March 29, 2004
What's the best way to reach educated, new stay-at-home moms? Entrepreneur Julie Aigner-Clark did such a great job of it, that Disney offered to buy her out.
Learn how she conducted low-cost focus groups, got lots of publicity, and worked deals with both independent retailers and large chains:
If anyone knows how to market to parents of babies, it's Julie Aigner-Clark, founder of The Baby Einstein Company. "I looked at myself as being a perfect market for the product," she explains. "College educated, staying home, going a little bit nuts…"
Aigner-Clark created her first video geared to babies in 96, her second in 97, grew the company like gangbusters -- and then sold to The Walt Disney Company in 2001. She's still involved writing books for the brand - in fact she's on her 47th.
Here are her top six tactics for building a business marketing to new parents.
-> Tactic #1. Attend trade shows with a specific goal in mind
Aigner-Clark first created the video for her own baby because she couldn't find what she was looking for -- a video geared towards infants teaching an appreciation of the arts -- in the marketplace.
She sent it off to high-end specialty stores such as The Right Start as well as the main headquarters of Toys 'R Us.
"I thought all these people would be calling me in a week," she says. "Of course, nobody called."
So she decided to attend the American International Toy Fair in New York. Because she couldn't afford a booth, she walked the floor with a single goal in mind: "I was going to look at every person's nametag and find a buyer from The Right Start," she says.
For two days, she wandered past thousands of booths and people, clutching her video and peering at nametags. Finally, she walked past a group of women and saw the name she was looking for.
"I rushed up to them, said hi, I have this great video. I kind of terrified them with my enthusiasm," she remembers. "I think they took the video out of fear that I was going to attack them."
A couple of weeks later, The Right Start requested 100 videos for a test in 10 stores. A week after that, they asked for 100 more. The video did about $100,000 in the first year of sales; a second video the next year did over $1 million.
-> Tactic #2. Give moms what they want
Parents want their babies to be happy. They want to know what will make their babies feel good, and what's going to be good *for* them.
You can't market to babies, of course. "The parent had to be the first one to pick it off the shelf," Aigner-Clark explains. With that in mind, she knew that, besides a unique product, she needed a great name to entice parents.
The names of the products -- "Baby Einstein," "Baby Mozart," "Baby Van Gogh" -- implied babies would see a world of art and culture. When competitive products eventually came out, Aigner- Clark wasn't concerned.
The name Baby Genius, for example, stinks, she thinks. "It says, 'I want my baby to be a genius,' which is a bad thing. It's wrong to be just all about making your baby smart. Our point was, expose your baby to beautiful things."
And despite newfound competition, Sales of Baby Einstein didn't show even a blip.
-> Tactic #3. Harness the networking power of moms
Aigner-Clark has learned that mothers may be the most powerful advocates a product can have. She mentions two groups of mothers in particular:
a. Stay-at-home moms in play groups
Don’t sneer: if you're marketing to parents of infants and toddlers, play groups are cheap focus groups. Aigner-Clark learned more about what infants and babies want through her own children and their play dates than anywhere else.
"Disney is all about focus groups," she explains. "They'd tell me, 'We're going to ask focus groups how people feel about art for babies,' and I'd tell them how people feel. Then they'd go spend a million dollars and come back and say, 'Here's what we learned,' and I'd say, 'Yeah, I told you that.'"
Plus, you can't beat the kind of grassroots, word-of-mouth marketing found at play groups: "When somebody says, 'Oh my God, Andrew was up all night and I popped in Baby Einstein and he stopped crying,' Mommies will support that."
b. Working mothers
Aigner-Clark did essentially no marketing for Baby Einstein, but she did a fair amount of publicity. And it all happened because mothers in the media discovered how unique a product the Baby Einstein videos were.
She got coverage in People magazine, Time, and on Oprah. In each case, it came about because "someone there had a baby who was already a Baby Einstein fan," she says.
-> Tactic #4. Maintain your early relationships
The specialty market was Baby Einstein's first niche. "They have small stores with educated sales people who can talk about every product," she explains. "We had a great relationship with those people, but when we went into the mass market, we knew they'd be upset with us."
Specialty stores couldn't afford to compete with Wal-Mart and Target. So Aigner-Clark came up with an idea to help them. "Instead of taking away their business, we included a music CD that was packaged with the videos. If you bought the video at The Right Start, you got both."
Baby Einstein didn't charge the specialty stores extra for the videos packaged with CDs, and parents couldn't buy those videos anywhere else.
"The specialty retailers were happy because they had something that was exclusive and they didn't have to pay more for it. It was our way to keep them loyal and say thank you to them for everything they had done for us. Without that specialty market, we would have been dead in the water."
-> Tactic #5. Sell when it's time (and then let it go)
Baby Einstein had reached the point where it couldn't grow any more without serious advertising, trade shows presence, and international focus.
"We knew it was the right time, because we had taken it as far as it could go without it taking away our personal lives," she says. She approached Disney, who promptly said yes.
That part was easy. The difficult part, she says, was letting go. "I went through all the stages of grieving. It's a great thing, it's made my life easier financially, but it was really, really hard," she says. "Sometimes I still know Baby Einstein better than Disney, despite all their research."
-> Tactic #6. Use your popularity to form partnerships
Aigner-Clark has now teamed up with John Walsh, host of America's Most Wanted, to form "The Safe Side", a new line of videos geared towards teaching kids to stay safe in challenging situations.
With Walsh's expertise in helping families recover missing children (his main goal since his son was murdered in 1981) and Aigner-Clark's track record in teaching children and creating winning videos, she hopes to repeat Baby Einstein's success.
And, when the percussionist from Hootie and the Blowfish, a favorite band of Aigner-Clark, emailed her a year ago to tell her that he loved the Baby Einstein videos, they stayed in touch. He eventually wrote the theme song for the new product.