In market research, you typically don’t start a business until well into your 30s or 40s, after you’ve got a decade or two of experience under your belt. However, that’s just another rule that Gen Z is breaking. They think that if you’re going to do research on teens, you should hire teens to do it.
Maxine Marcus, a 17-year-old rising high school senior in the Bay Area, has been consulting with her tech investor father since she was 13, providing “the youth perspective” on his products and apps. This inspired an epiphany: a lot of other companies could probably benefit from her expertise.
Maxine realized that traditional teen research methodologies aren’t always ideal. Focus group facilities can feel sterile and artificial. Online surveys can become monotonous, and lack richness. Maxine couldn’t personally consult with every company needing a teen perspective, nor would she be representative of the diversity of opinion that exists across the teen marketplace. But what if she could recruit a network of teen advisors who could provide that added bandwidth and diversity?
The result is The Ambassadors Company, where Maxine serves as founder/CEO. They’ve built a network of 100 “ambassadors” spanning the country, representing a variety of teen demographics. When companies want input from teens, Maxine and her team typically pick about 25 ambassadors to work on the project. These pre-screened ambassadors take their jobs very seriously. They’re given an assignment, typically use the client’s product for five to seven days, and provide detailed feedback. Maxine then distills all their feedback into an in-depth, actionable report for her clients. It’s a win-win: companies get rich usability results, often very early in the process, and the ambassadors earn a $50 honorarium for doing fun, interesting, thoughtful work on a very flexible schedule.
Clients include SoundHound, Got It!, BuzzMusiq and MeUndies.com. They reflect Maxine’s roots in tech, her passion for music (she has also released a five-song EP), and the types of companies most open to conducting innovative research with teen consumers. But the methodology can be applied to CPG, QSR, cosmetics, fashion, media and many other categories. The company stresses that it's not in the business of recruiting brand evangelists; instead, the goal is to optimize a product to the point that it attracts the interest of these evangelists on its own.
Maxine’s senior leadership team include Chief Operating Officer Ava Mar of San Carlos, Calif.; Head of Business Development Jack Cutler of Los Altos, Calif.; and Director of Social Media Emma Fekete of Connecticut. All are 17, and each helps run the business on top of pursuing athletics and hobbies, working in other jobs, and babysitting.
The Ambassadors Company teaches us “old dogs” several new tricks about market research:
Nothing beats turning the customer loose with the product in her own home. Usage will be as “true to life” as possible, and customers will speak with the greatest amount of candor.
Ideally, researchers and customers should be from the same demo. If that isn’t possible, researchers at least need to understand that demo forwards and backwards, including their language, need-states and latest trends.
It’s never too early or too late to start your own business, whether you’re 17 or 77.No matter what age you are or lifestage you’re in, you have unique insights into your own demographic, access to brands looking to reach people like you, and access to other customers like you. People who can connect those brands with those customers will always have a career.
Maxine’s company is building a new bridge between companies and teens. For which brands and markets can you be an effective ambassador?