Need A Tech-Savvy Focus Group? Try Your Toddler

They are the harshest critics, the earliest adopters, and they aren't afraid to let you know when your ideas stink. Your kids are a marketing gold mine.

I have two kids, and watching them grow up has been an education in our future generation, as well as helpful for me professionally as I attempt to assist marketers in bridging generation gaps.

One of the first "wow" moments for me was when my daughter, Lila (age 4), began referring to my iPhone as a computer. Lila doesn’t even know what a traditional phone is at this point; to her, phones are multifunctional devices that are nearly as powerful as a laptop. This is just one example of the many experiences raising my children where their habits have been applicable to general consumer behavior and marketing. Others include:

Focus on participatory content. Kids are some of the savviest tech aficionados you can find--the intuitive and interactive designs of today’s consumer tech products naturally gel with their curious nature. This trend in creating products that are interactive extends to the role of the marketer, where participatory content is the name of the game. Children raised in the era of YouTube believe that they have a decent shot at becoming famous and are willing to hop into the pop culture conversation by creating their own homage to everything from "Gangnam Style" to "Call Me Maybe." Brands that focus on creating this type of engaging content may find themselves in the middle of a cultural phenomenon (if done well).

Recognize the life cycle of an idea. My children also keep me very in tune with the life cycle of an idea. Some toys are great for hours and hours of play, and others will hold their interest for mere minutes. When I see this behavior I think, “What’s the life cycle of a campaign, and how long until consumers no longer want to play with it?” Just like in my personal life, I’ve found that you can tell pretty quickly what toys/campaigns are winners, but knowing how long they will be able to hold their interest is a constantly moving target where analytics heavily come into play.

Overcome preconceptions. Finally, kids are notorious for their steadfastness once an association has been made. If they like something, they love it. If they hate something, they will have nothing to do with it. It’s extremely difficult to change these perceptions and something that requires ingenuity to overcome (i.e., an M&M for every piece of broccoli eaten, until they begin to like broccoli). For marketers, this comes into play when you consider the roadblocks digital natives will throw up when it comes to online advertising. From shunning banner ads on digital platforms, to rarely sticking around to watch an entire commercial online (when skipping through is an option), this group is notoriously hard for marketers to nail down. One way to change the perception is to start thinking in terms of economics. HitBliss is a startup that has unveiled a disruptive model for streaming content online that positions watching ads as currency, affording users access to free content (taking on Hulu and Netflix) in return. Genius.

Improve your pitches. Another way my kids have helped improve my skills as a marketer is their skill as interrogators. They’re always asking “why?”… followed by several more “why’s?” You always need an explanation for your explanation. Similarly, when pitching a new idea to a client, you learn to expect having to make a strong case that you will need to defend enthusiastically.

Watching my two children (I also have a toddler son) develop personalities, behaviors, and opinions has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life, and one of the most enlightening for my career. My kids are my best focus group, and my number one focus.

-- Eli Singer is president and CEO of Toronto-based Entrinsic, a digital culture agency that works with Google+, RBC, Rogers, Days Inn, and Sobeys.

[Image: Flickr user Lauren Hammond]

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  • Kimberly Gandy

    I couldn't agree more with the thoughts presented in this piece. I am the CEO of a medical software company, and my daughter has been instrumental in designing our engagement platforms. As one would imagine, she is much better at figuring out what engages kids. Equally as interesting, however, is the fact that she can identify things that engage adults, from either  watching what they do, or from identifying with those things that adults really want to do, but would never either acknowledge or verbalize.  Take away preconceptions, and one is left with data.