Scaling Success: How We Built a Community for Millions of Parents

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Key technology: Ruby on Rails, MySQL, Comfy CMS, Radiant CMS, Grape API, Rack API, Memcached, Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Salesforce Predictive Intelligence, Vzaar, Fastly, Sidekiq, Omniauth, YesMail, Reactful, Channel Advisor price data , Facebook authentication,

Running a successful consumer brand in Australia is really tough. Retailers are constantly discounting, and teach consumers to buy on discount signals rather than product quality. Then Disrupters like Amazon make it even harder.

Consider Huggies: a strong brand with a super high quality product (relied on by +90% of newborn mums), that gets aggressively discounted to well below cost price by retailers. They do this to get people in the door - so even though they lose $5 on the nappies, they make it back on the other stuff you hopefully buy.

Great- but not so great for the brand. If the messaging is all about price, how do you get through to consumers?

Media used to be simple. Spend a big whack of your budget on a shiny TVC, buy some spots on Sunday night TV and then watch sales pour in.

We’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

So, what can you do?

  • Always On - move away from campaign based planning. It isn’t where your customers are any more
  • Value relationships & Data - know your customer better than anyone else. Know your LTV. Don’t just say it- put a value on that data.
  • Be useful not irritating - stop interrupting them with TVCs and popups. Provide something genuinely useful. Be authentic. Provide utility.
  • No! Not an infomercial! - digital doesn’t mean doing an infomercial or a brochureware web site.

Here’s what we’ve done with Huggies

First a disclaimer: this has taken us a while. It has taken literally years decades to get this far.

I won’t bore you with a complete run down, but here’s the gist.

We working on things in 2005. At that point there was a site with various baby care products, as well as a small forum with the unfortunate name of “parents exchange”. You need to read that together (as it appeared in the URL). Anyway, gender fluidity aside, we started working with the brand team to build out some interesting content, and rebuilt the forum, and created a new automated promotions system.

But we made one pretty critical error. Rather than releasing updates frequently and early, we held back and did a big launch. With press releases. An all database email. And a national TV ad. On brand new code, servers, everything. Oh, and we chose the day before a long weekend as well. You know that Meme about deploying all the things on Friday? You shouldn’t deploy on a Friday.

Anyway, needless to say it was a bit unexpectedly popular. We had a pretty busy weekend.

What we learnt? Apart from the obvious, we found out that mums were really really engaged and interested. We’d gone into this thinking a Huggies web site would be some simple nappy brochure site, but it was very clear that mums not only loved the product, they were extremely keen on engaging with more content, functionality and community.

From then, we got pretty busy upgrading and iterating:

  • improving page structure to better funnel Google search traffic
  • developing open source CMS technology to manage this page structure and content
  • developing member database - we use the Percona high performance version of MySQL to store a large and highly segmented user database. This integrates with a Salesforce CRM
  • improving the promotions platform, which is now capable of running hundreds of different promotions across different countries, with hundreds of thousands of entries
  • interactive tools and functionality to help with all those pressing questions like what colour eyes your baby will have. Or what is a good name for a child with one blue one green eye?
  • ask an expert platform where you can log on and get answers on anything from breastfeeding to bedwetting (not at the same time)
  • sample platform which handles thousands of sample requests each day. Each request is validated, broken up into segmented customer data, and then routed through to fulfilment companies to get delivered.

Today, Huggies is a pretty big site. It’s probably the most successful of it’s kind:

  • A huge level of organic traffic (90%). Unlike many large sites that rely on network or paying for traffic, most people ending up on Huggies are there as a result of asking Google something. And the answer is a page on
  • Over 42k content pages, interactive tools and functionality
  • Which all adds up to stable and sustainable traffic levels: over a million Aussie mums visit each month. Every month.
  • Many of these visitors join as members, which has resulted in a very large, segmented database.

Remember that point I made at the top about valuing relationships and data? Well, let’s work this backwards: say you are a big FMCG brand, launching in the market today. To reach the customers buying your product, you’ll need to run a paid media campaign to reach them. You’ll need some way of identifying the right audience, and then a way of delivering that message. And finally tracking the result (did they become loyal customers?).

To put some numbers on that, depending on your market each set of eyeballs will cost a CPA of say $100. Obviously your product line needs to deliver Life Time Value above that, otherwise we should just go home early today. But by comparing paid media values, we can start to value relationships on owned platforms (like and realise the value of these assets to a brand.

Bits on we’re especially proud of:

  • soft join process – a quick and easy join process means becoming a member is pretty easy. Try it out for yourself. The soft join works when joining, asking a question or entering a promotion.
  • seamless sign on – there are actually three different applications that then talk to a separate CRM & membership database. One ring to rule them all!
  • the baby name finder tool
  • the virtual nursery decorator
  • a very popular kids birthday cake gallery

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