Relating to the consumer by understanding their lifestyle closehand

During one of our brainstorm sessions at work where we discussed various marketing topics from channels to digital media to execution to kids’ marketing, everyone in the group started sharing their thoughts on what kids nowadays prefer for lunch, what activities they engage in and what tactics of social interaction they regard highly. Everybody started talking about how it was like when they were growing up, from school lunches to being taken to baking workshops and crafty activities, being dropped off at athletic venues. They described exciting, idyllic memories, which all had in common one characteristic: a typically American upbringing. I shared a few thoughts here and there about activities that may seem appealing to kids, but only from the perspective of somebody growing up in a different country, which means I had to rack my brain to remember the types of American kid movies I watched growing up, from Home Alone to The Big Green. Obviously, for the rest of the team, they only had to really look at their childhood to get the answer to the topic at hand.

When one thinks of marketing in the States to American kids, the automatic assumption is those who grew up here would have the automatic advantage in creating strategy and planning because they have first-hand experience of what it’s like to grow up American. They know essential slang like boo-boos and cooties to get through the elementary school playground, and they understand the activities and rowdiness that kids during their time engaged in. You would think they know everything that is needed to know about kids like them.

Kids these days are different. They have different wants, needs and they probably have different sets of activities beyond those that we can remember from our childhoods. They play video games at length. They consume media through mobile phones, tablets and emerging gadgets. They relate to their friends differently, brought about the changes in technology in the last few years. They are more connected to a global world comprising of cousins, family and friends from elsewhere in the world. These changes make it difficult to think that childhood in 2012 is anything close to childhood circa 1992.

On the weekends, I tutor kids from elementary to high school, and I’m always amazed at what I learn from them. Besides their fanatical obsession with Justin Bieber and trending liking of Mindless Behavior, they are also in tune with books that are sweeping a huge portion of adulthood like The Hunger Games. They are tech savvy and can work their way through homework problems through The Khan Academy. They have new tools to solve math like the Lattice Method. The point is, kids nowadays are very, very different.

If we solely look back at our childhood experiences and what appealed to us when crafting a marketing strategy for kids, it will not only limit our view, but can actually mislead us. We are not marketing to kids in 1992. We’re marketing in 2012. Kids’ interests have evolved. At the core, of course, they’re still kids and have a lot of commonalities with our 8-to-12-year-old past selves, but the best way to understand them is to spend time with them. More than merely talking to them, listen to what they talk about. More than what they think is the new “cool” thing, understand why that piques their interest. More than asking them questions about preferences, observe how they behave. More than rewinding to versions of ourselves at that age, analyze the new set of priorities, expectation and relationships they juggle at that age, in today’s digital age.

Seems simple, but it takes a lot of effort to do this right.

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