5 Risks Youth Marketers and Content Creators Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Take

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Feb 20, 2014 @ 02:46 PM

Youth ResearchComing off of an inspiring week plus at conferences, listening to content creators, fellow researchers and strategists opine about the present and the future of kids, kids media and the youth and family marketplace, I found myself thinking about the kinds of risks that those of us who make our home in this space are often leery to take. In my own thinking about and work with youth, I’ve often found that deciding to live on the edge of what’s typical or acceptable sometimes yields unexpected insight and breakthrough ideas. On the surface, some of these risks might seem quite tame! But more than seeing them as safe, I see the common theme as a more optimistic view of the possibilities and potential of trying something new.

  1. Be nice. So often, in the youth space, being nice or good or kind feels like a young or soft positioning for a brand or property. Still, countless speakers echoed a sentiment that we’ve spoken about in our new work on Millennial Moms – “sensitive kids are the new successful kids.” Said another way, don’t worry about flexing your edge – consider standing for sweet over sarcasm, for good behavior over bad. Seek out heroes you can champion, not just foils who are sometimes humorous but hurtful.
  2. Dream big. At the iKids Conference, we spoke about the need to evaluate the app landscape, along with the online ecosystem in which youth engage, with realistic eyes. It’s more difficult than it might seem to create an app that rivals Angry Birds, or to take down Temple Run with a great game of your own. But what we also believe is that the visionaries who think big are the ones who are most likely to last. We advocate for developing a brand or a property, not just an application. Think about your proposition realistically, but holistically. Don’t get mired in mechanics to the point that you lose sight of the moxie that makes your content truly unique in the world. And then execute.
  3. Experiment. Across the course of the week, we were reminded that sometimes the old rules of conducting research, of gaining eyes on your brand, of engaging in the innovation and creative process itself could use some shaking up. As researchers, it’s easy to rely on “time-tested” approaches or models. But we believe that it’s as important to question and challenge these models as it is to understand them. Some of the most astute risks we saw taken came from folks who simply questioned why something was always done the way it has traditionally been. Granted, we wouldn’t suggest trying “new” just for the sake of “new,” but we would advise reflecting on your sacred cows and steadfast rules to ensure that they’re in the service of stimulation, not stagnation.
  4. Break the frame. More than any conference we’ve been to in a while, we liked that KidScreen and iKids bucked some conventions. Rather than just speakers at the podium (which we were honored to be!) or panels of authorities, we saw PechaKucha (look it up!) put in place to format the remarks of a set of experts, a “pass the baton” style look at viral videos that matter (with the creators of one of the favorites not only invited to talk about their work but also to share their own inspirations), to varied riffs on speed-dating. We like the spirit of these sessions – they sought to teach in ways that felt more visceral, more disruptive and still sound. Discussions about process are often overshadowed by discussions about outcomes, but the truth is, process matters. And innovation should apply as much to the way you work as it does to what you work on.
  5. Share. Time and time again, we see that the best brands – especially in the youth space – don’t hog the spotlight – they share the marquis. The same seems to go for the best and brightest creators and developers. They’re happy to share what they know, to exchange ideas and to collaborate. In a media landscape which seems to move increasingly swiftly, with expertise required in a myriad of methods, approaches and markets, it seems prudent, not polyanna-ish, to give in order to get.

Tags: youth research, conference, Youth, kids tweens teens

5 Youth Insight Shortcuts That Will Take You Nowhere

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Feb 10, 2014 @ 10:17 AM

Youth ResearchIn marketing, media, innovation and even in research, we can sometimes become victims of our own efficiency. Staying “big picture” and abiding by the old 80 for 20 rule seem to make perfect business sense. And Occam’s Razor (the hypotheses with the fewest assumptions should be selected and that simpler theories should be utilized until a more complicated one merits priority) is an oft-adopted mantra among sensible researchers.

Certainly, when starting research with youth, it’s natural to look to simple rules, guidelines and models to aid in interpretation. But over the years, we’ve noticed a few youth research shortcuts and youth insight practices that tend to lead marketers nowhere.

  1. Get the facts. Of course, researchers shouldn’t ignore facts. In fact, for example, we start our YouthBeat YearBook by looking at the demographic realities, of today’s youth and families. But too often, we’ve seen clients start with a number designed to disrupt – say a large spending or influence number – and forget to bring kids’, tweens’ and teens’ voices and lived experiences to it. Understanding the size of a market is important, but so is identifying the dynamics that make a market and the products that comprise it matter to youth.
  2. Focus your reading. We often get asked for recommendations on research specific to a topic related to youth. And of course, it may be that the topic you’re interested in is covered in a single volume. But a deep understanding of youth requires context – it means not only understanding the role of a device in their lives, but it also requires understanding the way they spend their days. Perhaps you offer youth a product in the food category, but understanding how they relate to identity, morality, emotions and even authority come into play when you consider how to connect with them. And this matters more than, not less than, the flavor or property that they currently care about (even though, with the right knowledge to guide your analysis, this trendy data can be extremely valuable).
  3. Tune out and turn off. Of course, we all need a break from the subject that occupies our professional days! But too often, we’ve seen brilliant strategists and creatives toil away on an idea, or seek to develop an innovative concept, only to find that one just like it is already on TV or in-store. Understanding youth and youth culture doesn’t always mean participating in it (in fact, just because you’re an American Idol superfan doesn’t mean you’re attuned to youth’s perspective on the show!). But it does mean that you should turn on the TV or take in a kid flick or shop the aisles of the supermarket yourself, rather than just studying these from your desk. Don’t assume you understand a property’s appeal without really taking the time to get to know it (this is why years ago, many marketers saw Twilight as simply a vampire movie rather that recognizing the multiple moral and social strands that made it salient among teens).  And steal a page from the way youth marketers and creatives of the past learned about their competitive set: go to where your competing programs air, operate or get consumed.
  4. Start at home. On one hand, we advocate for looking at the local and not ignoring the children you know. It’s natural that many of us will feel the most inspired and interested in the youth already lurking in our homes or our lives! But be aware of the pitfalls of curbing your curiosity there. You probably don’t assume that the women or men you research are like all the men and women in your lives. Remember, there are as many different children and childhoods as there are adults and to only attend to the insights you glean from your own offspring risks leading you astray.
  5. Keep it simple. This shortcut misstep often sounds like an affirmation that “nothing has changed” or an explanation that suggests that any youth phenomenon has just one cause or catalyst. In fact, any trend or truth related to youth often stems from a number of situational conditions. Just as most youth behaviors live somewhere along the continuum between nature and nurture, most preferences held by kids, tweens and teens reflect stage, age, experience and culture-at-large. And when you’re trying to understand what make one property or product or brand really work with your target, seek out more than one answer – not just the simple one that surfaces first.

Tags: research, youth research, qualitative research, quantitative research, research methods

Making Endorsements Count

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Feb 04, 2014 @ 01:39 PM

Every January, the American Library Association announces the winners of some of the biggest awards in children’s and young adult literature.  These awards are given for excellence in children’s books (John Newbery Award), illustration (Randolph Caldecott Award), young adult literature (Michael Printz Award), African-American children’s literature (Coretta Scott King Award), and much more.  But the way these awards operate in the children’s literature space suggest lessons that a broader group of marketers and content creators can tap into.american library association

In any category, it’s safe to assume that winning a major award increases sales. In the case of children’s literature, public libraries and schools see a medal on the cover as an endorsement of the author (for the unknowns) or as a reason to expand their collection of favorites.  These awards and honors serve as insurance policies on the product’s quality, and also convey secondary but critical information about age-appropriateness. In a 2004 study conducted by Gundry E. Rowe, in which he surveyed public and school librarians, he found that nearly all the librarians bought award winning titles without even looking at plot summaries.  In the extremely competitive marketplace for children’s books, winning an award can take a book from a few sales to hundreds of thousands.  Certainly, libraries and schools look for materials to buy in a different way than parents, but these expert buyers and children’s lit curators create the selection set for moms, dads, aunts and uncles, and children themselves. In other categories, award winners are often a searchable category on online websites. For example, yoyo.com includes their “yoyo picks” but also lets buyers sort by Dr. Toy’s endorsements. With so many options available, these awards feel like a soft exertion of authority which moms and dads welcome. 

In the children’s literature space, winning a major award propels authors to top status, signifying them as master craftsmen. An award can turn an unknown into a key player and force within a specific market. Long before Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (1964) was a classic children’s book, it was a Caldecott Award winner in 1964.  The award gave Sendak, and his artwork, a boost in popularity.  Today, Sendak’s artwork is an important part of many children’s lives, and the image of Max and the Wild Things is a part of children’s culture. 

What lessons can we take from looking carefully at the ALA Awards?

  • Endorsement matter. Even for a cohort of moms that might not believe that there’s one source of expertise in any category, they seek out ways to distinguish quality products from simply popular one.
  • Remember to recognize the influencers. While understanding consumer preference is harder than ever in an age with so many property and content possibilities, remember that experts from unexpected places might be more influential than ever. Make sure you have a plan to connect with them.
  • While awards might, on the surface, say more about parent preferences than kids’ requests, they also suggest a glimpse at the marketplace. Even if kids are empowered to make their own choices, they are still limited to the subset of goods that adults allow them to access.

Tags: Education, book, free time, culture, youth media