Market Research 101: A Crash Course in Getting the Most Out of Kid Research

The Echo Boomers are the consumers du jour, and market research on kids and teens has exploded as companies rush to understand what makes them tick – and spend. Unfortunately, as every kids company, Web site and ad agency moves to assume the role of researcher, much of the latest data is adding up to misinformation.

“I saw one online panel where they asked kids about their favorite kind of candy,” says Donna Sabino, research director for magazines and licensing at Nickelodeon. “They came back with all these offbeat, weird brands. They were publishing data as if these imported bizarro candies were taking over the market. I know Snickers is the number one selling candy bar.”

There’s a moral to Sabino’s story: talking to kids is an invaluable tool for kids marketers, but not everything that comes out of a focus group adds up to scientific research. In order to ensure that your interactions with kids are steering you in the right direction, we talked to research experts to find out how to hone research skills for everything from focus groups to online panels to Web surveys.

‘Listen with Big Ears’

“You need to couple what you know with the new information they’re giving you,” Sabino says. “You have to listen with big ears.” It may sound like common sense, but Sabino says many of her clients are so concerned about finding out what kids and teens think that they forget to apply their own knowledge and years of experience in the industry. Taking a careful look at the data coming out of your research can help you narrow questions and build new questions about why kids are saying what they’re saying. Why, for example, were those imported candies so appealing – was that data indicative of an underlying trend toward imported products? Had the respondents had an experience most kids haven’t had with the imported brands?

Companies should take into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of various types of research, as well. Online panels, for example, are cost- effective and quick, but they should supplement, not replace offline focus groups, says John Geraci, VP of youth research at Harris Interactive. “There’s still a lot of non-verbal stuff that you can’t do online. A lot of real young research needs to be observational.”

On the other hand, focus groups can’t offer the wide geographic scope or the unusual mix of kids available through online channels. “You can do things online that you would never try offline. You can mix girls and boys, you can put a 13-year-old boy and an 18-year-old boy in the same group,” Geraci says.

That kind of scope is important for offline research samples when you’re looking for more quantitative data as well. Recruiting friend groups is fine for small focus groups. In that setting, you want to hear kid vocabulary or discuss sensitive emotional issues that require immediate trust within the group. But if you need a bigger picture, the sample should be more scientific, says Dave Young, a psychologist and researcher who has done kid focus groups for companies like Disney and Kellogg’s. “When you think from a sampling standpoint, [recruiting friends] biases things,” he says.

Keep Things Interesting

Keeping kids interested can be a challenge, especially for panels of kids who experience gaps between research waves. “You have to keep them engaged. I have counseled clients who don’t have enough research lined up,” Geraci says. “You have to have them do something every three or four weeks. Attrition rates grow the longer the space between surveys,” and attrition can skew your results.

Cathy Rilling-LoPresti, creative research associate for Saatchi & Saatchi, assigns “homework” – fun projects like creating a photo journal or eating diary – before and between sessions to keep kids involved. The projects also help communicate the key message that kids’ opinions count, and that empowerment will encourage kids to take their “job” as a member of your research group seriously and to provide you with accurate data.

(Harris: John Geraci, 716/272-8400; Nickelodeon: Donna Sabino, 212/846- 2085; Qualitative Solutions: Dave Young, 858/274-9618; Saatchi & Saatchi: Cathy Rilling-LoPresti, 212/463-2795)

New Numbers

Market research on kids and teens is cropping up everywhere, and methods vary from tried and true polling to innovative peer-to-peer surveys. Here’s a look at some of the latest stats from the traditional camp:

Today’s kids are downright wholesome, according to the most recent Gallup Youth Survey, based on a random sample of 501 teenagers 13 to 17. The teens were interviewed by telephone between January and April, and results were released in August.

Ninety-seven percent of teens say they get along very well or fairly well with their parents.

The study also found teens have fairly tough views on behaviors like abuse, prostitution and stealing.

97% of teens consider physical abuse a very or somewhat serious behavior

94% consider hate crimes very or somewhat serious

94% consider shoplifting very or somewhat serious

92% find prostitution very or somewhat serious

Their attitudes tend to relax slightly when it comes to smoking in smoke- free areas (86%), cheating on exams (85%) and using profanity in public (76%).

For more results, see

Quality Recruiting

Building the right screener for your recruiting process can help you avoid major hassles once you begin your research. Our experts share their tips for finding the right kids for the job:

* Know what you want and ask questions that ensure you’re getting it. If you’re doing research for product development, you want trendsetter kids – so ask questions that will distinguish cutting edge kids from mainstream kids: “Determine whether they’re thought leaders and early adopters of products,” Geraci recommends. If you’re looking for creative kids for product development groups, Young suggests questions like, “Name three uses for a pencil,” to determine which kids are creative thinkers. Kids who come up with using the pencil as a makeshift hole-puncher are more useful for ideation sessions than kids who list “write” or “draw.”

* Be specific. For example, if you want kids who are frequent users of your product, define a number of usages per week that qualifies a child as a “heavy user,” and stick to the number.

* Make sure kids understand up front what they’ll be asked to do. “For a kid, it’s like, ‘What’s my job here?'” Sabino says. “You have to set up the rules in a clear, explicit way and make sure you’re asking what they think they’re answering.” Use clear, simple questions that leave no room for interpretation in the screener.

* Eliminate kids who are too reserved or shy to handle a group session or share their ideas. “Make sure these are kids who are involved in activities, who feel comfortable in a group,” says Rilling-LoPresti. She also suggests setting a GPA cut-off (B or better).

COPYRIGHT 2000 Phillips Publishing International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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