Think it’s hard to pick out clothing for a woman? Try picking out clothing for a pregnant woman whose body is changing on a daily basis.
Or, if you’re really up for a challenge, try to tell new moms and dads what to do with their sleepless infants. Or convince parents to spend more money on a play yard with a robotized setup.
Yet tech companies that cater to pregnant couples and new parents wade into these touchy waters every day. They face specific challenges that most consumer technology companies can happily avoid — and for what? Customers who will forget about them after baby grows out of one particular phase? (Don’t feel too bad for these companies: They’ve staked out a candid audience of parents and the four million babies born in the U.S. every year.)
I started wondering about this earlier in the month when Stitch Fix, a company that sends hand-picked boxes of clothing and accessories for a fee, took the brave step of adding maternity clothing to its lineup.
So this week, I took a break from my usual product reviews to take a deep dive into what baby-centric technology companies go through. I learned how their marketing and development differ from traditional consumer tech brands, and what they do to understand their passionate and oh-so-particular clients.
The answers were fascinating — and not just because I’m expecting a baby this summer.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the most interesting things I learned:
Parents buy name-brand, expensive products to feel more confident.
Parenting tactics can be a lot like making a meal from scratch. You grab whatever is around, stir in a few ingredients, see if they work, and later attempt to remember what you did so you can make the same winning dish again. If you do this well time after time, you gain confidence.
But the opposite is also true. Parents, especially those who are digitally savvy, will sometimes spend a lot of money on products for kids because these products promise to make life easier, thus helping parents feel more confident.
Several companies capitalize on this by offering high-end versions of their products for a high-end fee, leaving parents to wonder what kind of parent they will be if they don’t splurge on something.
“People just want the best for their kids, and don’t care what it costs,” said Allyson Downey, CEO and founder of weeSpring, a website used by parents to rate and recommend products for others. “Parents have a deep-seated level of insecurity that they’re doing something wrong, and sometimes money can be a proxy for that.”
Downey’s site aims to get parents reading reviews of alternate options that may be lesser-known but better-liked, relieving parents of some of the guilt they feel when cheaping out on baby products.
Loyalty is defined by evangelism, not repeat purchases.
Because kids grow and change so quickly, baby-focused tech companies have a finite time to capture and engage pregnant women and new parents.
But all of the companies I spoke with said word-of-mouth was more valuable than traditional advertising — and that customer loyalty can be established even during a short timeframe.
“Our No. 1 form of advertising is the mom in the trenches,” said Teresa Hammond, vice president of marketing at 4moms, which incorporates robotics into baby devices and promises simplicity. “She knows a lot, and she’ll tell other moms.”
Hammond is right, and I know this from experience. I’ve tried many times to set up a popular Pack ’n Play portable crib from Graco — a competitor of 4moms — with frustrating results.
Meanwhile, the 4moms alternative, called the Breeze, sets up with a press of a button; see my full review here. (It also costs $300 compared to the Graco Pack ’n Play, which can cost as little as $40, but remember that point about parents spending more to feel better about themselves.)
And of course, I told a lot of my fellow-mom friends about the Breeze.
Companies selling to pregnant women and parents actually pay attention to customer feedback.
Time after time, the companies I spoke with described pregnant and new parents as passionately opinionated and well worth hearing.
“You have to always be a listening company,” said Dulcie Madden, co-founder and CEO of Rest Devices Inc., which makes the Mimo Baby. This product is made up of a sleep monitor and app that get data from sensors on a baby’s pajamas (full review here).
Rest Devices does all of its own customer service, taking what it learns from parents and applying that to how the company markets and builds its product.
4moms has a similar strategy, filling its office with babies that get used for testing.
“We don’t just want tech for tech’s sake,” said Hammond of 4moms. “We want to solve for pain points, so we have a lot of feedback throughout the process.”
They look for ways to keep you coming back beyond pregnancy and baby years.
These and other baby-tech companies are keenly aware that their time with a family is limited. This model doesn’t always lend itself to recurring revenue or repeat purchases, which traditional tech companies might get from more regular subscribers or buyers. Because of that, many of them are anxious to grow into broader categories.
Mimo, the maker of “smart” baby pajamas, is currently developing products for babies as they grow older, including tools for potty training and early childhood education.
In early 2016, 4moms will launch a car seat that uses the company’s robotic knowledge to install itself — something every parent dreads. Though this car seat is geared toward infants, it allows the company to eventually transition into car seats for older kids, expanding the age range of 4moms products.
WeeSpring’s long-term goal is to be used by parents until their kids leave for college. The company says it wants to grow from baby-focused (prenatal through preschool) products to include reviews of products that parents find vital in their kids’ everyday lives.
Stitch Fix’s founder and CEO, Katrina Lake, said the original reason her styling service added maternity wear to its lineup was that the company felt it was failing its pregnant clients for six months of their lives.
“I want her to feel like herself when she’s pregnant,” said Lake.
Of course, the CEO also hopes that new clients who come into Stitch Fix for maternity clothing can later graduate out of maternity into “regular” Stitch Fix clothing and accessories.
I ordered a “fix” for myself, just to see what the company’s maternity clothing was like. I first edited my profile on the site to enter my due date, which told the stylist how far along I was. The clothing pieces that arrived were right on point: They were stylish, in color families that I liked, and didn’t include any unhelpful horizontal stripes — one of my requests in a note to my stylist.
I’ll likely pause my monthly Stitch Fix deliveries for now. I have too many hand-me-down maternity clothes from friends to justify spending a lot on new maternity clothing every month. But I’ll likely remain a regular Stitch Fix customer after my pregnancy.
Just as babies grow quickly, so must the tech companies that bring you products for them. And the products have to be impressive enough for busy parents to share with friends. It’s encouraging to see that at least some tech companies are thoughtful in their approaches to this market.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.