What mums could teach us about food brands

Food advice is everywhere

Brands and publishers fill our screens with new diets, food scares and miracle superfoods. There’s a million ways to think about what’s healthy, nutritious and good for you and that’s before you start thinking about value for money, prep time and what it actually tastes like.

So how do people make informed, healthy choices for themselves and their families? And how can brands help themselves by helping them?

Listening to Mums

Working with Red Consultancy, we focused in on mums as decision makers to learn what was in their hearts and minds when it came to choosing healthy options.

At Listen & Learn, we’ve developed a unique method of understanding and learning from social content. For brands, social listening provides a certain level of understanding of a consumer’s motivations. But before you make decisions, you really need to learn from what you’re being told.

We listened to mums where they were talking at their most open, candid and relaxed: the websites they chose to be on. This included mumsnet, moneysavingexpert, twitter and netmums (as well as other more niche health sites). Selecting thousands of comments, we read every single one of them to learn what is on the decision makers’ minds, how they interpret content and most importantly, how they then turn information into decisions. By learning what the factors are, we can show brands how to focus their marketing and content strategies.

Learning with our human brains

The way Listen & Learn work is that we use humans to understand humans. Rather than scraping comments from facebook and pumping them through an algorithm to get an approximation of an answer, we literally read people’s comments with our human eyes and learn from them with our human brains. This gives the research we do a unique context you can’t get from automation.

The second thing is we use a ‘grounded’ approach which means our learning is driven solely from what we see, rather than us coming up with an idea we think might be right, then trying to prove it. This means that instead of the data being influenced by us or a research agency’s script, it is totally organic, in a free-to-roam sense of the word. It was what the audience wants to say themselves, without any prompting or guiding from someone with vested interests.

So what did we learn?

It’s not just about being a mum

Our approach to learning from free-form text means we can understand a lot more about the composition of a decision than is initially apparent. Through reading thoughts, concerns and desires the mums wanted to share – compared to those prompted by a researcher – we learnt that their decisions were influenced by their role in a hierarchy of relationships, a mix of their children, their family unit, peers, themselves and their partners. It wasn’t as straightforward as “what’s best for Timmy?”, the conversations focused on how the decisions they made affected how they felt about themselves.


After listening to the mums, we learnt that some don’t feel equipped to synthesise all the information being thrown at them without help, due to the quantity of content and the conflicting ideas within. The only situation where mums felt in control when using the web to gather information was chatting to peers. This was far and away the biggest deciding factor in taking online information on board or discarding it. It’s an important lesson for brands to learn when developing content strategies.

Health + time + money + clarity = decision

The decision-making process is a lot more nuanced than expected. As well as health concerns, time and money, there is a huge conversation going on around perception. What exactly is healthy? Are all pre-made meals bad? Should I ever eat fast food or give it to my family? All these questions ramp up the uncertainty and again, it’s only by listening to the discussions that we learnt how mums equipped themselves to make decisions.

Being (un)reasonable

By using discourse analysis we understand the audience’s comments in context. This led to the realisation that time spent in online discourse was as much about self-validation as it was about sharing and absorbing information. The concept of AIBU (Am I being unreasonable?), YANBU (you are not being unreasonable) and YABU (you can work it out…) are huge factors in the decision-making process. The ability to check your response and potential decision amongst trusted and impartial peers acts as both validation, and social proof.

Decision makers are people too?

So, what’s the takeaway? (pun most definitely intended) Turns out, like the person having it, the conversation is multi-faceted. It’s not just about the kids or the family, it’s about the mums themselves, both physically and emotionally. They want to provide a good nutritional lifestyle for themselves and their family but there’s unsurety that comes with every decision. By mining the comments, we can understand – on a large scale – how mums feel.


About us

We’re an insights agency that uses social data to help brands + their agencies find new opportunities for growth.

If that sounds good to you, drop us a line and we’ll get straight back to you. If you want to hear more stories from social, then sign up to our blog (As heard on social) below.

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