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Andrew Thomas is the e-business director at Bounty, the UK parenting club perhaps best known for the free stuff it hands out to new Mums in their post-natal wards, and regular correspondence thereafter.

Since joining in 2005, he’s been spearheading a campaign to expand its membership and boost loyalty via the web, including the development of online community Bounty.com. The firm now says it has 700,000 members signed up online, and 2.1m+ overall. And last year, it was bought by Canadian company Kaboose to expand its portfolio of parenting websites.

Here, Andrew tells us about his online ambitions, including the impending launch of a new educational video site, the addition of new skills to its in-house digital team and potential expansion abroad.

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How cost-effective is online as an acquisition channel for you, compared to offline?

If you think about the way the Bounty model works, the first contact you are likely to get is when you are about 12 weeks pregnant. The health professional will give you your pregnancy information pack, and you are able to pick up a pre-natal pack at Boots or Asda. We use our offline channels to drive people online, which is free and a sunk cost, so it is very good for acquisition.

Also, in terms of online marketing, we have begun to invest reasonably significantly in search. Search — paid search and SEO — is growing all the time and becoming very important to us. We can get closer to the point of conception, before people have even declared they are pregnant. We are able to track that through the sign-up process, which is pretty accountable. We have a pretty good view of the value of pre-natal and post-natal sign-ups, and are able to revise our investment accordingly.

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How many new members are signing up through the website now?

What we have seen over time is a significant shift of consumers coming online. Probably up to 30% of our pull-throughs are coming to Bounty.com to join the programme.

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You’ve said you are planning to spend £300,000 on new online content over the next 12 months, and are about to launch a video site. Why?

The video site’s launch will see the first phase of content — 20 to 25 short video clips, focusing on pre-natal advice and how you cope with a new arrival in your home. The plan is for it to go live in the next couple of weeks and we will work to understand the player; how appealing and sticky it is. We’ll then look at rolling out more video content and at other areas of the site as well.

Over the last 18 months, we’ve done a lot of work on site design and development. The next 18 months will really be about content and application development, to capitalise on the very big community we have and make sure our content provision matches their needs.

With video, one of the things we’ve found to be very important is to not just have expert comment and information. Mums also want to know what other Mums have to say. Blogging allows you to host that in written form, but we see an opportunity to film Mums, like you would see in daytime TV, but in a less scripted and more conversational form. Nobody is doing it, but it would allow us to harness the community we have.

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How did the agencies that pitched differ in terms of capabilities and costs?

The thing for us was there was an alignment between Ground Up Media [the agency that developed the site] and our approach about having real Mums and not celebrities. They came with good, relevant experience and a shared vision in terms of developing the content.

In terms of costs, they were all broadly similar because we gave them a budget for the first three months. And most came in with a similar volume of content, in terms of quantity.

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How are you going to judge the site’s effectiveness?

The most obvious metric is usage — page views, unique visitors and how long Mums are using it for. Also, we would like to look at the balance of content from Mums versus experts in terms of popularity.

Monetisation will obviously also be very important for us, in terms of allowing our brand partners to get their message across and build awareness and empathy, so we will be looking at that quite closely as well.

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What have you been doing with Kaboose so far?

One of the first things, which we have literally just introduced, is their photo sharing application. It allows you to upload, store and share photos, and create albums, and has gone live in the last week or so.

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Where have you been investing in terms of your digital team?

We have put significant investment into the online team. When I came to Bounty just over three years ago, the online team was just three people. We are now up to just over 20, which is double where we were six months ago.

Our biggest investment has been in developers and editors, in terms of content development. We have also brought ad serving and web analytics in-house, so we have really broadened the team. I think it’s important, when the website is such a pivotal part of your business, to have that expertise in-house. I’d be surprised if we didn’t double the size of the team again over the next couple of years.

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What’s your view on the competition from the numerous parenting social networks that are out there, including ones backed by brands and retailers? How does being multi-channel help you?

It’s a pretty competitive space. Disney has just come into the UK and Gurgle has been launched by Mothercare in the last year. But if you look at the top five sites — ourselves, Babycentre, Mumsnet, Netmums and Babyworld — we are the only ones with a multi-channel offering and are therefore able to recruit offline.

That is very important for us in terms of being able to maintain our position and drive traffic. So we think we’re in a quite strong position, but we’re certainly not complacent. There are some very good players out there.

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Have you any international plans?

Obviously, being part of Kaboose, we are working closely with them in terms of North America. Looking at the Bounty model, it is probably the best multi-channel offering in the group at the moment, so we are talking about taking our expertise into Canada and the US.

We are also looking at other markets. We think that our concept works and there are similar concepts in other countries in Europe.

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Published 15 July, 2008 by Richard Maven

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