An educational toy company that is well-known for some of its products for preschool kids and elementary school kids had recently been acquired by another, larger company, and was inspired to expand its offerings in terms of play categories as well as the age groups served by its products.
Both companies are well-known in the toy industry for offering products that are fun and engaging to children, while always maintaining an educational element. That educational portion can take many positions on the spectrum of learning and intelligences that children are developing, everything from numbers and letters, to reading, to kinesthetics, to sensory needs, to social and emotional maturity.
To jump-start the product development pipeline moving forward, the toy company wanted a crash course in the older children segment it desired to serve, as well as the product territories it was interested in pursuing. In addition, the company wanted to engage in an activation workshop to provide ideation against the principles we uncovered for them in these areas.
We needed to harness some of our institutional knowledge and also conduct a rigorous investigation of the influences, digital and social media presences of key categories and brands and construct a day-long workshop to help the client team to move in an agile way towards understanding the marketplace landscape and formulate viable ideas for innovating in white space areas within it.
C+R Research engineered a unique multi-modal process involving our YouthBeat® syndicated data plus consultative desk research, coupled with a customized activation workshop, to meet the client’s needs. The client needed to understand:
- What are the benefits of the current products to parents as well as children?
- How can these benefits be extrapolated to, or re-imagined for, an older audience?
- What are important trends bubbling up in the toy space?
- How do those impact the future of the space and the needs of purchasers, gift-givers, and children who play with toys?
After a day of sparkling conversation and collaboration around a large table and conference room, with snacks and fidget toys at the ready, the enthusiastic client team uplifted each other, laughed a lot, and generated many, many new ideas (so many of which involved poop that they were weeded out of the final convergence exercise).
The “winning,” more fully developed ideas were forwarded into the innovation pipeline, and much fun was had by all!
Our YouthBeat® team flexed our consultation muscles and dove into the categories of interest for our client’s marketplace expansion. We utilized:
- Our academic and institutional knowledge of child development
- Our proprietary models of understanding the drivers of appeal of products for kids as well as parents
- Our syndicated YouthBeat® data, which unveils historical and modern trends on brands that are appealing to youth and why, as well as attributes of brands that attract them
- An in-depth exploration of the public relations messaging, social media presence, YouTube features, and other culturally relevant markers for key products and brands
- Review of news articles related to the development of specific STEM-related categories, the influence of teachers, and benefits as well as controversies and pitfalls associated with directly engaging with educators in the toy space
So What? Now What? Then What?
A Day-long Workshop
A day-long facilitated workshop, hosted by C+R, was held in a nontraditional offsite location, which services children for daycare and special needs programs. We were able to tour the brightly colorful and muraled facility prior to the event for inspiration for the day. Attendees included the teams from product development, marketing, research, and C+R.
The interactive session began with an overview of the agenda for the day and an icebreaker of “What’s the best gift you ever received as a child and why?” The answers as we went around the room were heartwarming, heartbreaking, and always emotionally charged. Think about this question for yourself, and what the gift meant to you in terms of the relationship it symbolized, the pride it bestowed, the sheer joy of the product, and how it had a lasting impact on you. More than a couple of tears were shed.
Next, we launched into our analysis of the client company’s three key areas of interest for the innovation cycle. We played lots of videos from core competitive and inspirational brands’ websites, YouTube videos from users, fans, and shared our knowledge of child development from preschool through adolescence, the developmental importance of a variety of types of play, our syndicated data on activities and play, and our POV on what it all means for their innovation moving forward.
During this session, we aided the team with active listening exercises—and they stepped up with great adds to the conversation. Next, we engaged the team in a series of creative brainstorming exercises based on what they’d heard and said, from more structured to less structured. They diverged ideas and converged ideas, and eventually built out the most promising concepts for further product development.
YouthBeat®’s Assessment of the Play Space: We’ve been reminding our clients for years that yes, children today are born as digital natives, but they live in the physical, tangible space as well. Anyone born in 2010 or after has never lived in a world without tablets. We’ve established that as our threshold from Generation Z into the next sea change of youth, Generation Alpha. In the last several years, we’ve seen that play has evolved from linking the physical and digital (think about buying a physical Webkinz and using its attached code to gain access to a digital “city” with other animals), to also envelop a social element. Here’s an example: unboxing. On EvanTube, a child plays with physical toys, uploads the experience to a digital space, and shares socially with friends—who may comment on likes and dislikes. Similarly, the Slime craze that started in 2017 began as a fun, tangible way to play with glue and food coloring, to digital channels of all the glittery options kids could make, to being able to send physical samples to other people and elicit their comments on YouTube. The tangible, physical, and social worlds of play are now enmeshed, and that’s not going away anytime soon.