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What kind of household manager is she?
What’s her level of education?
How does she make a living?
Where does she like to shop?
What’s her style?
And our favorite, what benefits does she seek in category x?

If you want to get to know today’s moms, as a target, audience, a customer, or just as people, these questions might get you started…But to really know today’s moms, we think there’s one question that is often missed: who are her kids?

Many marketers today, even those who create products explicitly for kids, tailor their messages to their parents. Many accept that mom is no longer merely a gatekeeper, but also a researcher and strategist– trying to figure out the needs of her children and align those needs with her own goals for them, her budget and her own wants. But in a world in which mom teams and kid occupy different floors in organizations, and moms are treated merely as a sub-group of women, we think there’s an opportunity to think differently about our mom-learning agendas…

Take for instance, the grocery store. In thinking about moms of little kids, retailers do a pretty good job of thinking about the child reality in crafting the parent experience. They know that exploring the produce section doesn’t hold the interest of most preschoolers, mom will likely find a way to make less frequent visits to a store if her child throws a tantrum. And as much as she might like her local Whole Foods, or might prefer a discount store, she’s likely to shift her habits if it means a happy child. Enter the car-attached-to-the-cart…Yes, moms might get an unintended workout trying to navigate these bulky vehicles down the aisles, and even moms who don’t mind a few germs might cringe at these Petri dishes on wheels, but she feels like she’s satisfied her most important stakeholder.

But ironically, when it comes to older children who we can assume to have more agency and more persuasive arguments for experiences, products and services that they want, marketers increasingly attend only to mom. Mom’s agenda matters, but even when she’s cutting back financially on things for herself, she’s often willing to spend on her kids. And she might prioritize attributes like health or quality, but really, when push comes to shove, she’s often looking for clues that her kids will love product x first. When we tell her that a snack is healthy, we might be cluing her in to what her child will like about it – after all, more and more kids prefer or at least accept nutritious noshing. But wouldn’t it be more compelling to find out what her kids really want out of a great snack and tell her about that? Or provide her with a more authentic narrative about what other kids love about an experience or service?

Obviously, we think the answer is “yes.” There might be some merit in telling parents what they want to hear. There’s no doubt that parents gain a sense of satisfaction around having their own lists checked, even if their children’s aren’t. And one could argue that moms won’t find children’s reality nearly as compelling as her own aspiration. But we think that’s underselling moms. Today’s mom is as interested in getting to know her child’s needs as she is in making sense of her own. And we think understanding moms without truly understanding her children misses more than just the context – it misses the core insight into what’s driving mom’s behavior today.

So next time you’re talking to moms, consider asking them who their children are and what they really want. And when Mom has completed her story, then ask her kids.