Unlocking Today's Family Dynamic

Like many kid innovators and strategists, we've often been asked -- and asked ourselves -- "who matters more -- moms or kids?"

Many of our clients' teams are divided by the "kid team" and the "mom team." While marketers have traditionally seen the mom-kid dynamic as a tug-of-war, we have found that more common ground seems to exist than ever before. And we've noticed that some of the biggest brands to engage kids in the recent past are brands like Nintendo's Wii and "American Idol" -- brands that not only seek to meet both parents' and kids' needs but that even facilitate experiences the whole family can enjoy together.

All of this pointed to a different model -- one that doesn't assume moms and kids are at war, but rather, partners in achieving a goal. It assumes that dads, siblings, extended family and other caregivers often get a say. And finally, it assumes that marketers can win by understanding a more authentic, if slightly more complex family dynamic.

In short, here's a taste of what we learned in our combination qualitative/quantitative study:

1. Non-traditional families have made way for non-traditional family ideals. Our secondary research validated what we suspected at the onset of our project: Non-traditional families are not only increasing in numbers, but are becoming a bigger cultural presence than ever before ... for example, both single parents and gay parents are on the rise. But perhaps even more significant is the increasing visibility of these kinds of families in the media in marketing.

2. Thus, families decide differently than ever before. And even "traditional" families agreed that families today not only look, but operate, differently than they did in the past. First and foremost, moms reported that they have taken a very different approach to decision-making with their family. While most moms (39%) said that "parents made decisions entirely on their own" in the family in which they grew up, 44% reported that in their family "parents make the ultimate decision but actively seek kids' input." In today's families, dads are also far more involved in decision-making.. 3. Finally, the decision-making styles that today's families use are not the ones most marketers speak to. In fact, we found that the decision-making styles that are often paramount in marketers' minds, are the least likely to be employed by families. Parents would certainly like to empower kids, but prefer to be active partners in the decision, rather than leaving kids on their own.

So what does this mean for today's marketers?

  • First, it means that cohort marketing (i.e., marketing to kids or marketing to moms), as we know it, is dead.
  • Second, brands and businesses that will succeed must understand and develop products and messages that fit with families' new decision-making paradigm.
  • Finally, brands that really understand the decision-making style in play for their category will have the tools they need to better meet their consumers' needs.

Just as brands like Wii found success by boldly attempting to create a video game that didn't ignore parents' concerns, brands that challenge the notion that family decisions mean one winner and one loser are setting themselves up for success.

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