Matt Barlow Transcript      Listen Here

Mark: Welcome to Family First. The Wild World of Marketing to Parents. My name is Mark Giovino CEO and founder at the Allionce Group.

I’d like to welcome Matt Barlow to this episode of Family First. Matt has led marketing and managed brands, including Whirlpool, Slim Jim during his time at ConAgra Foods, Bell Group, and is currently the Director of Marketing at Plum Organics recently acquired by Sun-Maid. Matt, thanks for joining me!

Matt: Thank you. It’s good to be here.

Mark: Let’s start with family first. Tell us about your family, how many kids and what are their ages?

Matt: Yeah. This is always tough. It feels like you’re writing a Christmas card a little bit and you’re boiling down your kids to a sound bite.  I’ve got four, so the oldest, Sam, he’s 14. I’ve got, Ellen’s 12. Kate is 10 and Josie is eight. This is, the lucky part of the year that I can remember their ages without getting in into too much trouble.  They’re all very unique. Sam, right now his big thing is he’s trying to get into the top 1% on Spotify for Taylor Swift listeners.

We’re headed out to her concert this summer. Ellen is as big into soccer sports of, of all kinds. She and I are big Dodgers fans, so we enjoy that. Kate, if you’re putting together a trivia team,  she’s the one that you want on your team. She can memorize any, any fact and pull it out, at any moment.  And then Josie, Josie’s got so much spunk in personality.  She’s doing dance right now so we love participating in all their activities, but that’s kind of what they’ve got going on right now.

Mark: Isn’t it amazing? I have three kids. Isn’t it amazing how they’re all so different, especially the way you just described ’em, their own unique personalities.

Matt: Yeah, and it seems like from year to year it changes.  So they keep you on your toes for sure.

Mark: How has being a parent, especially watching them grow and evolve to, to being unique personalities, how has that changed your perspective as a marketer? Clearly you have your own focus group at home, if you will, kind of a mini focus group. How has being a parent and watching them grow change things for you as a marketer?

Matt: Yeah, I could say it certainly impacted my decision to join Plum Organics. For one. I mean, having gone through. As a parent, and, I wanna caveat that with,  I didn’t birth these children. I certainly have a perspective, but, kudos to my wife and partner Kristen, who did a lot of the heavy lifting and, I’m not doing this certainly on my own, but just one example is I work from home full-time and I remember I was on a call and one of my kids. You can see the stairs from my office, and one of the kids was melting down and I’m trying to have a call and she’s melting down and I’m like, all right, time out. I have to go deal with this.  I say that because what it has done for me, being a parent and a marketer, has, whether by choice or just out of necessity has led me to prioritize.

Whether it’s my family or, or work. And sometimes there’s more family and, and less work, sometimes more work, less family. You have to prioritize and as a marketer you have to do the same thing. You can’t do everything. You start with a plan, a budget of, here’s a laundry list of things I would like to get accomplished. Here’s all the people that I would like to buy our product, and you’ve really gotta focus. You’ve gotta decide what are my trade-offs? What, who am I gonna speak to and what does that mean in terms of who I’m not going to speak to? So I think, I think it’s helped me with prioritization. It’s helped me understand trade-offs. I threw out budget maybe, maybe budgeting is part of it too. It’s helped with that piece of it.

Mark: As a parent with four children for sure. I’m sure that’s helped you. Yeah. Right. Now, you, mentioned a couple minutes ago, in some respects that having four children, I dunno if inspired is the right word, but helped with that decision to join Plum Organics.

Can you talk more about that? Was it because you went through the process so much of having the pouches and looking for the right organic foods for your children? Or, what can you tell us about, about that with your own kids and what inspired you to take on this role currently with Plum?

Matt: When you have kids and  I don’t wanna say that only parents can understand this, with my kids, you understand how important it is, how important their growth and development is, and really how much emphasis we place on that. And so I felt like I could bring a unique perspective to the team.

Having gone through that and having seen my kids grow up, they’re certainly not grown. They’re still in the house and, but we’ve now moved a little bit past the baby food stage. But having lived through that and being able to empathize a little bit with. I’ll say moms a lot, but parents and caregivers of all types. I can empathize with a little bit of, of what that struggle is like of,  getting a text and saying, Hey, can you pick up baby food on the way home? And standing in front of a shelf at, at Target or Walmart and saying,  I don’t know what I’m supposed to be getting it just, and being overwhelmed by it.

Right. So feeling like I could come to, Plum , and bring some of that insight and say, you know, here’s a pain point that I know parents have as they’re, as they’re shopping, as they’re trying to understand what’s best for their kids. I feel like I could bring a unique perspective there.

Mark: For some listening, that either are not parents or maybe have misperceptions, aren’t familiar with Plum, can you give a quick overview for the product mix and who you are as a company?

Matt: Plum Organics started as a startup in Emeryville, California and has changed ownership a couple times. And we’ve owned the brand. The Sun-Maid organization has owned the brand for about 18 months.

We offer fully organic line of products and that kind of starts from infants to toddlers. So we have, we have pouches and purees for those babies who are just kind of moving into solid foods up through different types of snacks, all with the intent to give mom opportunities for babies to expand their palates.

That’s one thing that we hear quite a bit is, we wanna make sure that our children don’t grow up only craving chicken nuggets. That’s like the verbatim we hear over and over again. So we wanna make sure we’re offering those, whether it’s purees or that have the right mix of sweet, sour, savory, different textures so that babies can learn and grow and expand those pallets so that as they get older, they feel more and more comfortable, with not just experiences as it relates to food, but experiences in general.

Mark: Well , that insight is gold. I think for most parents being able to get away from serving chicken nuggets four or five nights of the week alone is is enough reason to try Plum Organics. What are some of the unique challenges you’ve found on marketing to new moms? Especially with the understanding that life is just chaos. For mothers or parents in general. What are some of the challenges you’ve found in that marketing makes and how to help?

Matt: Yeah, for sure.  As we talk about new moms, one of the key challenges is every month we lose a big subset of those moms as their kids age out of baby food. So it’s this constant leaky bucket where we’re needing to remind new moms that we’re here, that this is what we provide. We’re a brand for you. So just that piece of it, of constantly seeing turnover in the category. So that’s a big part of it. And for us it’s making sure that they understand that we have offerings for them from when their baby is six months old to when their child is two years old. We have products all along that journey. So that’s, a big part of it. And they change their needs. So there’s a need there, up to the point when they’re trying to tie their baby over till their next mealtime so that we have some, what we call some teeny snacks or some things just to  keep them from having too much of a tantrum until their, their next feeding.

So that’s part of it. Their needs states change as they go from their child being six months old to their child being 18 months or two years old.  So constantly reinforcing that message. And we have partners that we work with. to help reach them in each of those stages.

Mark: So that’s, that’s a really interesting, very narrow product set and time frame. Now I understand why you referenced that being the biggest challenge cuz they age in and age out in such a quick churn that must be one of the bigger challenges.  You alluded to this too, not only moms, but dads too. And with dads maybe this generation more than any other, likely the two of us may be an example, but with guys being more involved at home, but also other caregivers beyond the immediate family, whether it’s grandparents or aunts and uncles. How has that complexity changed things for you? I think years ago it used to be a little bit more simple. I mean, used to be easier just if you focus your marketing plan on marketing to moms. That was the extent of it. But now there’s so many more folks involved in that caregiving. What does that look like for you at at Plum, and how do you address it?

Matt: Yeah, good question. We were looking at this I think just a few days ago. I do wanna be clear. I mean, we look at the data, and it’s still 65, 70% of the purchase decision makers are moms. And so we, speak heavily to them, but one thing you’ll see is, we’ve had the brand for about 18 months, so we’re refreshing creative from packaging to website to digital media. You’ll see going forward that we  are placing an emphasis on representation in our creative to make sure that that those individuals are accounted for. So whether it’s a parent who’s male presenting or female presenting, or gay couples or straight couples or grandparents, we wanna make sure that we are inclusive as a brand and that representation is coming across. Another interesting point is, and this is, you know, I don’t know if this impacts our marketing necessarily, but we’ve seen it especially during the pandemic as, more, baby boomers and Gen Xers, we see that tick up a little bit in terms of their their buying power in the category which suggests that you’ve got more individuals living from home or have moved in with. Grandparents or vice versa, grandparents have moved in with them they’re making some of the purchases as well. So I don’t know that that would impact necessarily our, our marketing, but it is something that we’re being mindful of and, and trying to be aware of.

Mark: Especially when you talk about the journey over the last 18 months, it sounds like,  it’s the packaging, it’s a website, it’s a digital, it’s very much the diverse representation as you just talked about for creative messaging.  Have you turned on yet the go to market strategy and what does that look like beyond some of the back of the house, so to speak? What does the front of the house start to look like, If that’s a fair analogy?

Matt: Yeah, for sure. And, and you know, we will always be, I say always that, that’s my mindset right now is that we’ll always be a digital first brand.  Given the, the age of most of our parents. So it’s millennial moms and starting to be some Gen Z parents as well. That’s just how they consume media is digitally and so mobile first typically.  That’s a big part of it for us. And we try to start with how is she consuming media and given the craziness of her life.

It’s usually in these snackable moments. So she has 15 minutes here.  She has, you know, 10 minutes while she’s feeding a baby. So, so given that, you’ll see that that influence our, our media mix. So, social for example, is going to be big for us and we’ll continue to be big for us.

We focus on earned and paid media.  PR I talked about earned, but  PR continues to be a, a key point for us as well. And then we’ll expand as we move forward. But always with that focus on how does mom consume media and that’s, and that’s always gonna be kind of our North star.

Mark: Are there any new channels or media, maybe less so sponsorships given what you just articulated, but are there any new channels that you’re paying attention to, especially with such a fragmented marketplace? It seems like there’s always something new, shiny cool within the marketing ecosystem, which may or may not mean we should be paying attention to it, but at the least you should be aware of it. Are there anything new that’s really caught your eye that you’re giving a another look to or trying to learn more about?

Matt: For us there’s a mix, right of, of new and just areas that we haven’t played in up to this point. I talk about kind of the snackable media options for them, and one of the things that we struggle with, and I think all brands struggle with, is the constantly evolving and changing algorithms on social channels. So, who’s seeing my content? And so we work on the meta platforms with Instagram and Facebook and it always becomes difficult to make sure mom is seeing your content. So we’re looking at opportunities on different social media channels that  have opportunity for more virality potentially. Whether that’s TikTok or new channels in the future. That’s something we’re always keeping our, our eye on. And then areas that we just maybe haven’t played in the past that we’ll, we’re looking to play in potentially in the future. So that’s, connected tv or pre-roll or digital out of home. Those are some areas that we’re also, uh, taking a look at as well as we look to kind of ramp up our media.

Mark: Is it fair to assume that influencers are part of your strategy, mom influencers or will be?

Matt: Absolutely. I failed to mention that. So influencers.  It’s interesting because we know that, that our moms look to kind of three key sources as sources that they trust. So it’s, it’s friends, it’s family, and, and it’s pediatricians, those three.  So for us, we see that influencers kind of fall under the friends, bucket. There’s a lot of individuals and moms who look at these influencers  as individuals they trust is almost as they would friends. And they trust them as much or, or maybe not quite as much, but close to what they would trust a pediatrician.

So, that’s certainly an area for us. We’ll continue to focus. We’re working with a registered dietician, her name is Molina Malcon, to kind of help with some of that. She helps land that credibility of having someone who is naturally a Plum consumer, but also has that credibility to speak to this is what, uh, this is the, the right time to use pouches.

This is when you want to introduce snacks to baby. That’s important for us that we have a, you know, a clinical voice in, in what we’re delivering to mom. So  helps kind of guide our influencer strategy as well.

Mark: When we think about friends that you talk about, a good friend is always someone that’s there to support. I think Plum does a nice job positioning as playing a role as a mental health support resource for parents.  Can you talk more about and, and if not now, I’m assuming that there’ll be a content strategy that may align with that type of approach to help.  You and I have lived it as parents that parenthood is a lot harder than you ever expected and so what, any resource.  I think when you start by helping first. as opposed to selling first. You know, those that can look, look to Plum Organics and say, wow, they’ve given me this content to support my journey. That was so helpful. That just significantly increases any brand equity metrics or favorability. But tell us more about that journey and what you’re doing to as a resource to support?

Matt: Yeah, a hundred percent glad you brought that up. That’s something that we wanna be the brand that mom looks to as this is a brand that supports my mental health journey. That’s our kind of north star. That’s  where we want to to be because, and it is something I’m so, I’m so passionate about my, I, you know, I talked about my wife Kristen a little bit. She’s a therapist and she works with a lot of her focus is a little bit more on, on adolescents and teens as it relates to mental health. But especially during covid, we, you know, there’s this, there’s this big really pandemic in terms of the mental health. And it’s one thing that we hear over and over that mom struggles with is,  we always talk about mom needing a village and not all moms have that village. We’re working with in terms of partnerships. One of our key partners is 2020 Mom, and they’re, and they’re focused on helping to reduce the stigma around mental health. And as we can reduce that stigma, that helps more and more and more moms reach out and get the mental health resources that she needs. So they’re helping shape that strategy for us.  One of the things that we’re focused on iswhat’s the right place for a brand like Plum to play as it relates to mental health? Because  we talked about millennial moms and Gen Z moms. They wanna make sure that what they’re seeing from brands is authentic. And that it, it’s not just lip service. And so that’s, that’s key for us, and you’ll see more and more of that going forward, with a focus , on that piece of it, of making sure that mom, if she doesn’t have a village, how can we help create for her, that digital village that, provide those resources for her if she’s struggling where she can understand that there’s others that are going through that as well.

That’s key for us is we hear more and more, that they’re looking for help in terms of navigating. Their mental health journey. Nobody is going to fix mental health overnight. That’s always going to be a struggle. So we wanna help them navigate that. Especially our younger moms, our Gen Z moms feel much more comfortable, being open about mental health. So, we want to lean into that. We wanna help them, uh, talk about it, feel open about it, and then get the resources they need to.

Mark: It’s evident the way you describe and talk about not only mental health and being a resource, but everything to this point, I think is either directly indirectly grounded in insights and data. Can you tell us more about that and maybe advice you can offer other colleagues across the market e ecosystem for the right way to approach, the primary research, the data, gleaning the insights and how you apply those to, you know, your, your, your brand.

Matt: For us, you know, marketing has always talked about is a mixture of art and science, and more and more we’re, we’re being, well, I’d say being asked to and rightfully so, to be more on the science side, especially as we’re spending more and more on marketing. We need to be able to justify that spend, whether it’s justifying it on the backend or asking for it on the front end, you need to be able to show, uh, okay, what is this gonna deliver for the business? So we, we make sure, you know, before we’re asking or, uh, and, and certainly as we’re spending that we have the right KPIs and metrics in place.

So on the digital side, we make sure we’re looking at our, whether it’s our clickthrough rates, our return on ad spend, cost per click or cost per thousand. All of these metrics that we put in place to make sure, especially if you have a digital plan, so that you can adjust those on the fly and optimize, there’s no reason given, uh, the way the medium mixes now, that you’re not optimizing month to month and improving your spend and doing, a and b testing and all of that to make sure that what you’re delivering becomes more and more efficient and more and more effective. So those things are gonna be key for us. And then of course, when we talk about things like mental health, to keep ourselves on us, we have our brand health tracker where we ask consumers, is Plum a brand that stands for mental health?

And if we’re not moving the needle on things like that, it’s okay, let’s, let’s revisit the strategy, not because, it’s about us necessarily wanting to drive sales, from something like.  But if we truly wanna be mom’s partner as it relates to mental health, if we’re not moving the needle on that piece,  then we’re doing something wrong, or we’re not being as effective as we would like to be. So we need to go back and revisit what we’re doing to be more effective, to better hit on the insight that we know is real.

Mark: You talked about some of the metrics, especially with digital. How do you approach the right balance? Because it, it feels in some respects that very, generally speaking, sometimes a pendulum can swing too far one way or the other. Sometimes it’s going too far to the data and the science and you’re losing the art and the essence of the creativity and the intuition around helping mom along her mental health journey. How do you think about that to make sure you don’t go too far to the science side and the data side. Have you figured out like what, what’s the right, right balance there?

Matt: For me, I find if my eyes are starting to glaze over for being in Excel spreadsheets all day, that’s probably, uh, it’s probably too much.

Mark: And that might be the best, that might be the best approach.

Matt: For us a big part of what we’re trying to do is we wanna be experts in the marketing, on the marketing side as it relates to media and metrics, so that we can, in our discussions with our agencies, that we can be, we can ask the right questions. We become partners as opposed to just, consumers of their recommendation. If that makes sense. Not that we don’t trust them. We hire agencies and we work with them because of their expertise. We wanna make sure that we know our business, we know our consumer. We wanna make sure we’re adding value as well as we have those conversations. In terms of the right mix, I think it’s helpful for me just because I enjoy both sides of it.

So, you know, my right brain will let me know when, hey, it’s time to move over to left brain work. And vice versa. It’s in terms of, in terms of, oh, I wish I had advice on how to do it better, but for me, it comes a little bit naturally in terms of both. I think you can get creative from both sides of it.

Mark: And you mentioned the agency roster. I’m curious to know cause you’re only, what about 18 months, I think you said, or or not even quite two years into the Sun-Maid acquisition? How is that integration been and are you fully integrated to this stage? And is the roster of agencies the same or is Plum still working, independently?

Matt: So Plum works fairly independently, but there are resources that we share. Internally we do share some agency resources and some are unique to Plum. So for example, we work with Madewell  on the creative side, they’re based out of Brooklyn, so they’re just our Plum creative agency. Whereas we have different agencies on the Sun-Maid side, we work with Havas Media and Havas Formula on the PR side, and those are shared in between. And then we work with Unfold as our social media agency, and they’re shared between Sun-Maid and Plum as well. So there’s shared resources. There’s just a few of us who are Plum only employees at this point. We’re pretty integrated. I like to think, I mean, I work outta my home office in Chicago, they keep me pretty integrated still, so I appreciate that, but there’s road bumps. There’s bumps along the way as we continue to, ramp up for sure. But I’ve been very impressed with, how we’ve gotten up to speed in that amount of time.

Mark: When you talk about being a digital first or that’s the approach and overarching strategy. Can you talk for a minute about this renewed interest in the experience economy whether it’s coming out of the pandemic or otherwise, it was gonna be a natural evolution to this point. You know, families with young kids, speaking of mental health, I think that alone is healthy. How, if at all, has that impacted to supplement or support your overarching strategy? Are there certain experiences or venues, or spaces or places you’ve found new moms like to go where you can be a part of that journey? Or is that secondary or not as much a part of the mix? I’m curious to know your thoughts on the experience economy and if there’s a role for Plum to play there?

Matt: There certainly is a role for Plum. We were at Expo West, last week already. It was refreshing to see parents with strollers, going around that trade show, which is traditionally for, I say professionals that, but, it seemed like it’s a much safer space for parents to bring their kids. Not just to to Expo West, but just in general to bring them to, to some of these environments. And we were chasing parents down and giving. Giving them samples to make sure that they were aware of our brand. For us, in terms of the experience economy, what we, I talked a little bit about our, our earned agency Havas Formula.

We’re working with them to make sure we’re creating these experiences where mom can go out and do things with their child, and we can help support that. We’re looking at mental health, we’re looking at ways that we can, and this is still preliminary at this point, but can we partner with some organizations like a cycle bar or something like that where mom can bring their child and exercise and things like that are so important to mom’s mental health. So how can we do some of those things that will support and promote, both the mental health side and both, mom’s ability to get out and experience the world  with their child.

Mark: Let’s end, as we started with, with your family, especially with four kids, all with very different interests. What are some activities or experiences you and the family in do find, that you’re able to, to enjoy together?

Matt: Yeah, that’s a good question. Sometimes people will ask me, you know, what do you do for fun? And it’s hard cuz it’s easy to think, I’m losing myself a little bit because of my kids. And I really don’t feel that way at all. Like, yes, my, what I like to do has kind of taken a backseat a little bit, but we have such a good time together. The kids had a day off a few weeks back and I took ’em into the city and we. we like to walk around downtown Chicago. We took ’em to the field museum and to the art museum. I say they like that. They put up with it for probably 30 minutes and then they liked that we got lunch. But we love, you know, dance parties in the kitchen. We love going to each other’s and, and supporting each other’s, whether it a band concert or a soccer.

I love that my kids are supportive of one another. We all participate in our faith and at church and,  they like that, or they at least tell me they do. And, so that’s, we appreciate that.

Mark: And  I wonder if what I’m hearing is true in that sometimes it’s not even necessarily the specific experiences that you’re enjoying time together with family and whatever that moment is.

Matt: And, it’s not all roses for sure. There’s struggle, but I think there’s beauty in the struggle for real. And I think that’s true for my family. It’s true for building a business, building a brand. But, I firmly believe in that.

Mark: Well, Matt, thank you so much for the conversation and for joining me! This was, this was enlightening and very informative and fun. Thank you.

Matt: Yeah, thank you, Mark!

Mark: And thank you for listening in to  this episode of Family First, the Wild World of Marketing to Parents!


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