Kids have the power to influence entire product or services categories, directly and indirectly, in expected and unexpected ways. Tailoring products to appeal to kids has impacted nearly everything: from beverages to snacks, restaurant menus to at-home meal options, hotel accommodations to cruise activities, bikes and scooters to automobile amenities, and many other areas as well.
Certainly this impact is felt from the first moments of anticipation and excited planning by parents-to-be. Expectant mothers and future fathers research practically everything in preparation of the new arrival. Suddenly everything changes: They are now a family. They are caregivers. There will be many firsts — words, steps and so on. These parents will be there at every possible turn, with pictures posted to prove it! With that, the firsts will become likes, while many become favorites.
This level of engagement by today’s parents marks one of the key changes in modern families who share nearly everything. By and large the current generation’s parenting approach is fully engaged, inclusive and collaborative versus the didactic approach of prior generations — just one example of how families are evolving. There are myriad details to consider in engaging this audience, and they shift at nearly every age and stage of a child’s development.
Our experience helping brands connect with kids and families has taught us a lot. We continue to learn, but we thought that sharing some fundamentals and universal truths would be instructive.
1. Connecting with kids and moms requires balanced bimodal messaging. Everyone has encountered adults who don’t know how to communicate with kids. They raise their voices as if a child’s smaller ears can’t hear them say, “Hello Billy! How are you?!” Then they turn to the parents and talk in hushed tones. How we communicate with kids and moms is as important as what we communicate.
A first step in connecting with children is to clarify the term “kids” and to whom among this group you wish to communicate. Kids could mean a whole range of ages. To us, kids are children aged 5 to 7 — a stage of development after infants and toddlers, but before tweens, teens and twixters.
Throughout these stages the balance of appeal to kids and moms evolves. At the earliest ages, communicating to mom and for baby, toddler and even kid, depending on circumstances, is a must. As children grow, the communication must be balanced with consideration to the category and other aspects.
As an example, we recently helped Dial develop and launch new body wash and shampoo for kids. Dial Kids speak directly to both moms and children with a bimodal balance of fun and efficacy. The structure, colors and characters tell kids that it’s just for them, even to gender and age. The style, symbols and language tell moms it is for their kids, to clean their skin, at what stage, and for which gender.
Every brand, product and package requires sensitivity of communication and messaging. We must understand to whom we are appealing, what we are saying, and how we say it. As a general rule, moms choose the category, and kids choose the brand: “Honey, we need (category); what would you like (brand)?”
2. Today’s kids are just kids; their moms are supermoms. Much is said about today’s kids being different, distracted, growing-older-younger screen junkies, while today’s moms are busy, multitasking, on-the-go, hard-to-reach soccer moms. While this is true to some extent, today’s kids are just kids, and moms are, well, supermoms. This should come as little surprise, as moms are fully invested in the success, health and happiness of their children. The rise of mommy bloggers, helicopter and play-along parents shows the popularity of being “all in.”
As for kids, much has been said of KGOY (kids growing older younger). We disagree, though we recognize that kids have social personas that are different than their at-home or close-social-circle selves. We believe kids are staying younger longer (KSYL). In fact, in this age of parental involvement, collaboration and consensus, many young adults choose to remain at home longer than ever before. We call these young adults twixters, living half in and half out of young adulthood.
3. Instincts and insights are gold. Brand managers, busy with impossible schedules and ever-increasing responsibilities, are often too overloaded to see the forest for the trees or even through their own personal lens as consumers themselves. Research teams and partners do great work, though often that research and strategy gets lost in translation in innovation, branding and design work.
In experience acquired over decades of brand work, our instincts and insights build on initial research to engage and ignite strategic perspectives in our client partners. We prove those insights with kids and moms by listening and talking directly to them.
Case in point is our recent relaunch of Bazooka, a legacy brand and creator of the bubble gum category. Although Bazooka had lost virtually all retail presence and relevance to kids, research proved that the brand still enjoyed 78 percent recall. Working with kids, we recreated a brand that speaks to kids, for kids, and was ultimately developed by kids. As a result, Bazooka has reclaimed its rightful place at every major retailer and is again a top performer.
4. Get kids and moms involved. Ask. Listen. Spend time with them. Shop with them. Share ideas and show them stuff, and then listen more.
Over three-fourths of kids aged 6 to 17 say companies should ask their peers for opinions. Over half feel most food companies don’t understand the kinds of food children like, and over half of kids aged 12 to 17 feel that most clothing companies don’t understand the kinds of clothes kids really like to wear.
5. Show and tell to build consensus. No one on a project likes unpleasant surprises. A traditional kids’ activity — show and tell — alleviates concern. Large organizations require teams to expedite most projects but also demand that team members act with independent, entrepreneurial styles to get things done fast. The truth is few want to take risks. Collaboration and consensus is the go-to solution. Sharing and showing along the way is the only way to move fast, build consensus and get things done. Like kids, we all love show and tell, being heard, and being involved in decision making. And, many of today’s families work like the best teams should.
6. Be familiar but different by leveraging equities and inequities. Familiar is safe. Different is intriguing. Category norms should be respected and leveraged, and the balance between the familiar and the different should be optimized at every turn.
Equities are familiar invaluable assets, and knowing and leveraging your equities is essential. Yet inequities are just as important and often underleveraged. Knowing when to hang your hat on equities or when to embrace inequities is the key to relevance.
The Bazooka relaunch is an example of understanding when to walk away from equities. Because 78 percent of kids recalled the name and little else, we had permission to explore other equities and inequities. Although the iconic comics were dear to adults’ childhood memories, they were of no relevance to kids. The brand had permission to contemporize those activities and move them online where kids want them.
On the other hand, equities are critical to the iconic Gerber brand. The communication is to mom, for her kids. It is all about the trust inherent in this heritage brand and contemporizing the brand, product and packaging to connect with today’s mothers.
7. Fun is not enough. It seems that if something is being created for kids, clients almost always request that it be “fun.” The word appears in nearly every brief we receive but can mean something different to everyone and represent a wide range of things, feelings and emotions. FYI, Nickelodeon and other kid-centric companies no longer allow the word “fun” to be used by their folks in their work.
We know instinctively, or learn by asking, what type of fun is needed. We then use supporting context and descriptors to get clear and differentiated ideas of fun. Fun is only one of a number of kids’ fundamental needs. Other needs include empowerment, security and belonging. The ideal offering combines attributes and benefits which genuinely meet these needs harmoniously on many levels.
The impact of evolving family dynamics is felt throughout society. Marketers are all too aware of their impact, as kids and families offer huge potential to their brands. Smart marketers recognize that kids and families are three markets in one: a primary market as consumers, a secondary market as influencers, and a future market as a potential lifelong opportunity.
The past is riddled with brands that failed to evolve at the right pace, and entire categories have missed huge opportunities or faded into obscurity. For iconic brands, as well as entire categories, it is critical to evolve with kids and moms to ensure long-term success.