dissecting digital: lingerie brand, HotMilk

Sexy maternity lingerie? 

My young mind raced as these two dynamic, real-life, ass-kicking, cheque-cashing Bay of Plenty business women told me that yes, sexy, maternity and lingerie were three words that could now feature in the same sentence - sentences that I would need to get onto writing for an editorial feature in the local newspaper.

I met the owners of Hotmilk at a café to talk shop, where they handed me a product catalogue full of sexy pregnant women sexily lazing about wearing sexy lingerie. Mind blown.

Co-founder Lisa Ebbing told me a version of this story at the time:

"The inspiration came when I was pregnant with my first child. After a lifetime of wearing beautiful lingerie I was horrified with the maternity lingerie I was being offered. I'm pregnant, not 90." - Stuff.co.nz

It wasn't the last I'd ever hear of Hotmilk, with the brand popping up across my periphery every now and then during my travels, and taking place at top of mind when I found myself expecting a bébé in La France.

By that point, the brand had placement with European stockists and finally, I was poised to make a hot little milky purchase.

But I didn't.

We were spending so much on setting up for our impending arrival I simply couldn't justify dropping $60-$80 on one piece of fancy lingerie that I'd be using for a limited time. Yes, their campaign imagery was stunning; yes, I wanted to be like those beautiful blooming ladies, but motherhood brought out the martyr in me - only the best for baby, scraps for mum.

Fortune Magazine has my back:

"The money that the average expectant woman puts towards clothes during her pregnancy can be a financial burden in and of itself. And it comes alongside other massive expenses—nursery furniture, baby supplies, not to mention impending medical bills."

See? Yikes, right?? I got myself on down to H&M and dropped £19.99 on a two-pack.

Take a look around the web and you'll find hoards of mamas that share the same sentiment.

"I felt so guilty about spending money on a temporary maternity wardrobe when there were so many other things we “needed” to get ready for our baby’s arrival. And that’s how I ended up wearing a combination of “Buy 2 Get 1 Free” uniboob sports bras and fall-apart, bargain bras from the deepest corners of Ebay." - Samantha Levang, The West Coast Mommy

*This blogger was later given Hotmilk bras to review, and raves about their quality and fit.

A Huggies forum thread sees a group of mums discussing the best nursing bras on the market, with several recommending Hotmilk after admitting to buying them at a reduced price.

"I agree Hotmilk ones are great but very ££ unless you get them in a big sale." - MumsNet user

Yep, there aren't many things a mother loves more than a high quality item for a didn't-have-to-dig-into-the-nappy-budget price.

Despite some mums hesitancy to drop the RRP on these beautiful bras, the brand is a raging success; winning awards, picking up glowing press from the likes of New York Times, Shape Magazine and Lucire, making millions in sales every year with stockists in more than 25 countries.

Tauranga - epicentre of a worldwide lingerie revolution! Can that be our new town slogan?

So people are buying into Hotmilk - us martyr mums with a keen eye for a sale, and then...who else?

The luxury market, I'd hazard a guess.

The average woman spends £130 per pregnancy in the UK and $200 in the US on maternity clothing and accessories, but the figures shared on mum-chat forums vary wildly. So we're definitely talking about the above averages, like the celebrity mothers that Hotmilk counts as fans - a Kardashian, a Home and Away star and Dharma and Greg's Jenna Elfman. You're lying if you say you know her from something else.

From where I'm sitting, they're just a little cross-section of that lucrative luxury market for Hot Milk - those women who have enough money to not have to question spending it on themselves; those who are accustomed to having nice things/wearing beautiful clothes/being fabulous and who don't want to sacrifice their style for pregnancy and motherhood. The same people that might drop $600 on leather maternity leggings.

Hotmilk bras are expensive; but a lot of specialised maternity underwear is. Most of it scores points on practicality alone, while Hotmilk offers something above and beyond. 

Their campaign imagery just reflects that. It's fashion-forward, lush, expensive looking. More Agent Provocateur than Bendon Outlet. Totally fitting too - they're selling a dream, an emotional purchase that converts outside the realm of the logical. We'd buy a Hotmilk bra because we want the lifestyle that their campaign imagery represents. Sexy, empowered, in control and achingly stylish...all with a bambino on board.

Hot Milk's advertising has at times been controversial, but it has always been ground-breaking, aspirational and empowering for their audience. Three things any luxury maternity bra brand would do well to achieve. Three things that could serve as a to-do list for basically everything that this brand does, actually.

In fact, on the brand's 'about us' page, they describe their products as:

'Arguably the most sexy, trendsetting, empowering maternity lingerie...[the range has] revolutionised the nursing lingerie market with its provocative and fashion forward styling...'

Today, as I take some time to learn a little more about their brand just like I did all those years ago, before Facebook, before online retail was a thing - I was struck by the mixed message their audience is receiving across their digital presence.

Yes, their audience; those two rather crude segments I'd dub 'the bargain hunters' and 'the luxury lovers', who you'd think require two very different marketing messages.

I'd argue that.

Actually, I'd argue that Hotmilk's current digital presence is positioned to appeal to the wrong crowd.

ECOMMERCE SITE

Their website is borderline clinical, featuring plain background model shots prominently on the front page, as they list their best sellers and as composite images to link through to different sections of the website.

Very unsexy, and not at all luxurious. Not aspirational, not ground-breaking, or empowering. It's mumsy. 

The brand's biggest visual asset - those gorgeous fashion-styled campaign shots, are nowhere to be found - meaning the customer doesn't get to luxuriate in their beauty, or imagine themselves in the frame. A potential customer could read some of that glowing press; hear about this ground-breaking sexy maternity lingerie line from their friends or their favourite celebrity - work themselves into a pre-purchase tizzy - before finding themselves on a site that doesn't take part in selling that dream. 

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BLOGGING

Their most recent blog posts also feature prominently on the front page of the site, but again, send a muddled message to the customer.

For such a prominent content block on the site, I'd recommend offering very regular updates (at least weekly), or pinning your most powerful posts. Any blog post featured on the front page of an ecommerce website should help in some way to convert a sale, without directly selling. Remember, customers have arrived at your site as part of their research process, or to make their final considerations before buying. Consider your blog a friendly salesperson!

So I have a checklist I use when working on blogging with clients. Don't get me wrong - I think blogs can be an incredibly powerful tool to connect with your customer; to let them see who you are and what you stand for. But I'd say the majority of brands that blog are doing it because they think they have to as some vague branding effort. That, my friends, would be a big fat waste of time.

Here's my pre-post checklist if you're curious (valid across all digital content, social included!):

  • Is this what our clients want to see from us?
  • Is this interesting enough to stop what they’re doing to read or watch?
  • Could this lead to a conversation?
  • Could this inspire or empower our clients?
  • Does this provide information to our followers that they might not be able to get elsewhere?
  • Does this portray the personality we wish to present as a brand?
  • Does this support the lifestyle and values our brand stands for?
  • And most importantly - Does this have the potential to convert a follower into a client?

Here's a little gem from Ad Age on that:

"Create the type of content that will answer moms' questions, validate her decisions and convince her of the value you bring. Use behavioural data and social insights to stay on top of what's important to her now."

So let's take a look at the most recent blog posts from Hotmilk.

'Hotmilk Breastfeeding Truths'

I love the idea of this. Staff members collaborated for the blog post to share their breastfeeding experiences. It says to the customer - hey, we know what we're talking about, we designed these bras with our personal experiences in mind. However, the post title doesn't beg for a click, and might have better pick up with something like 'The Hotmilk team spills their breastfeeding secrets'. 

The post was subsequently shared on the brand's Facebook page, but failed to create a conversation, which is surprising considering the content. I'd recommend pulling the most compelling quote from the mini-interviews to feature in the Facebook post, and asking for followers to share their most surprising moment/biggest triumph with breastfeeding. The first line of the post, which featured as the excerpt on the Facebook post also misses a chance to tease followers as to what value or interest they might find in the post if they were to click through and read on.

'Pucker up for International Kissing Day'

This post shares the background of International Kissing Day, and offers tips on celebrating the day through kissing. This doesn't score so highly on my checklist - and failed to get any traction when shared with the brand's 26,000+ followers. This is also a tricky one because it's tied to a special day, so it's dated within hours of posting. Not ideal for featuring on the home page for weeks!

'Hotmilk's Goddess of Nature Collection Hits Stores with Record Sales'

This is some information a customer wouldn't be able to get elsewhere, but it's not necessarily what they want to see. A new collection? Yes, of course. Beautiful images of the new collection, descriptions of the sizes and styles available, great. But leading with the sales figures is more likely to hit the wrong note with customers - keep that for the board meeting.

FACEBOOK

I keep mentioning Facebook - so let's go there.

The first thing that struck me with the brand's Facebook page is the capability for customers to leave reviews and ratings. While I think it's absolutely admirable to be so transparent, I'd argue that the positive reviews they get don't offer enough marketing value to compensate for the negative. 

Firstly, public reviews on a page basically turn it into a customer service forum, airing your dirty lingerie (ha!) for all those who care to take a gander.

No matter how many good reviews and shining moments of customer service glory you attain, bad reviews will always put doubt in the customer's mind. When you consider that Hotmilk has stockists around the world, you can only imagine the logistical hurdles they face, especially with quality control and customer service. Any and every slip up becomes cause for ranting mummy in a review that's visible to all potential customers that visit or have already liked the page, but are yet to convert.

Having uncensored reviews displayed in this way is quite uncommon for a clothing or accessory brand - it's usually an activity reserved for service-based companies. 

Now, there's no way you can stop customers posting on your page about their good or bad experiences with your company, but inviting it in this way serves as a double-edged sword. Take a look at their website and you'll see reviews present on product pages. I'd recommend this as a more suitable location for facilitating customer's opinions, considering they're right where potential shoppers need them, on the product page, pertaining not to the service they received, but to the quality, comfort and fit of the lingerie they bought. Nothing seals the deal like five other mums telling you how amazing the particular bra you're browsing is!

My next comment here would be the content being shared on their page.

Funny mum moments, viral videos and feel-good photos of mums and bubs make up the majority of what they share, and while these posts occasionally hit on a winning formula for likes, there's a distinct lack of conversation and engagement on the brand page.

Considering the brand has 26,000+ followers, and considering that these people are MUMS, that's a surprise. 

According to a 2015 report on parents and social media by Pew Research Center;

"Mothers are heavily engaged on social media, both giving and receiving a high level of support via their networks."

Here are a couple of other interesting figures:

  • 66% of social-media-using mothers said that had found useful information specifically about parenting
  • 42% of parents received social or emotional support from their online networks about a parenting issue
  • 31% of parents who use social media have posed parenting questions to their online networks
  • 75% of parents on Facebook log on daily, and 51% check in on their feed several times a day. (That's a far higher percentage compared to non-parents)
  • Mothers on Facebook are more likely to check Facebook several times a day compared with dads

So, mums are on Facebook - like, all the time. They find information about parenting, they receive support and they ask for advice.

If that doesn't inform your Facebook strategy for marketing to mums, then I don't know what will.

There's an opportunity for Hotmilk to capitalise on their large audience to create a community that aligns with their values and goals - a breastfeeding Q&A forum on their Facebook page for example, would mean that mums could interact with the page in a whole new way, communicating with each other and checking back often for advice and to help others.

Mums helping other mums is empowering and exciting and this exact type of communication has created some of the biggest online communities in the world. MumsNet, anyone?

Hotmilk advocate that breast is best, promote breastfeeding as a sustainable choice, and also ran a competition in 2013 that supported the right to breastfeed in public. (Entrants were asked to take a photo of themselves breastfeeding in public wearing a Hotmilk bra)

For the uninitiated, breastfeeding in public has become a hot button topic in recent years, with mum gangs in Argentina, Denmark and Australia staging demonstrations in a response to being shamed, asked to 'cover up', or move to a 'designated breast-feeding area'.

Hotmilk, as a ground-breaking brand that stands for empowerment, has an amazing opportunity to lead the charge, and to support their community in this fight. PR GOLDMINE.

Cult kiwi lingerie brand Lonely Lingerie won fans the world over with their 'Lonely Girls' zero-photoshop campaign - a topical cause that aligned perfectly with their values and mission as a company.

Japanese lingerie brand Wacoal's 'Beauty Inside' series garnered millions of views for the powerful message they shared with their audience through emotional mini-movies - women are beautiful for who they are inside; the sacrifices they make for their children; their character, their inner beauty. People were literally bawling over these, and that's a seriously powerful connection to share with a brand.

Hotmilk's director has discussed their flexible working arrangements with mums on staff at the company, but they have not gone so far as to champion the cause with their audience, a'la Mother Pukka and her flash mobs.

In summary, Hotmilk has achieved great heights of success thanks to their ground-breaking concept and beautiful execution. However, their digital presence lacks a little consistency and intent, which could lead to higher bounce rates, lower conversion rates and faster growth in the discount market over the luxury full-price market. I'd recommend they shoot for the moon with their luxury buyers, because as long as the brand is high-end and desirable, they'll always land in the stars with the bargain hunting mummies come sale time.

If you'd like to have a wee chat about whether your digital presence is doing the most for your business, hit the contact tab to drop me a line.

Or, check out these links if you'd like to learn more about the maternity-wear market:

The mother of invention: stylish pregnancy wear - FT.com

Is 'maternity wear' becoming a thing of the past in fashion? -  The Guardian

And to read further on marketing to mothers try these:

Marketers don't understand modern moms, Saatchi survey says - Ad Week

Five myths of marketing to mums - Marketing Week

How to market to moms on Facebook - Forbes

Hannah Keys