which relies more on experts. In our case we believe in the authority of experts and we also believe equally strongly in the power of other moms on a parenting site to educate their peers. Most of our traffic is from parents asking questions and addressing issues by other parents.
We have more moms visiting Babytree -- 90% of them are in China -- than the entire collection of sites BabyCenter operates in the U.S. and worldwide. On an average monthly basis we have 27 to 30 million unique visitors, mostly moms with children up to age six. [A BabyCenter spokeswoman said BabyCenter reaches 13 million U.S. moms and over 29 million moms monthly in 22 markets, including China].
Ad Age : Where is Babytree's growth coming from?
Mr. Wang: We predict we'll be the largest parenting site worldwide. Our composition isn't as global as BabyCenter; about 10% of our parents are outside China.
Our internal goal is to reach 80% of parents who are online [in China] and have them visit Babytree on a monthly basis. That's our one-year goal. We wanted a global name, so one day we could cater not just to a China audience but to a global audience.
We receive roughly 30,000 to 40,000 questions a day. We generate more than 150,000 answers per day. It's likely within 20 or 30 seconds you"ll get your first answer. It could be from an expert but it's more likely from another mom.
Ad Age : How do marketers work with Babytree?
Mr. Wang: Advertisers don't want to just give you a budget for banners. Specifically we've noticed three areas where they want more help. They want to send their content to their target audience. They also want to find a specific group of influencers or opinion leaders for their brand. And send products to the women making decisions.
Kimberly-Clark's Huggies are publishing their blog every other day on Babytree. They're getting more involvement with our moms, not just reading and commenting but enabling moms to organize local neighborhood events. They'll even give them a small budget.
About a year ago we started a sampling program. We did targeting specifically to the last month of pregnancy and are sending 100,000 sample packages per month with a retail value of about $150 each on behalf of Huggies, and a half dozen other brands that rotate. There is close to a 40% conversion rate to Huggies purchasers. That's much higher than the market share of Huggies, the number three brand behind Pampers and a Japanese competitor. It's like a targeted email and sampling and ecommerce all bundled into one.
Ad Age : How does your opinion leader management program work for marketers?
Mr. Wang: With Heinz, we recruited up to 500 moms we believe are strong opinion leaders. We've been managing them with a Babytree CRM system, and gave them lots of different services. They can sample more Heinz products with deeper discounts, or call with parenting questions answered by a Heinz medical expert. And we invited the moms to tour Heinz's Chinese manufacturing facility and blog about it. And Heinz participates in our sampling program. It's given them an opportunity to grow market share with a relatively small budget.
Ad Age : How does China's one-child policy affect how families spend their money?
Mr. Wang: The one-child policy is a big driver for how parents treat, or spoil, their children. The amount of spending on baby goods in China is proportionally higher compared to their U.S. counterparts. One-third to one-half of each family's budget is spent on baby-related goods. When diapers and formula are no longer needed, [spending on] early education kicks in.