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Nov 16, 2000
How To’s Katja Ayling on Successfully Appealing to Children and Families Online

SUMMARY: Founded in November 1999, is “the essential guide to entertaining kids and families in their local area”. Having started as a guide to London, it now consists of seven sites covering cities and regions across the UK. The company has already begun its international rollout by launching in India. To find out all about it we had a natter with Katja Hug Ayling, Director of Marketing...
Q: What has been most successful for at driving traffic to the site?

Ayling: The most successful activity by far has been coverage of on a Channel 4 programme called ‘I Wish I’d Thought of That’; it was on in the middle of a weekday afternoon, and the second the piece was finished, we were inundated with emails. There are huge advantages in targeting a tightly defined audience as we do, rather than a vague mass of people: you can reach them cost effectively through very specific, even specialised, channels. However, the Channel 4 programme underlined the benefits of mass media too, as it showed us the effect of reaching millions of our target market in one go. More specialised media may allow you to reach only several hundred thousands of people at a time.

Q: What has been less successful at traffic driving? Why do you think that might be?

Ayling: In our experience, offline advertising does not drive traffic - it builds brand awareness, brand stature and underpins brand relevance. This is because the places in which consumers encounter off line advertising are too many steps removed from the PC and the actual site or product being advertised. People’s Internet usage is not yet so ingrained in every day habit that they will automatically look up a relevant site within a couple of hours of seeing an interesting advert. Hence, while a press or tube ad may engage potential users, and make them remember the brand and its relevance, it won’t necessarily make them pro-actively look up the site next time they log on.

Q: In what ways do you measure the success of your campaigns?

Ayling: Due to the visibility of stats it’s possible to tell very quickly whether or not a particular campaign is working, and, by analysing each in terms of cost per acquisition and so on, we’re building up a database of effective marketing campaigns. General awareness and comprehension of your offering is of course a very important success criterion. Traditional blue chip companies usually employ market research agencies to measure brand awareness quantitatively, but most Internet companies have not stretched their budgets this far. Instead they have to rely on interrogating people they meet - much to the embarrassment of my friends, I literally stop people with kids in the street or in the supermarket to ask them if they know about and what it does. This method is certainly not scientific, but is highly satisfying as I’m finding that more and more people - even the majority - respond with recognition in their eyes and say, “yes... I heard about it from my friend,” etc.

Q: How do you encourage site visitors to become registered users?

A: We offer registered users a monthly newsletter, highlighting events and activities of interest. We ask users to give us their postcode, and the ages of their kids so that we can tailor the information we send them – a toddler, for example, would not be too interested a Steps concert! There is very strong interest in the newsletter as it saves users time and energy – they find out about the top events, and some that have been custom-picked for them, without even needing to log on to the site. We also arrange special offers and competitions exclusive to Club Members – for example, we had lots of free tickets to the Prima Baby Show and we offered them to London-based users by email. The percentage of registrations does not really vary across the country, other than in London where we do have more Club Members. This is because we launched 3 months earlier in London, where Internet usage is more prolific, and because we have undertaken a greater level of marketing activity there.

Q: Planit4kids targets a specific community. In what ways do you have to adapt your marketing to the community?

Ayling: Generally speaking, to target the local community we have to make it clear that we cater for all budgets, all levels of Internet confidence, all methods of transport... in other words, we have to make sure that our product offering is very wide, and that prospective users know about it.

We have developed a virtual ring of businesses with like-minded partners - relevant online businesses as well as local service providers, such as nurseries and playgroups. We work together to augment each other’s offerings, in turn improving what we can provide our shared audience in the local community. This is very cost-effective for us – it’s often based on cashless deals that satisfy the needs of 2 or more parties – and it enables us to reach our tightly defined consumer base at relevant times and in relevant places. It also lends us the extra credibility associated with either expert or big, established brands. And, of course, the resulting increases in traffic concerned are a welcome boost to one of our several revenue streams.

Q: What kinds of partnerships work best for

Ayling: We've signed a letter of intent with a leading children’s entertainment brand as part of our strategy of partnering with complimentary media companies, and some impressive partnerships with companies in various other fields, each helping us meet different objectives. By creating this virtual community of organisations who all have a mutual target audience and aim, every member of the network can realise their business objectives in both the short and long term. In the short term we can build awareness of through our partner platforms and improve our product offering, and in the long term this will ultimately increase revenue, increase the popularity of the site, and improve user experience of sources and produces original content, which is valuable to others in the family sector. To date, we’ve set up content partnerships with, (a tailored info provider for young mothers),,, Voila, and Class Act magazine amongst others. We’re currently finalising details with a Top 5 ISP, a women’s interest portal and a top search engine. We’re also organising cross-platform partnerships to develop a Palm/PDA and SMS channels. Our e-commerce partners include,,, and We’ve also established a number of Mutually beneficial partnerships, such as those with, The English Federation of Disabled Sports, and the NSPCC.

Q: Having started with one site you expanded to seven (each covering a different city) very quickly. How has this affected your marketing?

Ayling: We always intended to roll out across the UK and internationally, and we launched the London site first to ensure that we gained practical learning and experience before we went national. We actually brought our UK national roll out forward by several months because the London site was so well received. Our model is to be relevant at a local level throughout the UK, and hence we need to have a very local presence. We advertised, and ran promotions and PR campaigns in regional press throughout the country to deliver this proximity, although there was additional activity in London and the South East to take on board the concentration of population and people with Internet access there. In addition, marketing materials and content were tailored to meet the regional/national needs of Wales and Scotland, in order to achieve the ‘local’ credibility we seek. We have local researchers on the ground in all areas we cover.

Q: What influenced's decision to branch out into India, and how does marketing to India differ from marketing to the UK?

Ayling: The population of India is huge, Internet usage is exploding, and the family ethos is very strong, which makes India the perfect place to roll out The only real difference is that there is a stronger focus on setting up bespoke offline events on behalf of in India as they do not have as many ready made activities, museums, theatres, etc. suitable for children as we have in Europe, and that features strongly in our marketing. So far there have been only successes with the Indian joint venture – in particular the huge launch event, which involved India sponsoring the film ‘Life is Beautiful’ at the first Mumbai Film Festival.

Q: You run small polls and surveys on your sites all the time. What do they tell you about your user base and have there been any real surprises?

Ayling: The polls change regularly and they’re a valuable way for us to create a sense of community on our site. They tell us that there are few regional differences in the attitudes of our users, that they’re particularly concerned about keeping their children occupied, and are prepared to seek actively the ideas and information that will help them achieve this. It was a surprise that over 70% of users favoured school uniform; 60% of respondents in another poll were most concerned that their kids would be bored over half term whereas only 21% were concerned about safety, 10% were most concerned that their kids would be spending time with unsuitable friends and 9% were worried about their kids being unsupervised.

Q: What’s next for the company marketing-wise?

Ayling: We will continue to focus on building relevant partnerships to improve user experience and help families trying to spend quality time together. In addition, we will continue strong online marketing as we have already established a brand with high recognition and brand credibility off line.

Q: What are’s Top Ten Tips for online businesses?


1. Only launch if you are serving a genuine consumer or market need.

2. Only launch on the Internet if it’s core to delivering the benefit of your product; don’t just do it for the sake of it.

3. Insist on getting branding 100% right, as consumers don’t make allowances just because you’re an online brand; consumers will reject any brand they feel they can live without, which is incoherent or does not have or demonstrate a USP.

4. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket; start small, test, then expand.

5. Exert unrelenting budget control.

6. Stick to deadlines rigorously; not only does it enable you to deliver and progress according to your timescales, but it underpins the fact that you have/are a reliable, quality product.

7. Keep your feet on the ground; listen to what’s going on around you and learn from others’ experiences, but don’t get sucked in by hype!

8. Think bigger than you are and set stretching targets. If you don’t you won’t go far.

9. Employ the right people to reflect the kind of company you want to be, rather than the size and scope of company you are at present; a blue chip management team delivers learning experienced organisations have spent millions developing, eg. process management, strategic development, delivering results.

10. Don’t be intimidated by huge blue chip companies or people with big titles who seem to know it all; small organisations often learn much faster and are closer to the cutting edge.
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