Archive for August, 2011

Babies: The Ultimate Brand Loyalists?

Editor’s note: This entry was first published at Beneath the Brand, a marketing industry blog.

There are a few emerging age groups on which marketers are increasingly doting: 0 to 20 and 12 to 34. If that seems a bit broad, that’s because it is, and intentionally so.

The basis of the American capitalist economy is changing. The Institute for Supply Management recently released its report on the state of the manufacturing industry for the month of July, and the numbers weren’t good: July of 2011 experienced the first contraction in new product orders since June of 2009, although export orders held steady (no doubt indicative of the wavering dollar value). So what does that mean for the American economy, and how is it tied to the marketing industry?

Consumers, in the traditional sense of the word, no longer have much of a demand for manufactured, tangible products, it seems. In a consumer-based economy that hinges on production, how are companies to grow if demand is shrinking? By selling new needs to a new consumer base. And in the pursuit of new customers, companies are shifting their marketing strategies to target a younger and younger demographic. First, “youth marketing” was the buzzword. Then, it was fine-tuned to the “tweens.” Now, newborns are the new base.

While children must have mastered basic language and verbal skills in order to communicate their preferences, research indicates that language is not necessary in order to form those preferences. Even as early as 1998, Norma Pecora wrote in her The Business of Children’s Entertainment  that “as we move into the 21st century, children are well-trained consumers able to associate Ronald McDonald with good things before they have learned the language.”

The C-levels at Disney must have read Pecora’s book, because in January, 580 American maternity hospitals opened their doors to company representatives that visit new mothers with a welcome present for the infant: the Disney Cuddly Bodysuit. The cozy, adorable bodysuits — often donning famous Disney protagonists — are complimentary, so long as Mom is willing to sign up for e-mail updates from DisneyBaby.com, the new corporate initiative.

“Apparel is only a beachhead,” Andy Mooney, chairman of Disney Consumer Products, told the New York Times. Disney Baby also offers nursery, on-the-go and meal-time products. Mooney is also working on a loyalty program that incorporates soon-to-be as well as new moms. One idea being discussed is offering free theme park tickets to pregnant women that sign up for e-mail alerts. “To get that mom thinking about her family’s first park experience before the baby is even born is a home run,” he said.

If a baby can connect with a brand before even learning to speak, the chance of creating life-long brand loyalty — and with it, a sense of brand identity — is much more likely than if a child’s first encounter with that brand is at, say, the age of 5. And once that child learns to speak and communicate with his or her parents and grandparents, suddenly you are talking about real influence over real dollars.

As the baby wearing the Disney Cuddly Bodysuit turns into the tween watching Mylie Cyrus on the Disney Channel, and then turns into the 20-something buying movie tickets to Shrek for date night, it’s reasonable to presume that that 20-something will be glad to sign up for an e-mailed newsletter about all things Disney Baby in exchange for free tickets to Disney World. That person is a marketing happily ever after. The transition is seamless, with some overlap among traditional age groups. A 22-year-old sitting in the movie theatre watching Shrek could well be sitting next to an 8-year-old. Nostalgia sells, and it works because consumers are introduced to brands at an ever-earlier age. Rather than creating a sense of identity by geography or religious background or gender, children are learning to create a sense of self around the brand with which they identify. That sense of identity broadens focal demographics considerably when regarding age.

Unfortunately, this aspect of the industry does not bless marketers with the luxury of simplicity. As the adage goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Youth marketing can provide a great service. Companies that align their brand image with social issues, for instance, can help increase awareness of those issues and help young people discern what is going to be important to them as civilians as well as consumers. Or perhaps a company can
become synonymous with a lifestyle — Nike has accomplished this with great success. The trick, then, when targeting the youth market, is to do so with ethical conscious.

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The Magic of a Story

Editor’s note: This entry was originally published at Beneath the Brand, a marketing industry blog.

Ten days ago, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 enjoyed a record $43.5-million premiere — and that was just the midnight showing. By the end of the first day at the box office, the final Harry Potter installment had earned a whopping $92.1 million.

While Part 2 exceeded anyone’s expectations, the success shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone following the $15-billion brand empire built around The Boy Who Lived. Harry Potter is so much more than a gangly teenage wizard; Harry Potter is arguably one of the best-recognized brands in the world. If you’d like to read any of the seven books, you have 67 languages from which to choose, including Latin and Ancient Greek. If you’d like a more interactive experience, you have 10 video games from which to choose. If you’d like an even more interactive experience, you can take a trip to Florida to vacation at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

None of this came about by accident. While Joanne Rowling relays a fairytale story about being stuck on a train when the idea for Harry Potter came to her, the actual idea for the narrative was the only spontaneous aspect of Harry Potter as the world knows him now. Bloomsbury Publishing immediately identified a target demographic — children 9 to 11 years old — and asked Rowling to recreate herself with a gender-neutral name. Not having a middle name, she used her grandmother’s name, Kathleen, to create a second initial. Suddenly Joanne Rowling morphed into J. K. Rowling, which her publishers thought would be less off-putting to male readers.

Like the author, the first Harry Potter book has two names. Americans read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but the rest of the world read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Again, the marketing minds behind the book wanted to make it as accessible to as wide a demographic as possible, and they thought that an American audience would respond better to a sorcerer than a philosopher.

Tweaking semantics seems like trivial stuff, but making minor adjustments to customize your product to a target demographic sets the approach for an assertive marketing strategy versus a laissez-faire dud. And one of the reasons that Harry Potter is such a world-wide hit that transcends geography, age, and gender is that its product is one of the most sought-after by humankind: a good story.

Try to categorize the Harry Potter series into a single genre. It’s tough. It’s a fantasy, yes, but it’s not so black-and-white that it only appeals to children, so it’s not really a children’s book. It’s very much a coming-of-age story, but that’s not all it is. It also deals with death and the discomfort of the uncertainty surrounding that concept. So it’s dark, but not so dark that a nine-year-old can’t enjoy it.

Now try to categorize your company into a single genre. If that’s an easy task, you need to take a lesson from Hogwarts. Regardless of what you sell, you need to have a story about who you are. That story should have purpose. It should have a cultural impact on whichever culture you’re serving. And while that message should be consistent, it shouldn’t be two-dimensional; it should have room to evolve. It should be able to engage audiences for at least a decade, preferably generations. The best way to achieve that, if Harry Potter is any example, is to invite your audience to participate in that story. People didn’t just show up en masse to see midnight showings of eight movies; they showed up donning wizard hats and capes. They felt like they were part of the narrative. Even now, though she says she will not write any more Harry Potter books, Rowling has extended another invitation to keep the buzz going: Pottermore, the “free website that builds an exciting online experience around the reading of the Harry Potter books,” will be public in October. But those true fans waiting on the edge of their seats can check back on July 31 to learn how to enter Pottermore early.

What invitations have you sent your brand’s clientele recently?

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