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We’re back from Orlando and the 2012 Kid, Youth and Parent Power Conference…We spoke on Performance Culture among youth, a presentation which we’ll broadcast as a C+R webinar on April 25th. A few days to think about our work, our “industry” (although see below), and of course, kids, tweens, teens and parents may be reward enough, but we were lucky enough to leave with a few more thought-provoking questions (even if the answers are sometimes left for us to provide).

  1. Our “industry” may be harder to identify than ever…Just a few short years ago, a conference focused on youth and families would include a relatively homogenous group of marketers, researchers and content providers working on traditional packaged goods or children’s television. Occasionally, an entrepreneur would pop up on the agenda and instigate conversation about new approaches or new paradigms for existing categories. But today, the “youth space” looks like a hodge-podge of app developers, non-profits, authors and entrepreneurs – and the occasional “old school” brand or organization. This may make it more difficult than ever for us to find common case studies, but it certainly makes the conversation more interesting.
  2. You don’t have to be a gamer to engage in gamification…Even if the first insight – that gamers aren’t just teens sequestered behind a console in their parents’ basement is an image that doesn’t represent reality – the second, that we’re all kind of gaming in our daily lives, feels like an intriguing one…The term, “gamification,” was used over and over again at the conference, with slightly differing definitions attributed to it each time, but the idea of making your product or service a game (think levels, feedback, rewards) feels like a fresh take on “fun” and “play” that have dominated our “industry’s” discourse for so long.
  3. Behind every success is a strategy – even if they’re less obvious than ever before. If you’re like us, you may think that fads like Silly Bandz and Zhu Zhu Pets stuck because of strong intrinsic, but also a lot of luck, you may have found the case study on the latter brand presented by its founders to be pretty provocative. Just because there’s no campaign to be seen, and no tagline to serve as a strategic heuristic, doesn’t mean that a lot of legwork didn’t go into getting this brand seen by the right audience – in their case, “Power Moms.” These moms are not just bloggers, but have multiple avenues for influencing youth in their everyday lives…as scout leaders, for example, or coaches, or crossing guards. They’re not only the most active fans on Facebook, but more importantly, they’re facilitators and connectors offline.
  4. If you want teens to believe in change, you actually have to believe they want to engage in change. Dosomething.org reminded us that promoting causes among teens requires as much faith in your audience as it does passion for a cause. It’s a simple notion, but a compelling one – if you don’t think they’re altruistic or inspired to change the world, they’ll see that and won’t trust you.
  5. Family travel doesn’t mean “something for everyone.” Hershey Entertainment Resorts reiterated something we learned years ago in our research with family entertainment brands…A trip to Disney, Busch Gardens, the Nick Hotel or Beaches isn’t about “me time” for moms and dads…It’s not about sneaking off for a spa treatment, regardless of how tantalizing and needed those treatments might be!!! It’s about soaking up as much time with your kids as possible. Brands that make it easier to spend time together win in this increasingly competitive family vacation space.
  6. Brand boldness and boundaries continue to matter…sometimes. We’ve often opined that youth recognize fewer brand boundaries than adults…That they’re up for cross-overs, collaborations and unexpected pairings perhaps more than any cohort before them.  But, as evidenced by a case study for Nike SB by one of its initial investors, making tough choices to protect the integrity of a niche brand is still appreciated as authentic by young adults and teens – particularly members of affinity groups (like boarders). Granted, if you have the Nike name and corporate cashflow, you might be more able to make choices like turning down the free endorsement of a celebrity who doesn’t quite fit your brand image, but the point is well-taken – be true to yourself, and teens will be true to you.
  7. Kids may be the arbiters of food culture more than we give them credit for…In a presentation on the power of grass-fed beef (see Take-away #1 on an industry that looks a bit different than it used to!), one insight emerged for us: when we think about food culture, especially paradigm shifts like going local, we might want to pay attention to what kids are thinking and doing. Granted, this insight was a bit more speculation than statistically backed, but it makes sense that youth will be the beacons for bringing in a new wave of eating attitudes, driven by programs ranging from “The Edible Schoolyard” (link) and schools that treat Reduce Reuse and Recycle as three new “Rs.”
  8. Social marketing requires segmentation. Of course, people use social networks differently. But does this generation of digital natives coalesce around a common set of practices when it comes to social media? Not so…”Lurkers,” a term oft-applied to adult social networkers who observe more than participate, for example, might be one type of youth, requiring a different strategy than “Creators” who crave ways to show who they are online. Which segment of social media users does your brand attract? Is your strategy aligned with your target’s behaviors and attitudes about social networking?
  9. School may be a space that’s more sponge-y than in the recent past. We’ll file this one under “the jury’s still out.” Some speakers indicated that getting in schools might be necessary to reach youth, and that, depending on your ability to prove the value of your content to administrators, outsiders might be invited in. This counter’s some (recent) convention wisdom about the increasing sensitivity from schools surrounding marketing within them, but perhaps there’s an opportunity to add value in new ways that provide more benefit than push parents’ and teachers’ buttons.
  10. Finally, performance matters to this generation. We can’t help but end on our own insights! This cohort is surrounded by stages, and raised to believe that everyone’s a critic. They are system savvy and know that discovery is only a YouTube video away. Still, while it’s easy to be cynical about a cohort that is seemingly seduced by fame, their takes on celebrity and on performance are more complicated, and perhaps, sophisticated, than we might think. Find out more at our upcoming webinar.