- 30 years experience in advertising and marketing in youth and family marketing for Fortune 500 to start-ups.
- Founder and CEO of The Geppetto Group: leading youth & family agency and consulting company.
- Founder and General Manager of Saatchi & Saatchi Kid Connection - led the General Mills Youth and Family brands.
- Specialties: Brand Strategy; Business Planning; Consumer Insight; Innovation; Integrated Marketing; Advertising & Promotion.
- Industry Categories: Youth & Family; CPG (food, beverage, HBA); Retail; Entertainment (toys, media, live events); Sports (leagues, apparel); Health & Wellness.
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- There is often a lack of deep understanding of the youth and family audience.
Even for those companies who are in the youth and family space, it is often difficult to keep up with the ever-changing youth culture. On top of the cultural dynamics, few companies have the luxury to invest the time or money in learning the basics of what drives their consumer. Many companies don't feel that they need to because they have been in the marketplace for years. Unfortunately, institutional knowledge is not the same as personal knowledge.
For example, consider a food company that has a broad portfolio of youth and family brands. But if marketing director Suzy Smith gets promoted from coffee to juice boxes, she’s never marketed to a youth audience before. Her company has, so in the walls, on the server, on the files, there is plenty of information. But Suzy has been tasked to grow the business 20 percent and she needs a result within 18 months and she needs a marketing plan that’s going to work.
In that situation, there is not enough time to make the institutional knowledge personal and then know what to do. For Suzy, it's, “OK, I’ve got to figure this out. I’ve never talked to moms and kids in my life as a marketer. I need to understand how they tick, I need to understand my competitive set through that filter, and then I have to come up with ideas that are going to somehow sell more juice boxes than I did last year.”
- People in key marketing positions with the company have been too close to their products for too long.
Let’s say there’s a marketing person at a toy company who has worked on their youth brands for 15 years. He's 50. He's got a ton of marketing experience.If you are too close, sometimes you can't have the perspective you need to create a new idea.
But he may need to seek help because he’s had every idea he can have. He’s so in it, and he’s read all the research, and he’s seen what’s happened, and he has no ability to think outside of his world. He’s almost too in it.
That toy company veteran clearly knows toys. He's lived in that world for 30 years. But that doesn't mean he understands what has been happening in food for 12-year-olds while he's been in the world of toys for 12-year-olds. What’s has been happening in food is a return to simplicity and simple ingredients. So how might we take that observation in food and import it into the toy business?
- Companies face a short-term/long-term quandary.
Businesses are often torn between implementing ideas that will drive short-term sales, often at the expense of long-term brand building, and taking the time to develop a long-term vision.
There’s so much pressure on the short-term goals that sometimes an organization ends up focusing entirely on the short-term, which inadvertently has the effect of diminishing the viability of the brand over time.
It's important for companies to focus on their true north – the long-term vision – and then line up their short-term actions so that those actions support the long-term vision while generating short-term sales. Sometimes accomplishing that alignment requires a vantage point from outside the day-to-day operations of the company, where the focus is on the daily sales sheets and the reports on orders and deliveries. It's important to be able to look with a longer view and guide the organization accordingly.
- Marketing teams in companies are getting leaner and leaner.
Many companies today don't have the staffing they used to have.
They used to be able to say, “You know what, go off and do some focus groups, and figure out what teenagers really care about when they’re shopping for makeup. Then we’ll come back and have a brainstorming session, and then we’ll test it.”
Today, companies don’t have time to do that. They don’t have the people to do that. Clients will come to me and say, “You know what teenagers care about. Can you come back to me with 10 ideas that I can put into a concept test in a month?”
- Companies have information, but they don't have the insight to know what to do with it.
It's great to have market information and search engines put it right at our fingertips. But sometimes that can be paralyzing. I call it the "information over insight" syndrome. "I have reams of information, but don't know what it all means to my business or how to make it actionable."
This is especially the case for brands that are not in the kids and family market space, but are thinking of entering it. We had a call once from a client who said, “I just had a thought that I may be able to move into the youth space with my product, but I have no idea even how to think about it.”
It was a credit card company. They needed to approach this ethically because it is about money and credit. But they didn't even know how to begin to think about it. They didn't want us to tell them what they needed to do to move into the youth and family market; they wanted us to tell them what they would need to do just to explore whether they could move into the market.
- Turnover within companies results in inexperienced leadership over youth and family brands and products.
A lot of companies, especially companies with a large portfolio of products, have a lot of internal turnover, often in the spirit of career development for their people. As a result, they often end up having people without youth and family experience leading youth and family brands.
There’s no time for these new leaders to learn everything that needs to be learned to develop the gut instincts as to what makes for a good solution and a good idea in this market space.
I was at a company recently that had a very successful youth brand and an entirely new marketing team, none of whom had ever done youth before. Their ask was, “Can you come and spend a day with us, and give us a jump-start? Give us the youth marketing 101, 201, 301 that we would need so that we can start making smarter decisions.”
Gaining that understanding through experience would ordinarily take a lot of time and money. Many people leading youth and family brands simply do not have enough time to learn and do proper qualitative research to understand the market.