A WINNING FORMULA
What do Barbie®, Garfield, Hi-Ho! Cherry-O, He-Man, See-N-Say, Tasmanian Devil, Cabbage Patch Kids, SpaghettiOs, Power Rangers, Animaniacs, Ghostbusters, Star Wars, Hot Wheels cars, Mario Brothers, UNO, Winnie the Pooh, Carmen Sandiego, Mickey Mouse, Spider-Man, Colorforms, LEGO, GIJoe, Home Alone, X-Men, Pound Puppies, Jurassic Park, Jim Carrey, Pop Tarts, Math Blaster, Reader Rabbit, Bugs Bunny, M&M's candies, The Ren & Stimpy Show, Nike shoes, the Big Mac, Sonic the Hedgehog, Froot Loops, Fruit Roll-Ups, E.T., Batman, The Lion King, the Frisbee, Gak, Hercules, the Tickle Me Elmo doll, and the Little Caesar's pizza commercials have in common?
They are winners with kids.
Many of them are megawinners. Barbie® alone consistently accounts for over $1 billion in gross annual revenues for Mattel Incorporated.
For every winner there are scores of losers and underachievers products and programs that either outright fail or do not live up to their projected expectations in the marketplace. In some industries, the success rate of new product and program introductions is as low as 20 percent. What is it about this winning 20 percent? What do winning products and programs have in common'? Is there a "winning formula" that will guarantee success?
No. As in life itself, there are no guarantees.
There is, however, an approach to product and program development and marketing that will maximize opportunity for success. If a 20 percent success rate can be elevated to a 30 percent success rate, or to 40 percent, it would have a seismic impact on a company's bottom-line profits. What is that approach? It is a thorough and integrated approach to product and program development that has knowing the targeted consumer at the core knowing his/her brain development, needs, motivations, and wants, and the way he/she perceives the world. We call this approach Youth Market Systems, because over the past fifteen years of consulting on winning products and programs such as Barbie, He-Man, the Cabbage Patch Kids, Winnie the Pooh, Reader Rabbit, and Chuck E. Cheese's, we have been able to systematize what we have learned "in the trenches" with companies targeting kids. Most central to this systematic approach is a deep and profound understanding of the underlying abilities, motivations, needs, and behaviors of the young target. Providing a deep and clear understanding of this young consumer is the core emphasis of this book. If there ever were to be a winning formula for success for the youth marketplace, it would be "Know Thy Kid!"
THE PRODUCT LEVERAGE MATRIX
Winning kid-targeted products or programs such as Trix cereal, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, Sonic the Hedgehog, and the UNO card game have what might be termed "leverage" with kids. Leverage essentially translates as "power" that is, the character, product, or program not only catches the attention of the targeted child consumer but meets his needs at a substantial level. It's critical to note that what provides this power with each product or program differs substantially. The Product Leverage Matrix illustrated below is a fundamental tool for getting at where the power is (or isn't) within a given product or program, and is a comprehensive model for either the analysis of an existing product or program or the development of a new one. The Product Leverage Matrix, which follows, is so fundamental to successful product and program development that it is used as a working tool repeatedly throughout this book.
This Product Leverage Matrix represents an integration of and a condensation of years of research and practical application. This tool helps us see the big picture and keeps in front of us what we need to know and to ask in order to integrate all aspects of a product or program. The variables that appear on the Product Leverage Matrix are detailed as follows:
MEDIUM/PRODUCTS: What is the medium, format, or product category? For example, is it a book, a video game, a TV show, a fast-food outlet, a toy? Are we dealing with product packaging? Is our focus on a spokescharacter such as Tony the Tiger?
Examples: Star Wars is a movie, a toy line, a book series, and a license for clothing, video games, foods, and fast foods among others, whereas Frisbees are primarily toys or sports equipment.
CONCEPT: What is the core idea of the product or program'?
Example: The Cabbage Patch Kids concept was extremely successful in utilizing the core idea, or concept, of adopting orphans. Pound Puppies came along a short time later and also capitalized on this powerful theme.
P.O.V.: What is the product or program's psychological and/or philosophical orientation, or P.O.V. (point of view)? Is it conservative, for example? Antisocial? What is its message, if any? What impact might any of this have on the company's image?
Example: The Ren & Stimpy Show and some MTV cartoons have a definitely "edgy" P.O.V., with many references to snot and boogers and other gross anatomical objects and events. A company considering using them under license would most certainly want to take this potentially controversial P.O.V. into account. Even though a relatively straightforward product such as a cheese snack targeted to kids may not appear to have a P.O.V., it does: it's straightforward.
CONTENT: What is the Verbal or Visual content of the product or program? This is really a way of breaking out the central concept into its verbal and visual manifestations.
Examples: Sonic the Hedgehog has a visual "look" and an attitude/ style that is both cute in his cartoony-little-animal appearance and at the same time is visually displayed as having an aggressive attitude. Sonic's appealing Visual content, therefore, has contributed greatly to his success. The Winnie the Pooh characters Winnie himself, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore all have unique voices. This Verbal-content aspect of Winnie the Pooh has been an integral part of its success.
On a product's package, e.g., McDonald's Happy Meal, there is typically both Visual content, such as graphics and drawings of Ronald McDonald and his gang, and Verbal content the words that appear there.
CONTEXT: The context is the geographical setting and time period, as well as the social ambience, i.e., what is going on in the social environment that surrounds the product or program? Also, what competitive products or programs exist? That is, what is the competing Context or environment?
Examples: The world or Context of Barbie® is that of today's teenager and post-teenager in America. This realistic, activity/fun-and social-based context is integral to how young girls relate to her and identify with her. The Cabbage Patch Kids were born and raised in a cabbage patch. This extremely unusual and creative Context contributed greatly to their Point of Difference and set them apart from competing concepts. (Actually, the idea of the cabbage patch as a birthplace comes from European folklore just as "the Stork" does.)
Context also refers to the time period in which the Concept takes place. It may be an Old West theme, for example, which takes place in the past, or a present-day sitcom, or a Star Wars future context. It may be also be a combination, e.g., the present/past-based Jurassic Park.
PROCESS: In essence, Process refers to the product/user interface. How does the product or program work? How does it involve the child? Is it fast or slow-paced? Does it use special effects? Music? Is it interactive? Does the consumer read it'? Watch it? Play with it? In what way?
Examples: Different candies and kid-targeted foods can employ different processes. M&M's candies are unique in their smallness and design such that they are a colorful and unique eating experience for kids. Pez candies involve the unique process of candy dispensing. DunkAroos involve the process of dipping a cookie-like snack into a frosting-like substance. Innovative processes are fundamental to the success of new video games. Sonic the Hedgehog's speed was a key process factor that provided something new and different for video game-playing kids. The movie Star Wars introduced a variety of innovative film processes, including breakthrough sound and visual effects. If a product or program developer can provide their target with some unique and rewarding new Process, it may very well become a major success factor.
CHARACTER(S)/PERSONALITY: What fantasy-based or reality-based characters (if any) appear in or are used with the product or program? What are their archetypes? How does the targeted consumer identify with the characters? What are the dynamics and relationships between the characters?
Examples: Given that kids and characters seem to be inseparably joined at the hip, examples of characters that contribute toward a product or program's success abound: the Trix rabbit, Batman, Barbie®, Mickey Mouse, the Animaniacs characters, Barney & Friends, etc., etc. at least a hundred characters could be named. Among the most successful characters of all time are Bugs Bunny and Garfield. These characters also have a very broad range of appeal across many age segments even for adults because of their unique "looks," personalities, and behaviors. It's no accident that each of these characters has a "dark side" to it, e.g., Bugs Bunny with his acerbic wit, craftiness, and sarcasm, and Garfield with his aggressive abusiveness, indolence, and other self-serving traits. You'll find an in-depth look at kids and characters in Chapter 10.
ATTITUDE/STYLE: What is the product or program's Style and/or Attitude? For example, is it old-fashioned, futuristic, modern, country? Where graphics are concerned, are they plain? Abstract? Straightforward? Funky? Cool? What impact might this Attitude/Style have on the company's image?
Examples: Nike shoes and other apparel have exemplified innovative graphic design and style to the point where the Nike logo alone carries a tremendous power of appeal. X-Men comics and action figures always carry a high-action, aggressive, colorful, in-motion Attitude/Style that appeals strongly to their male targets.
TOP OF MATRIX
There are other product-development, product-maximization, and marketing-related variables that appear at the top of the Product Leverage Matrix; these are important to take into consideration as well.
ESSENCE: This is an exercise that has proven very useful in the development and marketing stages of a product or program. Essence is the core idea of the product or program, and the exercise is to boil the concept down to as few words as possible. Getting at the core essence of a product or program assists greatly in maintaining focus on its key attributes throughout the product-development and marketing cycle.
Examples: Bugs Bunny = Clever cartoon rabbit
Kellogg's Pop Tarts = Fruit-flavored toaster pastries
POINT OF DIFFERENCE: What's different or unique about your product or program in relationship to competitive products or programs already in the marketplace? Without a potent or meaningful "point of difference" your product will not separate itself sufficiently. Also, it's very important to consider: Is your point of difference a point of difference that really makes a difference? In other words, is it powerful in the perception of your targeted consumer'? So what if your gizmo is bigger and greener than the competition's? Is this difference really impactful?
Example: Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? separated itself from competitive learning-software games in several ways:
a. A female yet dark (villainess/criminal) central Character
b. The Content mix of linking learning (geography) with a fun game
c. The unique Process of how the game is played, searching the world for Carmen Sandiego
ASSUMED LEVERAGE VS. ACTUAL LEVERAGE: Typically in the product-development cycle, there are some assumptions made about what the Leverage or power of a concept is. We refer to these assumptions as the Assumed Leverage.
Example: If a new competitor to the Gatorade/Powerade category let's call it Enerjuice is being developed with teens as the primary target, a set of assumptions might include:
a. Teens want more energy.
b. Teens identify with hero athletes.
c. Teens want great taste.
d. Teens will like the new product name: Enerjuice.
Assumptions are also made regarding the hierarchy, or relative power of each of these assumptions in relation to one another.
What's important to note here is that more often than not these assumptions are left unexamined as to veracity and strength. It's an important practice to check assumptions: check what the leverage actually is, and its relative power versus what has been assumed. More often than not, adults make erroneous assumptions about what kids perceive to be important and powerful because adults are looking at their product or program through adult eyes. It is critical to get at the actual leverage rather than the assumed leverage. With the above hypothetical Enerjuice example in mind, adults may be surprised when testing directly with kids' focus groups reveals that the new product's blue color is its most powerful point of leverage and that the majority of kids tested dislike the new name.
Direct kid-and-parent testing is fundamental to making sure that what is being assumed as having "leverage" or being powerful actually is. At Youth Market Systems (YMS) Consulting we have designed what we call "Subject Testing," which is a more experimental design approach: we study the concept to be tested first via the YMS systems models, then come up with hypotheses about how kids or parents are going to respond, then test to confirm or refute these hypotheses.
PROMISE: This Promise variable assists us in getting at the actual power or impact that a product or program has. The question is straightforward: What does the product promise the consumer/user? What key benefits does it provide? And how impactful and important are those benefits to the purchaser/consumer?
Example: If I am a snack-food company and I am considering using Jim Carrey's Mask character under license on my product line, what does this Mask character promise the consumer'? Possible responses: Outrageous fun, a weird visual "look," bizarre behavior that involves the consumer. At a deeper, more psychological level, one might say that Jim Carrey's Mask character allows the unexpressed "dark side" of consumers to find vicarious expression. Often it is such "looking beneath the surface" of what is attracting kid consumers that will reveal strong keys to what a product, program, or character is promising.
COMPETITION: It is very important to know what already exists in the competitive environment and how your product or program separates itself from these competing products or programs. How does your Point of Difference stack up against theirs? A very useful exercise here is to ask yourself: How does the Actual Leverage of my product measure up against the Actual Leverage of my competition?
POSITIONING: Positioning refers to how you want the product or program to be positioned or categorized in the mind of the targeted consumer. Imagine that the mind is a series of "mail slots." Let's assume that you are developing a new toy action figure of the muscular He-Man variety, and that your target is 3-through-7-year-old males. How will these young boys "mail-slot" your new action figure? Will they say, "Wow! That's different it swells to twice its size when you put it in water! No other action figure does that!"? Or will they say, "Oh, another muscle-man action figure, ho-hum..."?
Examples: Positioning also refers to the use of a Positioning Line or Tag Line that goes with a product or program and supports the positioning direction, e.g., "He-Man The Strongest Man in the Universe!" or Disney Adventures magazine's positioning-line subtitle, The Magazine for Kids.
Many products and programs miss the opportunity to utilize a Positioning Line and others use less than impactful Lines. Powerfully positioning your product or program in the minds of your targeted customers/viewers is an important opportunity to announce key benefits of your product and it has the potential of increasing consumer attention and involvement significantly. At the same time, an effective Positioning Line aids you in staying close to the "essence" or core idea/ benefit of your product or program throughout the product-development and marketing process, and this is critical to an effective marketing campaign.
THE BIG PICTURE
This is where the integrative nature of the Product Leverage Matrix comes into play. The Matrix is extremely useful for holding the whole picture or "big picture" in place as your focus is directed to individual aspects of a product or program. In the Mask example above, once the promise is determined, a company would be wise to check on other variables that would be important to consider. For example, what about the impact that Carrey's bizarreness might have on the company's image? The question of "image" is reflected in the P.O.V. and Attitude/Style variables on the Matrix. Other variables should be looked at as well.
Essence: Is the Mask license a match with the Essence of the product?
Gender: Will the Mask character result in male bias?
Regarding Content: Is there any objectionable Content inherent in associating Mask with my product?
The Product Leverage Matrix can be also utilized to analyze a winning product or program in order to arrive at its strengths. For example, for the perennially successful kid's cereal Trix we have a good-tasting, sweet and colorful cereal (Content) that is combined with a fun character (Character) the Trix Rabbit who is constantly and humorously being foiled in his attempts to get Trix for himself (Content). "Silly rabbit, Trix are for Kids!" is a positioning coup in itself. The Attitude/Style is bright, energetic, and colorful and the Promise is "a colorful cereal with a sweet, fruity taste that has a fun rabbit tied to it."
THE CENTER OF THE MATRIX
However critical it might be to understand and integrate all the variables of the Matrix that we have defined so far, none of it will matter much if the center of the Matrix is ignored or inaccurately taken into account. In fact, what separates this book from others on product development and marketing is its central focus and emphasis on the child as consumer.
AGE: What is the targeted age range'? Is it 3 through 7? 4 through 127 8 through 15? Can your product or program appeal across age breaks as they are set out and defined in this book: birth through 2, 3 through 7, 8 through 12, 13 through 15, and 16 through 19?
It's very important to note that we at YMS Consulting have based our approach to dividing kids into distinct age segments on in-depth research on a wide range of factors including the child's cognitive development and brain research such as that of Brazelton, Epstein, Erikson, Gazzaniga, Herman, Kohlberg, MacLean, Pearce, and Piaget, and upon fifteen years of focus-group (subject-testing) experience with hundreds of children of various ages and stages of development. It is also important to note that there is no right or correct approach to dividing kids into age segments. There will always be some disagreement, as well as future research that may challenge the age segmentation boundaries. It is also important to state that children often vary in the pace of their individual development, in their forms and levels of intelligence, and in their learning styles. There will always be exceptions to the age segmentation boundaries precocious or regressive individuals.
GENDER: Are you targeting both males and females? What differences between them do you need to take into account'?
STAGE: What stage of development is your targeted-age child in? Is she in the 3-through-7 "Autonomy" stage, the 8-through-12 "Rule/ Role" stage? What are the implications of this'?
STRUCTURE: "Structure" refers to the predominant phase of brain development in which the targeted-age child finds himself. If he is 3 through 7 years old, then certain areas of the unfolding, developing brain play a major role in, for example, his thinking processes, his attraction to fantasy, and his inability to handle such abstract forms of thinking as logic, or the subtleties inherent in sarcasm. If, on the other hand, he is 13 through 15 years old, his mind includes a "formal operations" structure that can handle most forms of thinking, logic, and humor.
DIMENSION: A child's life can be thought of as occurring in a variety of dimensions. That is, the child experiences her life physically, cognitively, emotionally, socially, and morally.
STYLE: This refers to the "learning style" of the child. Some children are much more visual in their approach to learning and to the world. (Some people refer to this style as "right-brained" although current research warns against a too simplistic approach to "right-" and "left-brain" categorizations.) Others are more verbal ("left-brained"). Some children respond best to a "hands-on" approach that involves touch and whole-body involvement (kinesthetic). It's interesting to note that each of these styles of learning correlate with Howard Gardner's dimensions of multiple intelligence.
PAST EXPERIENCE: The past experience of the child is very important to take into consideration on a variety of fronts. What past experience has added to your target child's being predisposed or not toward your product/program? What past experience has your targeted child had with similar or competing products or programs?
THE NEEDS AND WANTS OF THE TARGET CHILD
All of the above aspects of the children or youths that you are targeting with your product or program contribute toward the formation of their needs and wants. Successful products and programs are those that satisfy their needs and wants in the short term (impulse) or in the long term. While a colorful and involving Trix cereal package with a maze on the back provides for short-term needs satisfaction, Mattel's Hot Wheels cars year after year continue to provide young boys with something they need and want small, easily manipulable, colorful minicars that are fun and involving to play "cars" with (Vroom! Vroom!) and to accumulate and collect.
Accumulating vs. Collecting: Before the age of approximately 6, children are interested in accumulating lots of toys or other fun objects just for the sheer number and mass that this represents. As they shift toward the more left-brain dominant, 8-through-12 stage, they develop the cognitive capacity to differentiate more precisely. This leads to what we term more serious collecting, which involves more comparison of details, more involvement with and attention to detail. Marvel comic-book-character cards, for example, describe the characters' various attributes, special skills, and abilities. Before the age of approximately 6 the capacity to meaningfully relate to these details is not in place; after 6 these details become very important and an essential part of what provides fun and involvement with the product.
At the center of the Product Leverage Matrix is the most critical variable: the consumer. The central thrust of this book is to lead the reader toward an in-depth understanding of the inner workings of these young consumers. The chapters that immediately follow provide an in-depth look into the lives of birth-through-2-year-olds, 3-through-7s, 8-through-12s, 13-through- 15s, and 16-through- 19-year-olds. We have divided or segmented the youth target in this way in accordance with a wide variety of scientific research, such as that of Piaget, Erikson, and Kohlberg. Essentially the "breaks" between each of these age segments is established (Pearce, Wilber) because the child's brain undergoes a growth spurt or other shift in development at each of these segment breaks.
It is an in-depth understanding of the child consumer that provides the only real access to approximating a "winning formula" for the development of products and programs that succeed with kids. ls a successful product all that matters, however? In the next chapter we focus on kid empowerment. Before diving into what works and doesn't work for kids at different ages and stages of development, let's look at a very important issue: what's good and bad for kids, and how can you tell the difference? Then in Chapter 3 we outline the YMS approach to developing a new product or program from scratch. Many readers may want to read Chapters 4 through 8 first and then come back to Chapters 2 and 3, having gained a deeper knowledge and insight into the inner workings of the successive age segments of kids.
Copyright © 1997 by Daniel S. Acuff