On March 15, 2018, the iconic toy store chain Toys “R” Us announced the imminent closure of all its points of sale, leaving many consumers both stunned and nostalgic. With a global downward trend in the toy market, the sharp change in likes, preferences and consumption patterns of children regarding their entertainment needs is undeniable. In light of this about-face, companies need to pay particular attention to their youngest consumers.
In 2016, Euromonitor valued the global market for babies and children at over 200 billion dollars. However, understanding the youngest consumer not only benefits the brands that are specific to this sector, but can also help all consumer brands anticipate how the the next generations of adult consumers will behave.
In our latest article, called “Children and Their Brands: How Young Consumers Relate to Brands”, published in the Journal of Consumer Marketing, we researched the process through which children, start, develop, end and even reestablish relations with brands.
The following ten branding strategies, drawn from the conclusions of this research article, serve to attract and/or retain this younger consumer segment:
- Your brand should foster autonomy. Children appreciate brands that allow them to feel independent. Therefore, your brand needs features that allow children to make their own decisions and not depend on "grownups". Brands such as Netflix and Apple allow children to choose what to see and which Apps to buy (in the case of the Apple store) without the need for adult intervention. It must be stressed that, for ethical and privacy reasons, both brands offer child-friendly versions of their content, which can be monitored and pre-authorized by parents.
- Build a visually attractive brand. Since children’s mental structures are highly visual, the visual components of a brand (logo, colors, brand mascot, figures, packaging, labels, etc.) are pivotal to achieving brand awareness in the children's market. Coca-Cola, a leading brand and benchmark for branding excellence, has managed to captivate consumers from a very early age with its characteristic colors, packaging, Christmas characters and family tradition, among many other factors.
- Develop a corporate social responsibility strategy. Traditionally, social responsibility campaigns have focused on the adult market. However, children are also aware of social issues and value brands that do something to help the less fortunate. The American Girl brand of dolls, for example, has a social responsibility strategy called "Making the world a brighter place", through which they support a wide range of social causes related to children.
- Use sales promotions. Children are becoming increasingly independent in their buying processes, very often making a purchase without the direct intervention of an adult. They are sensitive to prices and appreciate brands that give them greater value for their money by offering discounts, 2 for 1, free samples, etc. The girl’s clothing brand, Justice, has a customer loyalty program, in which girls who accumulate several purchases within a certain period of time can earn discounts and win free products.
- Prioritize reach and not frequency in your spots. Children display advertising fatigue with brands whose spots have a high level of repetition. They are even aware of phenomena such as visual pollution and punish brands that over-advertise. Toy brands, such as Mattel and Hasbro, excessively increase the frequency of their spots during the Christmas season and on Children’s Day, which can in fact result in a negative performance for them.
- Your brand should foment family time. The family structure has changed drastically over the past few years. At present, both parents work outside the home, so children welcome brands and products that promote quality time with their loved ones. An excellent example is Disney, which, with its films, board games and even theme parks, manages to bring families together and generate lifelong memories.
- Your brand represents a sign of friendship. Friendships are increasingly important for children, since they are often the only contact they have with people of their own age with whom they can interact and identify. Therefore, brands that represent a common consumption between the child and his or her friends are highly valued. Nintendo is a brand that generates a common and often simultaneous consumption experience among children, either face-to-face or virtually.
- Pay attention to word-of-mouth. Children talk about brands with their friends and schoolmates. They even recommend brands to each other and when they have a bad experience, tell their friends and warn them about that brand. Play Station offers the option of sharing a video game with a friend, even if the friend does not own the game. This option, called "Share Play", fosters word-of-mouth recommendation in children.
- Your brand should make children’s lives easier. Children appreciate brands that allow them to fulfill their everyday responsibilities more efficiently. An example is the Photomath App, which allows children to do their math homework in a simple and very visual way, through photographs that can be taken on a mobile device.
- Build a brand portfolio that evolves with the lifecycle. Children are aware that in a few years’ time when they are older they will no longer be using "kids’" brands. As a result, companies must develop a brand portfolio that reflects this gradual change across all the stages of children's development, so as not to lose this relationship, but keep it for life. Pink, for example, is a sub-brand of Victoria's Secret, which manages to connect with the young consumer at an early age, and then migrate the relationship to the parent brand. Another example is Tommy Hilfiger Kids, a sub-brand that reaches out to the children's market and then retains them as loyal consumers of the Tommy Hilfiger brand.
Regarding children, there is still a great deal to learn about how to reach them and the growing market they represent. These branding strategies offer valuable guidance for successful marketing campaigns that will help to forge a strong relationship with the children's market, thus generating brand loyalty and love. Taking these recommendations into account will help to benefit and focus more attention on the children's market.
We must keep in touch with this market as it becomes increasingly stronger and more important in diverse industries, such as toys, video games, clothing and footwear. Although we have not focused in this article on teens-young people, we strongly recommend further research on strategies and the way in which their connotations should change as children grow into adults and join the largest market targeted by brands. Let’s not forget Lucy Hughes’ recommendation about children: build that relationship when they're younger and you've got them as an adult.
“They [children] are tomorrow's adult consumers so start talking to them now,
build that relationship when they're younger and you've got them as an adult.”
- Lucy Hughes