February 10th, 2014 by Sarah Sluis

If you catch a customer at the beginning of a major life event, you’re likely to build lifetime loyalty. With the average cost of a middle-class family raising a child currently pegged at $241,000, pregnancy becomes an important time for marketers to connect with new parents. It’s why formula and diaper companies try to get their products into hospitals. It’s why Target infamously developed algorithms that predicted pregnancy through its guests’ purchasing habits. But as companies try to establish relationships with potential customers earlier into their pregnancies, they’re more likely to run into another problem: marketing to families who miscarried or lost their babies.

On The New York Times’ Motherlode blog, author April Salazar wrote about receiving formula in the mail from Enfamil after she had miscarried, right before what would have been her due date. The formula gift brought up painful emotions for her and her husband about their loss, but she also felt violated.

 “So how had Enfamil been able to intrude upon my safe space? I had never signed up for its mailing list. My guess was that when I signed up for those updates, the pregnancy website had shared my contact information.”

Here’s an example of how crystal-clear opt-ins help prevent heartbreak later on. If Salazar had checked “yes” to receiving a sample of Enfamil, she likely would not have felt the anger and sadness she did after receiving the formula. She then describes writing a letter to the company describing her experience.

“Two days after writing to Enfamil, I received a generic ‘sorry for your loss’ reply with an offer to remove me from its mailing list. But I didn’t need a faceless corporation to be sorry for my loss. I needed it to acknowledge that it had added me to a mailing list without my consent. I needed it to apologize for making an excruciating experience even more so. And I needed it to promise that it wouldn’t do this to other women.”

There’s another missed opportunity for Enfamil to be more sensitive to a consumer. The company said ‘sorry for your loss,’ but it didn’t apologize for intruding into the author’s life with marketing.

As the myriad comments appended to this piece attest, the author is not alone in receiving baby-related messaging after a miscarriage. One woman, RL, was unwittingly enrolled by her obstetrician’s office and received many offers. On top of that, her insurance company “had enrolled me in a ‘new mom’ support line, where I would get calls from a nurse checking in with me. Despite having paid out the claim for the miscarriage, I continued to get the calls,” she writes.

Receiving marketing materials after a miscarriage can cause people to go to extraordinary measures in their next pregnancy. “My daughter was stillborn, and I continued to receive advertisements and coupons for baby products for at least a year after losing her…I did my best to keep my next pregnancy a secret from the corporate world. I paid cash for baby items and never set foot in a maternity clothing store,” says commenter Sarah from Austin, Texas.

What are the lessons here for marketers? Miscarriage is common, so companies need to know how to stop messaging parents after their loss. The insurance company should not have called the grieving mom more than once, for example. What upset the parents the most was having no control over the messaging, something clear opt-ins and opt-outs fix. When customers do opt-out after explaining their loss, companies should think hard about how to best demonstrate compassion and empathy for their would-be customers after they experience a miscarriage. After all, many of these parents want to have the chance to be customers once again.

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