by Michael Sansolo

If there is single demographic group that truly merits more attention it would come down to a single word: Mom.

In countless ways, mothers should always be the target market as they actually control a staggeringly large portion of consumer spending on pretty much everything. And despite the fact we all either are, live with, know or simply have a mother, they remain a highly misunderstood market segment. And that’s a big problem.

Last week at the annually wonderful Food Marketing Conference held by Western Michigan University, we heard from Lauren Fitzgerald, a partner in something called The Mom Complex. Her comments were eye opening in countless ways.

For example, if your mother was anything like mine, we know they lie. (No, my face never did get stuck in the weird pose I made for my sister and I don’t think the refrigerator actually ate some of my Halloween candy yearly.) But Fitzgerald’s point was far more significant in terms of those falsehoods coming from moms.

She explained that in focus groups, moms frequently project the image they believe the group wants from them rather than reality. For example, everyone talks about all the high ideals they have for their family, home and life, when, as Fitzgerald says, most moms privately admit their greatest triumph would be using the bathroom with some degree of privacy.

When it comes to meal time, standard research finds that mom want their kids eating healthier meals, but in reality they simply want to serve foods that the kids will eat so they don’t waste time and money on dishes that end up untouched.Fitzgerald’s harshest comments came for the way industries (the food industry included) market to moms. Far too many ads are geared, in her opinion, to the 1950s era mom, whose life revolved around homemaking. Today’s mom, she said, simply wants to be treated as a human, yet much of marketing seems to portray an ideal that moms today don’t or can’t achieve. (One specific pet peeve of hers is how ads feature moms in cardigans; a fashion choice Fitzgerald says smacks of phoniness. Fitzgerald is urging a #nocardigans movement on Twitter!)

The good news is that Fitzgerald and her group believe the bar is set so low for marketing to moms that simple steps could improve the situation dramatically. She urges companies to ditch focus groups in favor of spending time with moms to get a sense for how complex and overwhelming their lives are. Marketers need understand the many doubts moms have in their abilities and must learn how to help answer those doubts with products and information that make life easier.

It was interesting that later in the WMU conference I was fortunate to interview SAP’s CEO Bill McDermott on stage. At one point, McDermott talked about the difference of diversity and inclusion. The former, he said, is important for countless reasons, but simply having people of diverse backgrounds in the room guarantees nothing.

Companies need to practice inclusion to actually hear and understand the many different points of view of different demographics and especially those moms. This is, of course, not a new insight … just check out this scene from Mr. Mom, featuring the indomitable - and absolutely on-target - Teri Garr.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.