In 2004, Andrew Erlichson and Mark Heinrich launched Phanfare.com after being disappointed with the photography Web sites they came across. Phanfare.com, a fee-based site, would focus on sharing rather than selling prints and also video sharing.

The business grew, but expanded beyond the originally intended audience: families. So in 2007, Phanfare.com retooled itself. It not only became free, but again became family-centric.

"We wanted to draw a bigger canvas and have a bigger impact," explains CEO Erlichson. "Social networking is a lot more collaborative and private. Based on that, we restructured and changed it to be a social network for families. But unlike MySpace, it's attuned to the privacy of parents and families."

But how does Phanfare, or any company, reach that audience? Here are some things to keep in mind when marketing to parents:

Make Use of the Internet

Today's parents grew up with computers and are more likely to get their information online than through a book or magazine. Says Amy Stevens, CEO of Marketing Edge Ventures (marketingedgeventures.com), "Gen X is very different. Technology is completely a part of their lives. If you don't have a Web site, they won't buy from you."

So devote some start-up costs to developing a Web site that is useful and informational. Also consider making the site interactive, says author of Street-Smart Advertising Margo Berman. Perhaps ask customers to submit their own commercials, like Dove did. Or start a blog or a newsletter. Berman says that companies like Constantcontact.com help owners keep in contact with customers by email and e-survey for just $15 a month.

Don't Discount Word of Mouth

Nothing is stronger than getting the seal of approval from a parent. A blogging parent would be ideal. "A link on five blogs can give you more visibility than money spent on advertising," says Florence Rolando, co-founder and managing partner of Bubble Kids Trade Show.

Publicize your product or company with friends on social networking sites like Facebook.com or LinkedIn.com. "I got several clients when I did it," says Laura Betterly, founder of Yada Yada Marketing. "These social networks extend that word of mouth. And it's free."

E-Retailing Is Your Friend

Between the kids and the career, parents simply don't have weekends devoted to shopping. Many open their wallets late at night online. So if you can afford it, add an e-retailing component to your Web site.

Include Dads

Unlike dads of the past, today's men take an active part in parenting decisions. So don't talk down to them or portray them as inattentive. "I remember reading that dads will especially do a ton of research on the gear end of things," says Urbanbaby.com Associate Editor Brooke Showell.

Give Them What They Want

So what's important to parents nowadays? Lifestyle issues like products made with natural and sustainable materials, being organic and being healthy, says Showell. Betterly says helping parents save time is a must. Phanfare learned, after surveying its core audience, that security, long-term storage and giving customers the ability to add comments and have friends add to the albums were paramount.

"We also created a group feature which allows you to be connected with individuals in a way that doesn't give them access to all of your content," says Matthew Solomon, vice president of marketing. "It could be with parents at the day care center or a kid's softball team. But they wouldn't see your kids in the Bahamas."

Form and Function

How a product looks is just as important as what it is and how it can help, say the experts. When popular parenting Web site Urbanbaby.com scouts out new companies to feature, it is especially interested in design. "Our readers are smart and sophisticated in terms of their taste," says Showell.

"Design is always a key factor for us. It also has to serve a purpose and be of high quality. Our readers want top quality but don't want to be taken advantage of on price."

Rolando agrees, adding, "The boundaries between a kid's world and the parent's world is blurring. Today you find the same music in a father's iPod as in his teenager's. So parents are interested in things for their kids that appeal to them. They want a stroller or a high chair that will match their car or living room."

Got a story idea? Email Lan.thestreet@hotmail.com.
Lan Nguyen is a freelance writer based in New York City. She has written for the New York Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, Worth magazine and Star magazine.

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