TORONTO - With the annual Consumer Electronics Show kicking off in Las Vegas this week, there will be the usual spotlight on new gadgets and gizmos expected to make a splash this year. But, for the first time, a special summit also will focus on a booming target market of consumers worth tens of billions.
They won't be strategizing about how to appeal to tech-obsessed youngsters or wealthy consumers with mounds of disposable cash to burn.
They'll be talking about moms.
According to the Consumer Electronics Association, which holds the annual trade show, the mommy market is one of the most lucrative out there and worth an estimated US$90 billion a year.
"The cyber moms have become hugely powerful," said Robin Raskin, co-founder of Living in Digital Times, which organized the Mommy Tech summit.
"When young mothers had families and were making their life choices before computers, they kinda didn't have the outlet that they do now. Now they have a very powerful voice and they want certain things.
"Companies are now targeting mom as the buyer and speaking in a different way."
For generations, moms have relied on each other for advice, recommendations and support. The only difference now is they're increasingly seeking advice online - from real life and virtual friends - through blogs and social networking, concludes a recent report entitled Canadian Digital Mom.
"These moms are powerful - both as consumers and as advocates," suggests the report, which was commissioned by Mom Central Canada, a Toronto-based consulting company, and drafted with advertising agency Sharpe Blackmore Euro RSCG.
"Not only do moms control more spending than any other demographic group in Canada, they are increasingly engaged in the ongoing dialogue with and about brands. A recommendation from a fellow mom is far more influential than any television ad or brand-sponsored website."
The report found Canadian moms are more tech-savvy than their American and U.K. counterparts and spend far more time online and connecting with their peers through social networking.
"As many marketers have already discovered, a group of moms armed with nothing more than laptops and blog accounts can increasingly make or break a brand," the report states.
When corporations first went after moms and female consumers in markets once dominated by male buyers, the marketing approach was often patronizing and didn't work well, Raskin said.
"For a while it was (a) 'build a pink product and women will like it' strategy and that did not resonate with women well - style and fashion and branding are resonating much better," she said, noting that companies like Apple have made their marketing more about image and less about a long list of specifications that only techies can understand.
"You used to have the tech guys from all these companies talking to you about speeds and RAM but now you also have them talking you about the embossed finish and how the cases that won't break, it's really changed," she said.
"All these computers are kind of the same, they all work pretty well, but now what's going to differentiate them is how they market and respond to people's needs. And women's needs are huge."
In 2008, Johnson and Johnson invited dozens of mommy bloggers from across North American to participate in a three-day, all-expenses-paid junket to New Jersey. Among the participants was Toronto mom Katie York, who has her own blog at motherbumper.com and writes for four other websites.
"They basically spent time sort of trying to tap our brains and figure out how it worked, how we were thinking as mommy bloggers," York recalled.
"I think the thing that really surprised them the most was they were dealing with PhDs, people with masters degrees, people who were very educated and people who know how to do research - people who don't just blindly listen to corporate messages."
York said she discovered mommy blogs soon after her daughter was born.
"As a woman in her 30s, I had thought parenthood would be one more thing to take in stride, but instead it was just as shocking as some of the Hollywood movies and books make it out to be," she said.
"I had to fit my life into it as opposed to it fitting into my life. I think it was because it was so overwhelming that going online was the most convenient thing for me."
York said companies are smart to be realizing that moms are more than just "happy housewives" and have a major role to play in purchasing decisions.
"I'm finding they're finally getting parts of it right, it's new, maybe they really are listening now."