Posts Tagged 'children'

Battle of the Brands is available for purchase!

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How does your brand compete with others in the battle to win today’s youth?

Crux Research has conducted a syndicated study of 57 youth-oriented brands that is available for purchase on Collaborata.  We have a “data only” option for sale for $4,900 and an option including a full report and consultation/presentation for $9,500.

Brands that succeed with Millennials can enjoy their loyalty for years to come. This study’s 13- to 24-year-old group is often given short shrift by brands that have a more adult target. That can prove to be short-sighted thinking. Teens and young adults not only spend significant amounts of their own money, they also influence the spending of parents, siblings, and other adults in their lives. They are the adult shoppers of the future; building a relationship with them now can translate into loyalty that lasts their lifetime. This study shows you exactly where your brand fares among this critical cohort right now and what you need to do increase young consumers’ engagement with your brand.

More information about this study can be found here.

Objectives for our “Battle of the Brands” project are as follows:

  • Compare and contrast the relative strengths across a variety of measures of 57 youth-oriented brands.
  • See how your brand is “personalized” — learn where it statistically maps across 32 brand personality dimensions.
  • Discover how the 57 brands fare on the key measures of Awareness, Brand Interaction, Brand Connection, Brand Popularity, and Motivation.
  • Take away key insights into why some brand succeed, while others struggle, with these Millennials and Gen Z consumers.
  • These brands have been selected from a wide range of categories, including social causes, media and entertainment, retail, technology, and consumer packaged goods.

Become a co-sponsor of this actionable today! Increase your brand’s youth standing tomorrow.

“I wish that I could be like the cool kids”

In today’s digital environment, marketers are often seeking a viral way to spread news about their product or to stoke a trend. Traditional thinking was that trends spread predictably. Trends were seen to launch on the west coast (usually from urban environments), spread to the east coast, and eventually make their way to middle America and a mass market. This is why so many “cool seeker” or “trend seeker” researcher panels were established. By connecting to the cool kids in the right environments, marketers could get an early sense of what was going to happen next and get on board for the ride. They could seed ideas with the right audience and let nature take its course.

The Internet has largely blown up this paradigm. It has become a great “leveler” of youth trends. Now, a trend can start anywhere, become viral seemingly randomly, and spin out of control quickly. A geographic center of trends is hard to pinpoint if it exists at all. In research, “trend seeker” panels have become more of an oddity in market research – and have been supplanted largely by online communities of teens from across the country.

How can a communications and “connecting” technology (the Internet) have such a profound impact on how innovations and trends take hold?

Innovation diffusion to the mainstream has been the subject of academic study for some time.  Perhaps the most seminal work in the field came in 1962 when Everett Rogers published The Diffusion of Innovations. This book has been required reading at MBA marketing programs for more than 50 years.

In this book, Rogers outlines a classic theory. Innovators (2-3% of the population) start using a product. Early adopters (10%-15%) see what the innovators are doing and jump on board quickly. Next, the early majority (30%-35%) jumps on board as the hype around the product peaks. The late majority (30%-34%) gets on board. Finally, eventually the laggards (10%-15%) join in.

For decades, this thinking caused marketers to focus a disproportionate effort on the innovators – the 2%-3% of the population that supposedly spark new trends. This concept is the underpinning of why marketing dollars flow towards young people, urban consumers, minorities, etc. as marketers hope to start a chain reaction through the Rogers segments. Why have we had such a focus on youth marketing? It isn’t because they have a lot of money to spend, as compared to other age segments they don’t.  It is because marketers feel they are influential.

New media and viral marketing has made this thinking even more prevalent. If we can just reach the influencers, we’ll let loose a viral effect and sell a lot of product. Unfortunately, this thinking is a good example of applying an old paradigm to a new world.

Even in the pre-Internet past, this thinking tended to work more on a “fad” than a “trend” level. To illustrate this, in presentations I often ask the audience to write down what they think the most successful marketing brands and products have been in the past 10 years that are youth-oriented. I pause, and then list them out on a whiteboard. Typical responses are as follows:

  • The iPhone
  • Harry Potter franchise
  • American Idol
  • Barbie
  • National Football League
  • Various Boy Bands

I then point out that franchises like these, which have hit it incredibly big with youth, all have one thing in common. They didn’t diffuse to the mainstream in the Rogers fashion. They didn’t start by being popular with cool kids. Rather, they found a way to go directly to the mainstream. Oftentimes, they got there by being shunned by the cool kids.

I believe the rise of the Internet will eventually (once they catch on) cause marketers to stop thinking in the traditional way about how new trends diffuse to the mainstream. The introverted kid in the Midwest who has a popular blog is fast becoming more influential than the hipster on the street in Los Angeles. Marketers will find more direct tributaries to the mainstream, and the cool hunter research panels that still exist in the market research industry will disappear.

Millennials as Entrepreneurs?

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A few years back, I followed a symposium speaker who described how today’s youth generation (Millennials) were likely to be highly entrepreneurial. Her reasoning seemed to be that big ideas and companies tend to be launched by young trendy people willing to take risks, that experiences such as the founding of Facebook show how far technology can take a young person with big ideas, and that there are so many Millennials that big things were about to happen.

I disagree. Here is a prognostication to file and look at in about 20 years: when all is said and done, history will judge Millennials as one of the LEAST entrepreneurial of the recent generations.

Why? There are some key characteristics of Millennials that lead strongly to this conclusion.

  1. Millennials are risk-averse. If you look at long term trends on almost any risk behavior, you will see that Millennials are on the good side of history.  Drug, alcohol, and tobacco use has plummeted, crimes committed by young people have declined, teen pregnancy rates are at their lowest in decades, and college attendance is at an all-time high.
  2. Millennials have grown up in a world of structure and protection. This is a “comfortable” generation that largely hasn’t felt a need to act out or to fend for themselves as children.  Just a generation ago Gen Xers were known as lightly-parented, latch-key kids, who as a consequence had to learn to find their own creative solutions to problems they encountered.  Millennials have not had to develop these types of skills. In fact, many Millennials expect to move back in with their parents for a time post-college, and much of this boomerang mentality is from a desire to return to their parents, not just out of economic necessity.
  3. As Millennials have come of age, the education system has evolved in a narrow way, with an almost exclusive focus and reward structure around STEM fields. Many would say that creativity has become collateral damage along the way. This develops college graduates with incredible technical skills, but boxes them in creatively.
  4. Today’s employers are focusing more than ever on the care and feeding of their Millennial employees. They no longer hire gobs of college graduates and let them fight their way to the top.  Rather, they have instituted career advancement and mentorship programs and seem much more willing to invest in the development of their young employees.
  5. Finally, Millennials seek structure and security in employment. Each year Universum conducts a college student survey which asks pending college graduates whom their ideal employer is. Just as the Millennial generation started graduating college, larger organizations, former startups that had become huge companies, and even governmental agencies started taking over the top 10. Would you believe that the #3 most desirable employer among humanities graduates is currently the US Department of State? Or that #4 is the United Nations? Or that #6 is the FBI? Incredibly, even the NSA makes the top 10.

Millennials seem perfectly formed for larger organizations that take the time truly understand them. They will desire the structure and caring these organizations can provide as it parallels the structure and caring that has surrounded them their whole lives.  They will of course want to be able to express their ideas and find creative solutions to problems.  What we are now seeing in large organizations is a willingness to allow them to do so.

This is not to say that in 20 years we won’t look back and see some incredible firms that were started by Millennials, as we certainly will. But, compared to their Gen X predecessors, I’ll be very surprised if this generation is characterized as entrepreneurial in a historical sense.

Does Class Size Matter?

Reducing class sizes is a commonly discussed goal in education. However, there may not be a more consequential educational issue where the academic research available is a poorer match to anecdotal evidence than the issue of class size.

Ask any teacher, administrator, or parent you know what they would prefer, and almost all of them will say that smaller class sizes are more conducive to learning than larger class sizes. Peruse any higher education website and you will find most try to trumpet their low student to faculty ratio. And, intuitively, it just makes sense that students will learn better if there are fewer of them in a class.

But, there is actually very little academic evidence that class size matters. Our review of the literature indicates that there is some evidence (gathered long ago) that smaller class sizes have an effect at the youngest grade levels, but little or inconclusive evidence that smaller class sizes matter among older students.

Yet a debate rages regarding class sizes. Teacher unions are understandably in favor of lowering class sizes, as this makes the job of the teacher easier and increases the numbers of teachers that need to be hired. Administrators seem to also favor lowering class sizes, but are wary to do so without much evidence indicating that it will improve academic achievement. Politicians favor it as well, as reducing class sizes certainly sounds like ad admirable goal to pursue.

What is undebatable is that there are significant costs involved in decreasing class sizes. Reducing class sizes means building more classrooms, maintaining larger facilities, and hiring more teachers.  The costs of reducing class sizes are potentially large, which is why it is surprising the issue doesn’t have much academic study and thought behind it.

We feel the issue has been oversimplified. Like most things we study, there are likely decreasing returns as class size is reduced. In other words, there is likely an ideal level for class size. There is probably a point where a class size can be too small, as tiny class sizes don’t allow for student-to-student learning and collaboration, small group projects, etc. As class size increases, it likely hits an ideal point, where the learning efficiency of the classroom is maximized. And, invariably, a class size can grow too large, where supervision of students is compromised.

It is possible that the academic studies that are available have not investigated a wide enough range of class sizes and therefore have not been able to spot this ideal point. Since no school district could (by law) change its average class size by more than a few students, academic researchers are likely concentrating on class size differences that are not large enough to show much of an effect.

However, in the debate over class sizes, there is an important issue we have never seen discussed. It is that the ideal class size is likely not the same for all situations. Even within a school, the ideal class size likely varies by the subject taught, the academic capabilities of the students, the grade level, and importantly, the particular strengths and weaknesses of the teacher.

For example, why do we presume that the same class size is needed for English as is needed for Math, or Foreign Languages? Why do we presume that 7th graders need the same class sizes as 12th graders? Or that a first-year teacher will be most efficient teaching the same class size as a proven teacher with 20 years of experience? Or that every student benefits most from the same class sizes?

We ignore the variability that is inherent in the process.  And, we don’t give our school managers (School Principals) much leeway in how they can manage their resources to take into account this variability.

We’d like to see Principals given a lot more latitude over how to best utilize their staff. In any organization whose success is dependent on the capabilities and productivity of its workers, the main task of a manager is to understand his/her staff’s capabilities and knowing how to properly deploy human resources.

Currently, Principals are given almost no latitude regarding class sizes. The Principal is forced to take a cookie cutter approach – with all teachers being assigned virtually the same number of students. A teacher is largely given the same responsibility on his/her first day on the job as his/her last day. Regardless of his/her subject, experience level, talents, teaching style, grade level, etc.  The teaching staff is the most important asset a Principal has to achieve academic excellence, and it is time to give Principals more responsibility in this area.

Class size absolutely matters. Just not in the same way and same level for every school, teacher, and student.

Just ask them: 9 out of 10 high school students are above average

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We often have a need to ask a question that relates to academic performance in studies – so we can analyze results across a range of academic achievement. We necessarily have to rely on self-reports, and kids and teens tend to paint a fairly optimistic performance of their academic performance.

I used to think that this sort of optimism associated with your grades tended to result from faulty memory more than anything intentional. I know that my high school GPA and my college track times have miraculously improved as I have aged. But our results suggest that this isn’t the case – that students will greatly overstate their academic performance while they are still in high school.

The question we ask is straightforward: Which best describes your academic performance so far?

What we find is the following …

  • 7% of students will say they are in the top 1% of the class
  • 17% will say they are in the top 5%
  • 38% will say they are in the top 15%
  • 61% will say they are in the top 25%
  • 90% will say they are in the top 50%

So, 90% of high school students feel they are above average academically.

Is this a problem? I tend to think not – having confidence and a healthy sense of self-worth can be a good thing as children move out on their own. However, when this inflated sense of performance moves towards narcissism or unrealistic expectations it can be setting our children up for failure.

It can be challenging to ascribe a cause to this. Most commentators agree that the Millennial generation is characterized as being over-protected and having adults in their lives who continually reinforce how special they are. Grade inflation in schools and colleges can engender this feeling. Youth sports have moved to encouraging and reinforcing participation at least as much as rewarding successful competition. I suppose this all yields a generation with a healthy ego, but not necessarily one that has learned to deal with failure.

When searching for causes, we need to look towards parents as well, as they set the context for their children. In a parallel study, we have shown that parents are even more likely to feel their children are above average than the children themselves are. Among parents …

  • 11% will say their child is in the top 1% of the class
  • 40% will say their child is in the top 5%
  • 63% will say their child is in the top 15%
  • 84% will say their child is in the top 25%
  • 93% will say their child is in the top 50%

Again, while there may be positives in parents being optimistic regarding the abilities of their children, it can also be a cause of complacency. Why does the US lag other countries in test performance? Perhaps when this many parents overstate their children’s academic achievement it is difficult to create any urgency behind the issue. It is quite common on surveys to see parents state that the nation’s schools are doing a poor job, but their local district is outstanding.

“Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” –Garrison Keillor

The Evolution of Youth Marketing

Youth marketing is sometimes described as an “industry.” It has its own consultants, specialized agencies, and researchers. In my own lifetime I’ve seen marketing to kids move from something to be feared to something that is expected.

It can be somewhat disturbing to attend youth marketing conferences and hear militaristic terms used to describe children. Youth have become “targets,” a segment to be “captured,” and a demographic to be “penetrated.” I’ll never forget being at a youth conference where a presenter came dressed in full camouflaged military regalia and carried a fake shotgun. His theme was that if you want to capture the youth market, it is necessary to “hunt” them in their native habitat. More disturbing than the talk was the 200 or so youth marketers in the audience that didn’t seem disturbed by his characterization of children.

It is interesting to think about how we have gotten to this point as marketers. Viewing youth marketing through a historical and generational lens can yield some insight. So, let’s travel in time together and look at the evolution of youth marketing.

If we go way back, to when the Silent Generation (born 1925–1942) were children, we see that these were the offspring of some very difficult times. They were children of the Depression and war years, and were characterized as desiring conformity and security. At this time the marketing world itself was just getting established, and marketers were struggling to promote their wares at a time of economic uncertainty and war rationing. There was no “mass” way to reach consumers, as movies/news reels, local newspapers, and magazines were the key media of the day. Youth marketing at this time simply didn’t exist. Marketers were treading careful waters with adults.

The Boomer Generation (born 1943–1960) brought forth a huge increase in the number of children in the US, as well as America’s prominence in the world economy. These were Dr. Spock babies – raised by permissive parents, who became quite rebellious and self-centered later. This marked the advent of the TV age, and with limited channels and programming, marketers could reach a mass of consumers at the same time. For youth marketers, we typically call this the “children are to be seen and not heard” era. This time period witnessed the birth of the brand management system. Many marketing techniques in use today were created and refined at this time. But, there was such unfettered growth in adult markets that children were largely an afterthought for marketers.

This changed as Xers (birth years 1961–1981) came of age. Xers were born at tough time to be a kid. Divorce rates skyrocketed, parents focused on their own achievements, and the term “latch-key child” took hold.  Xers have been fiercely independent ever since, as they had to learn to do many things on their own. Just as marketers had a new way to reach kids directly (Saturday morning TV, and later kid cable channels), many brands began to mature, and marketers started hunting for growth.  One place they found was children. But, at this time, we remained in a parent-centric world, so marketing to children was really done by proxy – by marketing to Mom. Marketers discovered the youth market at this time, but addressed this market largely via their mothers.

Then came the Millennials (birth years 1982–2004). This is a sizeable generation (the Echo Boom) that has been watched and studied since they were born. They are characterized by over-protective parents, being reared largely in boom economic times, and as being risk-averse, team oriented, and in constant need of affirmation. Far from the “children are to be seen and not heard” era, this period marked a transition where youth became a central focus of society. Digital media came on the scene, allowing more targeted marketing approaches. So, how did marketers address them? Marketers quickly saw opportunity in youth markets and started applying sophisticated marketing techniques to them. For most of this era, marketers made what we consider to be a monumental mistake:  they concentrated on youth largely to the exclusion of parents. There was a sense among marketers at this time that if you try to market to both parents and kids at the same time you will fail at both. Marketers (who often hailed from Gen X themselves) often felt children were as independent as they were, and despite the sophisticated tools at their disposal, had a difficult time understanding the partnerships that were developing between children and their parents.

Which brings us to today’s kid generation, the Homeland Generation (birth years 2005 onward). These are kids growing up not just in an era of protectiveness via their parents, but also via society and the government. Political leaders often couch their policies in how well they will keep our children safe. Our culture is concerned that our children truly might not be better off than we were. Homelanders are also very much a “home centered” generation, as they don’t need to leave home (because of technology) to be entertained or to socialize, and they don’t wander much towards unstructured activities.  So, what are marketers learning now?  Largely, they are learning that youth marketing isn’t a matter of applying previous techniques to kids. Decision making processes are much more complex. For instance, think about the decision to buy a new video gaming system for the household.  Who makes that decision?  Mom?  Dad?  The Child?  Who pays for it? Who makes the actual transaction?  Who uses it once it is bought?

The decision process isn’t so clear cut because what you are really marketing to these days is a collaborative decision making unit and not an individual.  There is a marketing firm in our industry who says that youth marketers need to realize that their consumer has two heads, four arms, and four legs. We have seen many marketers who desperately want to be “kid-centric” stumble because they don’t truly understand the role of parents and just how collaborative households have become.

Historians typically resist writing about anything that has happened in the past 20 years because it is truly hard to understand larger trends without the benefit of a long-term perspective. The same is true about youth marketing today. Someday we’ll be able to look back and document what happened, but for now our best path is to look to broader, generational trends, and realize there is something happening here and we don’t know what it is.

What has two eyes, one brain, and costs a quarter million dollars to educate?

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Publicly-funded education is perhaps one of America’s greatest triumphs. Education has been part-and-parcel to our democracy and the founding fathers realized early that if government was going to be of the people, for the people, and by the people, then the people better be well-educated.

The idea of compulsory public schools goes back to the founding of the nation but actually took some time to gain traction. This is likely because education was and (despite recent history) remains largely a local responsibility. Throughout the 1800’s States passed laws making education compulsory. It took some time for these laws to create a culture where education of children was largely left up to the State, sort of “outsourced” from parents.

In 1912, 72% of America’s children were in school. By 1930, this percentage had reached virtually 100%. I believe this is the main factor behind the dawning of American dominance in the 20th century. There were other factors, but the US had early success in making education compulsory, which gave us a head start in innovation and business. It led to almost a century of leadership of the world’s economy.

Yet, somehow this educational prominence has slipped, or at least has been perceived to have slipped. International comparisons tend to show that our students are not doing well compared to other developed countries. Although many of the prophesies of “A Nation at Risk” have not come to fruition, the concerns expressed more than 30 years ago are resurfacing.

Complaints about the educational system seem to flow with the business cycle and peak at times of economic uncertainty. And we shouldn’t ignore the economics: the resources we spend to educate our children are considerable. My local school district currently spends $12,684 per student per year. Some quick math implies that it cost about $165,000 to educate my child from grades K-12.  Since I have two children, it has cost about $330,000 to get them to a high school diploma. As a parent, I owe our local taxpayers a thank you.But, as a taxpayer soon to not have children in school, I have to be concerned about this level of public investment.

Take the case of a child in the school district where I live, which is a suburban district in New York State.Most students from this district end up going to a 4-year college. For demonstration sake, I picked the closest State college and closest private university to where I live. The annual tuition, room and board, etc. for these students runs $18,055 at the State college and $45,602 at the private university. I am assuming this captures the full cost of what it takes to educate a student for a year at these institutions. These costs might be paid by parents and students, or loans, or grants. For this example, it doesn’t matter where the money comes from.

Using these figures, the total cost of educating a child in our district from Kindergarten until he/she turns the tassel at college is about $237,000 for the State college and $347,000 for the private university. This is what it costs “society” to educate a child from my area, with society being a mix of tax dollars, parent and child money, scholarships, loans, etc.

This is likely an underestimate of the true costs of education. Costs are higher than this calculation for the State college, as they receive government subsidies that help keep their tuition costs down. And, there is an opportunity cost to not having the student in the workforce and contributing to the economic output of the nation until he/she is 21 or 22 years old.

This example shows that there is an understandable economic underpinning to current criticisms of our education system. At a time when we have pressed an increasing base of students to go to college, the college costs have risen substantially. That in itself is not problematic – more problematic is that the costs of college have been growing at a much faster rate than the benefits.

A recent piece by the Wall Street Journal indicates that since 2006, the cost of a 4-year degree has increased by 16.5%. At the same time, starting salaries have stagnated, and I have even seen calculations suggesting first year salaries for college graduates have fallen for the first time in history, when calculated on a real basis.

So, is this a bubble that will have to pop? I guess the definition of a bubble is that nobody really knows we are in one until it punctures. But, it is predictable that education institutions, both K-12 schools and colleges and universities, are going to be under even more intense pressure in the future.