Fred Forward Symposium: Thought Leadership on Families, Digital Media, Mister Rogers and the Neighborhood

Fred Forward Symposium

Last week, I had the great fortune to be a part of the Fred Forward Symposium at the Fred Rogers Center in Latrobe, PA, where the goal was to look at and discuss, from a variety of different angles and expert voices, “How families live well with media and technology in ways that strengthen and enhance adult-child relationships?”

Amazing minds from media, entertainment, academia, research, non-profits and business presented on topics, each more fascinating and thought provoking than the next. Presentations included: Family Personas in the Media (shout out to Dr. Shira Lee Katz from Netflix); Learning from Organizations in Diverse Settings (this session still has me thinking – thank you Brian Wallace of The Coin Laundry Association, Ramon Murphy of the Bodega Association of the US and Patti Miller of the Clinton Foundation and Too Small to Fail); The Impact of Words and Language; Messages Not to Be Missed; Brand Strategy; and Connecting with Parents Through Children’s Media and Music (Laurie Berkner, Joey Mazzarino and Brad Montague seriously brought the house down!). Facebook’s head of safety, Antigone Davis had powerful points about connection and community, as well as safety, sharing the MamaDragons as an important example of the impact of online community and support.

Every single speaker was mind blowingly impressive and I loved meeting and chatting with so many of you: Amazon’s brilliant Dr. Alice Wilder, the motivating and inspiring Joanne Goldblum of the National Diaper Bank Network (their work changes lives), Dr. Todd Wolynn from Kids Plus Pediatrics (everyone should be so lucky to have him as their pediatrician), Dr. Anne Gill (who made me cry with her beautiful words on parenting) from the Center for Parents and Children University of Pittsburgh and the very witty and smart Wynne Tyree of Smarty Pants.

Betty Cohen, Chris McKee and I presented a panel titled: Lessons Learned from Commercial Messaging. Betty moderated in such a thoughtful way while Chris (a seriously talented guy) and I focused on dad and mom angles of marketing. I can hardly wait to work with both Chris and Betty more. They are so sharp, funny and wise. I’ll let Twitter tell you:

Here are more from tweets from the Fred Forward Symposium! I can’t help sharing these tweets, every session had such nuggets that I can’t stop thinking about:

It was so clear through the Fred Forward Symposium that we are strengthened, sustained and grow because of the support of our neighborhoods, wherever they may be. Thank you Rick Fernandes and the whole Fred Rogers Center team for including me. I’ll never forget your incredible symposium, the life experience of it and the invaluable lessons from the hearts and brains of the world-changing people there.


Mother’s Day Post: Kids Say the Darnedest (and Sweetest!) Things

Every mom knows that life is unpredictable; schedules change last-minute, messes are made at the most inconvenient times, and kids constantly say the darnedest (and sweetest) things! With Mother’s Day approaching, we’re taking a moment to celebrate motherhood through the eyes of kids!

Our influencers recently gave us hilarious and precious quotes that their kids shared about them as moms. We absolutely loved what they had to say. Do any of these sound familiar to you?
mother's day post

Fadra, All Things Fadra

“My daughter always says, ‘You’re the best mom IN ALL THE LAND’ (Disney emphasis, of course).” – Leanne, Rave & Review

“I asked them what they thought would happen if I didn’t do my job as a mom for one day. My oldest said, ‘We’d all die!'” – Shell, Things I Can’t Say

Jennifer, Engineer Mommy

Donna, Blog by Donna

“My 5-year-old: ‘I love you mom, even if you aren’t that smart. I mean, you forget things sometimes, around the house. And maybe you suffer from short-term memory loss? I don’t know. I love you anyway.'” – Marie, Marie Osbourne

“Mom, you are legit.” – Kasandria, Southern Bella’s Ways

Stephanie, Beauty Brite

“My daughter wants to be a blogger and ‘the best cook like me’ when she grows up.” – Bianca, Ella B Styles

Rita, Rita’s Reviews

Happy Mother’s Day! What’s the funniest thing your kids have said about you as their mom?

The Motherhood’s CEO Talks Influencer Marketing on TechVibe Radio

The Motherhood’s CEO, Cooper Munroe, had the opportunity to participate in 1020 KDKA’s TechVibe Radio’s Neighborhood Tour. The hosts of the radio show, Pittsburgh Technology Council’s CEO Audrey Russo and Director of Visibility Jonathan Kersting, regularly interview local technology and entrepreneurial leaders.

TechVibe Radio

During the interview, Cooper shared a history of how blogging emerged, more about The Motherhood’s roots and her thoughts on how technology has empowered influencers in becoming some of the most sought-after marketers of our time.

Check out her interview here!

Spotlight Blogger: Sharon with Cupcakes and Cutlery

Top influencer Sharon Garofalow of Cupcakes and Cutlery aims to help other moms “be the best with less stress.” We love that philosophy, especially because we know many parents these days feel pressure to live picture-perfect lives, ready for social media. Take a look at our interview with Sharon, our May Spotlight Blogger, to learn more about her thoughts on social media, working with brands and more!

What is the #1 trend in influencer marketing? 

I think video is going to keep getting bigger. Whether it’s live or edited, I think brands are going to start requesting this more and more.

What content do your readers find most valuable?

My readers love things that make their lives a little easier. My quick recipes tend to go over well. With my recipes, they know they are getting something delicious that won’t keep them in the kitchen all day.

What are your thoughts on working with a brand on multiple occasions (vs. one-off programs)? 

I love to work with brands over a few posts or a long term rather than one-off program. I think it helps to build a relationship, we find each other’s strengths, we can create really unique content and make magic. One-off campaigns can sometimes be harder to really showcase what the brand is all about because we aren’t given enough time to really dive in.

What are your thoughts on programs measured by initial click-through rates? 

Of course brands want clicks, but they aren’t always going to be the consumer they really want to target. Over the last few years, engagement with online content has really changed, and it takes a great deal of energy to get people to react to something. That doesn’t mean they aren’t seeing it, I just don’t think click-through rates are a great way to gauge actual interest and reach.

Influencer marketing is…

Important. We are demanding consumers just like everyone else. We just have a unique way to spread word of mouth for the things we love.

Where do you find inspiration for new blog posts?

I find inspiration in my everyday life. As a busy, working mom to two little boys, I am my target market. When I figure out a shortcut, I know I need to share it. I also listen to my mom friends to see what they are struggling with.

Tell us why you blog.

My blog started out as a creative outlet when I was working in a job that I didn’t love. Over the years it has changed focus a few times, and basically grown up with myself and my kids. I blog, now, because I think that I can really help other moms be the best with less stress. I also think that in our culture of “busy,” moms really do need to take time to focus on themselves. I blog to try to encourage moms that they can be an equal partner in their family and even invest a little time into the things they enjoy.

What’s your greatest challenge when working with brands?

I think, sometimes, it can be frustrating getting the brand to understand why you should be paid what you are worth. I think they think you just shoot a few pictures and write a little something and it’s done. For me, I really put thought into my posts and try to make sure that they share my personal experience and really show my readers why the product is of value. Plus, I style photo shoots and edit those images. It’s time-consuming. We really are like one-person ad agencies, and I don’t think they look at it that way.

Favorite program you’ve done with The Motherhood

I really enjoyed the Protein Challenge campaign with The Beef Checkoff. It allowed me to be creative in sharing why moms need more protein in their diets and was a multiple-post commitment. I also really loved how easy it was to use The Mometer platform to record social, and you had everything you needed to create a successful campaign right at your fingertips.

Where do you see the most engagement with your content?

Most of my engagement is on Instagram right now. It’s super visual, which I love, and can really show a little more of your personality and behind the scenes than your actual blog. It’s not always on content that is directly tied to a blog post, but I think it’s really creating a place where my readers can let me know when something resonates with them which, in turn, can sometimes influence what I am writing about on the blog.

What’s the #1 question you’re asked by brands, and what’s your answer?

Brands are really interested in age right now, it seems. I’ve seen so many blog opportunities ask specifically for a certain age range, which I don’t fall into. I get the appeal of millennials who can’t NOT share things online, but my age group has the money to buy things. I think age restrictions really miss the mark when trying to find bloggers for campaigns. Just because I am a certain age doesn’t mean that my reader demographic isn’t what they are looking for.

What are brands doing right when working with bloggers?

When the brand gives the blogger the freedom to create content that they know their reader will love and is authentic to them, that is right! When they try to put too many restrictions on it, no one is going to be happy. I’ve had a brand request that my images include their brand colors. I wish they would trust that I will do an amazing job for them, and it will fit in with my usual content, instead of sticking out and having my readers say, “What is going on?!”

What should brands start doing (better) when working with bloggers?

I would love to see more relationships being built between brands and bloggers and multi-post campaigns. I would love to be loyal to a brand rather than take posts for competitors (months later) because I’ve got bills to pay. And these don’t have to be monetary exchanges, either. Maybe they have a great social media department and can share some tips with the bloggers. Or maybe they leverage a cool experience they get through their company to treat a blogger. I got to do the most amazing experience yesterday with a brand that has made me a fan of their product for life. I got to spend time with their president, learn about the product and now I want to tell everyone about it! And the day before I had never heard of them before

More about The Motherhood’s Spotlight Blogger Series

Each month, our internal team convenes and discusses our latest programs, stellar partnerships and top influencers. It’s not about numbers, but rather, the quality, authentic content they’re delivering consistently. It’s about reliability, professionalism and partnership. We discuss our nominations for the month and ultimately decide on just one blogger to feature.

Take a look at our other featured influencers here, and stop by in June for the next Spotlight Blogger!

SNAP! Conference Recap

Last week, The Motherhood had the honor of hosting a booth at SNAP! Conference as part of our sponsorship of the event. Cooper Munroe, Kayla Geahry and Erin Olson were on hand to welcome new bloggers to our network neighborhood.

SNAP! Conference

(left to right) Cooper, Kayla & Erin

SNAP! Conference

The theme this year was “believe,” and to our core, The Motherhood believes in the value of our bloggers and their communities.

SNAP! Conference

We were thrilled to meet many attendees over the course of the conference, including some familiar names — our friends who blog at Kleinworth&Co., Family Tech Zone, Home.Made.Interest., Everyday Reading and quite a few others dropped by to say hello and help us put faces to names (one of our favorite parts of attending these events).

Each attendee who visited our booth received a little inspiration (tiny wish stones reading “believe,” “family,” “hope” and a number of other options) inside a beautiful handmade cloth purse (by Sewnsational). We’ve been giving these purses to the people that we’ve met along the way for the past 10 years, and it was fun to watch everyone choose their favorite designs!

A post shared by The Motherhood (@themotherhood) on

Additionally, on Thursday afternoon, our CEO Cooper Munroe participated in a panel discussion about building brand relationships. She was joined by Karen Nolan of Flashpoint PR, who works with LEGO and other brands, and Whitney Curtis, social media manager at The Home Depot. They spent an interesting and productive hour responding to questions and advising bloggers about the best ways to pitch brands and develop lasting relationships that are beneficial to all involved.

The Motherhood livestreamed the first 20 minutes of the discussion on Facebook, and you can watch here:

If we met you at SNAP! Conference, or if you’re interested in learning more about joining our network, you can learn more here or contact us through

The Other-hoods of The Motherhood: Food Allergy Moms

Food allergy moms

The beauty of the internet and social media is that we’re able to create, belong and contribute to distinct communities of people based on shared interests, passions and experiences. Those communities can open so many doors for us – whether it’s finding new friends who share in similar interests or challenges, or uncovering resources and tips. Bloggers and influencers embody this, creating niche communities of followers and building relationships with like-minded individuals.

We recognize that the amazing influencers in The Motherhood’s network belong to (and have created) many of these online communities. Our network has been building relationships with these influencers since the inception of blogging and what is now known as influencer marketing. With communities built around thousands of topics, they are so much more than moms – they are entrepreneurs and business professionals, educators and activists, stylists and cooks, photographers and tech gurus, and more. That’s why we’re excited to launch a new blog post series: The Other-hoods of The Motherhood.

Through this series, we’ll highlight some of the niche communities that our influencers have created and actively create content around. By gathering insights on these other “hoods,” we’ll also shine a light on the power and impact that these passionate groups of like-minded people hold, as well as the best ways for brands to partner with them.

Food Allergy Moms: Insights from our Network

One of the most powerful, vocal and driven communities we work with is food allergy moms. Here’s a look at the food allergy moms within The Motherhood’s network of influencers:

Furthermore, our network insights dashboard reveals that:

  • 43 percent of respondents have some kind of food allergy, sensitivity or intolerance
  • Almost half of the respondents have a child living with food allergies, sensitivities or intolerances
  • The most common allergies and intolerances among our influencers include: milk (39.5%), gluten (24%), tree nuts (15%), peanuts (15%) and eggs (13%)

Connecting with Food Allergy Moms

It is estimated that nearly 15 million people in the United States have food allergies. The Motherhood team can relate on a very personal level, as some of our team mebers, as well as our children, have food allergies and intolerances. We understand firsthand the incredible value these communities offer, including Facebook groups and blogs, which serve as trusted resources.

We also recognize how critically important it is for those with severe food allergies and intolerances to find a brand or product they can trust. Once those brands and products are identified, food allergy moms can, and will, champion those trusted products fiercely. Company, brand and product research is a way of life for those with severe food allergies, as their safety or the safety of their child is dependent on it – from breakfast to dinner, and nearly every moment in between.

In our research, influencers shared the lengths they go to to ensure food safety, including online research, food journals, “safe” food lists, consulting doctors and allergists and figuring out recipe substitutions that work for everyone. Something that was made very clear by respondents is that although a food allergy might only affect one person in the household, the entire family (and sometimes extended family and friends) are impacted and often make adjustments in terms of the brands and products they choose.

This extends the aforementioned consumer base of 15 million to a much greater pool of consumers, giving brands the opportunity to reach and engage an even larger group of people with allergen-specific messaging and products.

Collaborating with Food Allergy Moms

Of course, influencer marketing campaigns see the strongest engagement when the content offers true value to the reader – and there’s incredible opportunity for brands to leverage influential food allergy moms as a way to connect directly with a very in-tune, active and engaged consumer base. There has never been a bigger opportunity or moment for allergen-friendly brands to showcase their facilities, their production methods and their products – here’s looking at you, Made Good, Enjoy Life, Divvies, Cherrybrook Kitchen and the many other brands that are dedicated to serving this community.

Furthermore, there has never been a more critical time for all brands to listen to consumer needs, and to proactively nurture consumer trust by answering important questions about production methods and company-specific labeling beyond what most food allergy moms already know and understand about government-mandated labeling, as well as offering transparency around ingredients and other key topics and questions that brands are constantly presented with by food allergy families. This is your moment; take it, run with it!

Contact us to learn more about how we can partner to leverage this community and create real impact, both for your brand and this critically important community of food allergy families.

*Photography credit throughout post: Alison, Life a Little Brighter from a lactose-free campaign with The Motherhood


Everything You Need to Know About the Facebook Branded Content Tool for Influencers (Updated Nov 2017)

Facebook Branded Content Tool for Influencers

Disclaimer: Information below represents our findings to date. We will continue to update this post as we learn more about the Facebook Branded Content Tool for Influencers.

In April 2016, Facebook announced the release of a new tool for branded content on verified pages to create easier collaboration on sponsored posts between Pages and brands.

The initial reaction to the announcement was mostly confusion about what exactly these new guidelines meant for brands and bloggers. This was especially the case for social media influencer marketing agencies, including The Motherhood, since we work with a network of “micro influencers” who promote sponsored content on their Facebook pages frequently.

According to Markerly, marketers are seeing higher engagement results with “micro influencers,” meaning those smaller-in-reach pages produce high value for brands through their devoted and active Facebook audience.

Before we answer what this tool means for marketers running influencer campaigns, let’s back up:

What is the Facebook branded content tool?

It’s a tool integrated into Facebook that allows pages and profiles to mark content that includes a third party, brand, or sponsor.

Branded content can be a post, Instant Article, link, photo, or video. Through the branded content tool, publishers of these posts tag the marketer or sponsor’s page. The marketer who is tagged will get a notification and receive access to insights on that post (such as the number of people who have seen it, click-throughs, etc.). The brand tagged will also have the ability to boost the post through their own account.

Facebook wants sponsored content to be marked clearly, therefore updating the branded tool to include the word “Paid” in the post.

Photo credit: Facebook

Do all influencers have to use the Facebook Branded Content Tool?

When the Branded Content Tool originally was launched in April 2016, Facebook only allowed verified pages (and then later, verified profiles) to access the branded content tool. However, Facebook recently announced that they are making the tool more widely available and offering it to non-verified pages, as well.

Starting in April 2017, for users on iOS and the web (and Android in the near future), any non-verified page can submit an application to access to the branded content tool. Facebook will begin to offer the tool on a rolling basis to non-verified pages that it predicts are most likely to use it. Pages will get a notification in Facebook if they are selected for the branded content tool.

We recommend that influencers apply for the Branded Content Tool. Once you are approved for tool (it usually only takes up to two days), you can easily mark which posts are sponsored by clicking the handshake icon when composing a new post. If you have any questions about using the Branded Content Tool within your current campaign with The Motherhood, feel free to reach out to your account manager to discuss.

Do I need to include a disclosure statement if I’m using the Branded Content Tool?

This one has caused some confusion among influencers and agencies. The short answer is yes, you still need to include a proper disclosure statement (“ad” or “sponsored”) for sponsored posts, even when using the handshake tool. Facebook has clearly defined the rules for branded content, which includes using disclosures in addition to the handshake tool:

“Comply with all applicable laws and regulations, including by ensuring that you provide all necessary disclosures to people using Facebook or Instagram, such as any disclosures needed to indicate the commercial nature of content posted by you.” (Facebook, August 2017)

Best practices for the Facebook Branded Content Tool for influencers moving forward:

  • If you have not already, request access to the Branded Content Tool here.
  • If a post is flagged as not complying with their branded content policies, Facebook will notify the publisher and the post will not appear in the News Feed until fixed.
  • If you are a brand or company reaching out to influencers to share branded content on their Facebook pages, we highly suggest consulting a marketing agency that has knowledge on the subject and is up-to-date on all policies. You can contact The Motherhood with inquiries at

In our research since publishing this post, we have come across interesting articles on the topic that we would also like to share with you:

We are still following the news on the Facebook Branded Content Tool for Influencers, and we will be sure to keep our readers updated as the situation evolves — which, as many social media marketers know, is bound to happen! We welcome any feedback.

Updated: November 1, 2017

Managing Risks with Influencer Marketing

Don’t be the next case study on an influencer partnership gone awry. The Motherhood shares ways to mitigate risks of influencer marketing.

In this day and age, when social media influencers can have more clout than Hollywood A-listers, it’s vital to a brand’s well-being to ensure that potential brand ambassadors are properly vetted to minimize influencer marketing risks. That goes well beyond a skim of their blog/social channel or eyeballing their reach. It means getting to really know the influencer – what drives, motivates, moves and excites him or her. It means poring over every social post for hints of questionable behavior. It means relying on human intuition and not just automated searches.

Just as talent agencies and PR firms sign off on a prospective celebrity that a brand wants to endorse, when it comes to influencer marketing, it’s crucial to ensure someone is doing the due diligence that comes with engaging an influencer on behalf of your brand.

While there are dozens of influencer marketing companies cropping up weekly, can you be sure that the one you’re using is properly vetting your next spokesperson? If it’s an automated dashboard, without a human-touch element, the answer is likely “no.”

At The Motherhood, we take the time to get to know our influencers. We have more than a decade of experience in this sector, and we’ve formed personal relationships with hundreds of influencers over the years. It’s not always easy to determine if an influencer is truly a fit for a brand based on a quick review of their latest blog content, but when you engage an agency who puts their reputation on the line to ensure that their clients are working with the most target-right influencers in their space, you are more likely to mitigate the risks associated with influencer marketing.

Want to learn more about our process? Email us at

Spotlight Blogger: Stefanie with Lexie Loo, Lily, Liam & Dylan Too

As a working mom of four and rockstar influencer, Stefanie of Lexie Loo, Lily, Liam & Dylan Too, sat down with us (virtually) to explain what inspires her and what informs and drives the content that she shares with her readers. We love Stefanie for her ability to deliver content that helps connect us with others and their experiences, her professionalism and her sharp influencer marketing insights — and that’s why we’re featuring her as our April Spotlight Blogger!

Here’s what we heard from Stefanie on topics ranging from working with brands to answering her readers’ questions:

What do you feel is the #1 trend for influencer marketing in 2017? 

Incorporating Facebook Live more frequently. Many people, including myself, don’t feel comfortable with Facebook Live just yet, but it’s a growing trend that brands seem to favor!

What content do you feel your readers find most valuable?

I’m a mom to four kids, and many of my readers have children, too. Any content related to parenthood or kids always does well on my blog. Moms love to discover great new products, recipes and ideas! 

What are your thoughts on working with a brand on multiple occasions (vs. one-off programs)? 

I’ve worked with several brands on multiple occasions, and our professional relationship gets stronger with each program/campaign. If a brand asks a blogger to work with them again, it means they valued the work the blogger did for them previously, and that definitely says a lot! When I work with a brand repeatedly, I feel like my content is more authentic each time.

What are your thoughts on programs measured by initial click-through rates? 

At first, I was a big fan of click campaigns, but after about a year, I realized it was turning readers away. Honestly, they can be a bit too stressful for me. I’m always worried about reaching my quota, and after a while, it feels like I’m spamming my followers with the same tweets and Facebook posts. Over the past few months, I cut back on click campaigns, and focused on working with brands that just want a thorough review. It’s a much more positive experience for me!

What is your favorite space to engage with your readers?

I take a LOT of pictures, so Instagram is my favorite platform! I love to get a little glimpse into the everyday lives of some of my favorite bloggers. I’m also introduced to a lot of amazing products on Instagram!

Where do you find inspiration for new blog posts?

I come up with most of my ideas after speaking to other moms! Listening to their struggles and wishes can really help form content that can be helpful to many others who feel the same way.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting a blog?

Do it for yourself and stay authentic! Always remember why you started your blog. Making money is a bonus of blogging, but creating meaningful content and remaining true to yourself should be the most important thing!

Tell us why you blog. 

I’ve been blogging for eight and a half years! I originally started my blog to journal my life with my first two children. It was a way to document our days and keep family members who lived far away involved in our lives. At that time, blogging was strictly for journaling and socializing with other bloggers. It wasn’t until the past few years that blogging became more of a business! I’m not going to lie. There are times when I miss how blogging used to be, but just like everything else in life, it was time to progress. Even though I now offer more sponsored content, I don’t believe I should be a walking advertisement. I try to balance out my blog content by posting one real life post for every sponsored post. I never want to lose sight of why I started my blog in the first place: Sharing my life with my kids and socializing with other bloggers!

Favorite program you’ve done with The Motherhood?

I absolutely loved working with Chick-fil-A! I partnered with them for three programs, and it was an amazing experience each time. It’s definitely a brand I feel passionate about, so creating authentic content was very easy for me!

Where do you see the most engagement with your content?

My engagement tends to be very strong on my blog and on Instagram. Pinterest, however, brings the most traffic to my blog! I always make sure I have a graphic that can be pinned with each post.

What’s the #1 question you’re asked by your readers, and what’s your answer?

Three and a half years ago, I gave birth to my fourth son, and he was diagnosed with Down syndrome shortly after birth. All of the tests and ultrasounds were normal, so we had no idea! I get several emails each week from my readers asking questions about the diagnosis, how it could possibly happen and about life with Down syndrome. I’m not strictly a Down syndrome blogger, but I never mind answering questions that people have. That’s how people learn, and open conversation helps break all the misconceptions there are about Down syndrome.

What are brands doing right when working with bloggers?

The majority of brands are amazing to work with! They realize that bloggers and social media influencers are valuable, and they work hard to establish a strong, professional relationship. Most brands are very generous, and even the smaller brands, who can’t afford to compensate financially, tend to be generous with the products they send for review. Brands work really hard to make programs and campaigns a success, and it’s often a very positive experience for everyone involved!

What should brands start doing (better) when working with bloggers?

Over the past year, I was approached by several big brands who wanted a blog post, but offered absolutely nothing in return. While most brands are very generous to bloggers, there are some brands that need to realize that blogging is a job. Nobody wants to work without compensation of some kind. It takes thought and time to craft a thorough post, and our work is valuable!

Interested in learning more about Stefanie? Visit her blog or check out this self-proclaimed mamarazzi in action on Instagram!

More about The Motherhood’s Spotlight Blogger Series

Each month, our internal team convenes and discusses our latest programs, stellar partnerships and top influencers. It’s not about numbers, but rather, the quality, authentic content they’re delivering consistently. It’s about reliability, professionalism and partnership. We discuss our nominations for the month and ultimately decide on just one blogger to feature.

Take a look at our other featured influencers here, and stop by in May for the next Spotlight Blogger!


Wheelbarrows, Customer-Led Growth and H.J. Heinz

We’ve been told The Motherhood’s office in Sharpsburg, PA sits on land that was once part of the H.J. Heinz family farm.

In the years we’ve been in this building, I’ve also heard many other stories about Sharpsburg’s most famous son. This is the one that’s most stuck with me (as told by Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine):

Sharpsburg’s residents tended gardens, and the Heinz family’s garden was sufficiently fecund to feed their children (soon to be eight) and provide extra for selling. In 1852, at the age of eight, first-born son H.J. began peddling the surplus in baskets door-to-door in the neighborhood. Two years later his parents gave him his own three-quarters of an acre and he began using a wheelbarrow to deliver produce. By the age of twelve, he had enlarged his tract to three-and-a-half acres and purchased a horse and cart to sell to customers.

Imagine that young Henry John (and how YOUNG he was!) farming and bottling, mostly horseradish, and going door-to-door selling from a wheelbarrow, right here, in our neighborhood.

What was H.J. thinking as he visited the neighbors, building the foundation of what became one of the world’s most well-known brands and biggest corporations?

In 1904, the house where H.J. Heinz founded his company was floated down the Allegheny River from Sharpsburg to Pittsburgh. Photo credit:

Of course, it comes back to his mother.

According to this article, H.J.’s mother, Anna, would tell him, “Always remember to place yourself in the other person’s shoes.”

Putting himself in the customer’s shoes, one of the things H.J. must have learned going door-to-door was that families – who were for the most part growing and preparing food themselves – demanded any food they bought from somewhere else had to be up to the families’ highest standards. From Explore PA History:

To convince prospective customers that his horseradish was pure and wholesome – just like homemade – Heinz used clear bottles, instead of the traditional green, to show customers that his was “unadulterated” horseradish that contained no leaves, grated turnip, sawdust, small chunks of wood, or other foreign substances that unscrupulous manufacturers often added. Consumers quickly recognized the quality of his product and soon sales of Heinz’s expanded line of horseradish, pickles, sauerkraut, and vinegar were brisk.

Young H.J. was obviously on to something. He listened to his customers and had a relationship with them, he innovated accordingly, based on what he heard from his customers, and he implemented those innovations, even expanding on them — and then repeated the process again and again.

Photo credit:

Customer-led growth is a buzz word now, but it’s proven to be critical for any successful brand. H.J. Heinz planted the roots for not only customer-led growth, but also for what’s best in how brands and organizations use social media to connect and communicate with their customers.

What are some other lessons from H.J. Heinz on customer listening and relationship building that we can apply in the age of social media?

Build Trust by Being Transparent

Just as he aimed to be transparent in selling his own product in clear bottles, H.J. was a driving force in passing the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, a consumer protection law that aimed to prevent the sale or labeling of harmful foods and medicines – and an act that many other food manufacturers of the time opposed. This commitment to product safety and purity helped garner trust among his customers, and it boosted sales for his brand (source).

Transparency is a requisite for any successful brand. It applies to all aspects of a business – from leadership communicating with employees, to ensuring ethical business practices (like properly disclosing partnerships) and communicating successes or failures in an honest way to your stakeholders. In this day and age of interconnectivity and social media, it’s immediately apparent when brands are lacking transparency.

Show and Tell: Communicating Your Value

In the late 1800s, Heinz offered factory tours to demonstrate just how safe and clean his manufacturing process was. The tours highlighted how well he treated his employees through comfortable working conditions and instructing managers to listen to employee concerns. Visitors were also given samples of his products and a pickle pin on the tours. This was such a successful tactic that other companies soon started following suit (source).

H.J. was quoted as saying: “To do a common thing uncommonly well brings success.” It’s commonplace for brands to demonstrate the benefits of a product or service. But doing it exceptionally well – communicating your value in a strategic way that breaks through the clutter – is what drives brand loyalty and spurs positive word of mouth.

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The quote above, “Heart Power is Better than Horsepower,” is the principle on which H.J. founded his business, and defined how he treated his employees (source).

While there is a need to create efficiency and a role for automation in nearly all industries, without that human touch, so much is lost. That human element is critical to process and respond thoughtfully to the concerns of your customers, or your employees.

Listening to Customers

H.J. not only applied his mother’s advice of placing yourself in the other person’s shoes to ensure fair treatment for his employees, but for his customers as well.

Listening is becoming increasingly important, as consumers are quicker than ever to share their unfiltered experiences via social media. Brands that listen – and respond (whether that’s actually responding or using those insights to shape future practices) – to their customers’ concerns reap short- and long-term benefits.

In fact, customers who encounter positive social customer care experiences are nearly three times more likely to recommend a brand (source). When companies engage and respond to customer requests over social media, those customers spend 20-40 percent more money with the company than other customers do (source).

Today I watched a boy skateboard around our building’s parking lot and wondered what might happen if H.J. Heinz had been that boy today. Imagine what he’d build with the help of social media, imagine what he would do with the power to connect “one-on-one” with his customers, but at scale. He’d no doubt build something that changed everything, this time with a smartphone instead of a wheelbarrow, because he carried with him fundamental lessons from his mom — that empathy, understanding, listening and placing yourself in the other person’s shoes are at the heart of all true success.

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