Millennial moms are everything brand marketers dream of. They’re digitally connected, they’re opinionated, and they’ve got money to spend. But they’re also inundated with ads on a daily basis, making it difficult for brands to attract attention in such a crowded market.
The family-focused publisher Macaroni Kid is launching a new program that leverages influencer marketing at scale using its network of thousands of locally connected moms across the country.
Macaroni Kid originated as a result of Joyce Shulman and Eric Cohen’s desire to connect moms to their communities via locally focused email newsletters. The husband-and-wife team has spent the last decade growing its brainchild into a major player in the hyperlocal publishing space. The company now supports hundreds of locally licensed editions of its email newsletters and websites.
Macaroni Kid’s email newsletters were originally supported by brands via display ads and eventually through sponsored content and social media. But the company’s latest push is what it calls “local sampling”—distributing products from brands to moms across the country. As part of the program, Macaroni Kid’s publisher moms distribute product samples personally in a mom-to-mom or dad-to-dad fashion. The samples are often distributed in a contextual manner, such as passing out Banana Boat sunscreen at local pools or beaches.
“We like to stay ahead of, or at least right where are brand partners are going, and as much as digital is growing, brands are looking for more authentic connections,” Cohen says. “Our ability to sample locally fits right into that, and we always look to deliver what our partners want.”
Mom bloggers helped create influencer marketing, but Macaroni Kid’s massive network of moms and dads is making it possible for the strategy to scale. Macaroni Kid boasts more than 500 “publisher moms” who live in and engage with the communities they cover. In addition to writing about local events and activities, local publishers are known for trying out family-focused products and services and then detailing their experiences in reviews, live videos, and social media posts. Cohen says Macaroni Kid’s sampling takes the tactic to a new level because it comes with the endorsement of those same locally known influencers.
Although Macaroni Kid offered sampling for brands like PopChips as early as 2011, Cohen says the company has recently moved more deliberately into the space. Recent brand partners include Purell, Wet Ones, Mondalez, Jenny Craig, Entenmann’s, and Deep River Snacks. The company has moved its offices to a warehouse facility with a large loading bay for handling all the pallets and products it’s now receiving.
“Our secret sauce is our ability to connect brands with consumers on a local level, via authentic local influencers,” Cohen says. “Other media outlets can plug into an algorithm to target an audience. We have local moms telling other local moms the scoop as they hand out samples.”
Cohen says that brands have an advantage when they partner with Macaroni Kid because the company’s “samplers” have a significant local reach, and campaigns are geo-targeted to the sampling areas. Local is key for several reasons, chief among them that Macaroni Kid can pinpoint messaging around specific retail partners, like Meijer or Publix.
Although Cohen says he’s yet to see any other companies do something similar to Macaroni Kid’s local sampling at scale, Patch.com and House Party (now known as Ripple Street) come to mind as vendors with similar programs, albeit with very different audiences. Platforms like Influenster, TapInfluence, and Izea are also in the influencer marketing space, as are many of the top blog networks, but Cohen is careful to point out that Macaroni Kid is a community of contracted local publishers, not a blog network.
Macaroni Kid’s local publishers actually live and work in the communities they cover, and they have real relationships with many of their readers. Most of these publishers have reported on and reviewed products and services for years, long before the sampling program was introduced, and they’ve developed reputations for authenticity and accountability. Macaroni Kid’s strategy wagers that consumers are more likely to trust the reviews coming from its local publisher moms than they are generic social media posts from internet influencers.
“It’s one thing to promote a brand into the ether of the internet,” Cohen says. “It’s another to promote it to a neighbor and community member.”
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.