I love reading articles in the business section of any newspaper or magazine that reveals a new use for an old product or shows how a company is targeting a new but known market. It makes me think that the powers that be are cultivating and then nurturing a creative culture. Recently, I read something about how carmakers are beginning to direct their advertising toward the playground set. On the one hand, as a mother and a concerned consumer I get a little uppity about these strategies, but as a businesswoman I´m cheering them on.
Companies know that as we age we change: many of us don´t want those big houses or big cars. We want sun-filled beaches and long afternoon naps . . . but that´s another story. Companies aren´t necessarily just looking for the next big thing (NBT); they´re searching for the buyers of the NBT. Now, little three-year-old Johnny knows he can´t walk into the nearest dealership and get the keys to a brand new SUV, but he can certainly, in some cases, get his parents to spring for a miniature version. And if Johnny gets his way when he turns 16 all that hard work at youth marketing will have paid off.
So where are these ideas coming from? Clearly, someone is conducting focus groups, but I imagine that the brains behind all this also comes from people who are simply being encouraged to look around and pay attention. And by the way, please don´t think, as I mentioned above, that I´m not aware of the prickly notion of manipulation going on. But I think that´s happening everywhere, not just in the auto industry. Indeed, I think parents themselves right on the playground are sometimes responsible, but that, too, is another story. Somebody-well, a few somebody´s, I´m sure-decided that it´s pretty valuable to watch what happens between kids and their parents, particularly the moms and dads who like their toys. From today´s Wall Street Journal: "Today´s parents can be nagged by their kids into buying big-ticket items like cars." I believe it. I haven´t been bullied into buying a certain car, though, recently, when I mentioned to my teenage daughter how much I like the new Honda CR-V, she announced that she thought I had pretty bad taste. For about ten seconds I did consider her observation and I´m embarrassed to say that it still lingers. Let´s face it: we are influenced to some degree by people we love, especially the ones that sit in our laps and grow up wanting what they want.
My guess is that the people who conduct child-focused marketing research give their staffs a lot of leeway when it comes to trying to determine what will work and what might fail. They know, for example, that it might not be the highest intellect or the oldest individual who will wield the most power when it comes to spending money, directly or indirectly.
So the question is: do you and your staff work in an environment that can foster that kind of counterintuitive thinking? If so, what have you done to achieve that? If not, what can you do?