Feature Article - May 2007
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A Child's-Eye View

Expanding Your Audience to the Younger Set

By Kellye Whitney

Consider your audience

When you're marketing a program to small children, for example, often the right person to market to isn't the child, it's the parent. Younger children are still quick to get excited at the thought of doing something new like joining a sports team or a weekend swimming program. Parents, however, may have to be convinced that the investment of their time to chauffer and potentially join in on program activities is worthwhile.

One clever way to get the parents involved is to work in conjunction with schools, where parental consent is de rigeur. Through events and handouts, you can present activities and distribute programming schedules.

"A lot of times we have rallies and get the kids and the parents together," said Cordell Hopkins, former district director of the Chicago Calumet Council of the Boy Scouts of America. "We might go to the schools and talk to the kids first, but then we'll invite them to an outing where we actually do the signup and things like that. At that point we get the parents. The kids were already excited. We got them in school. That's why he's here at this meeting with his parent. But now we get the parents excited about why they need to be involved. We need their involvement as much as the kids' involvement because of the volunteerism and how scouting works in that particular case. Once you get the kids, you've got to get the parents. Once you get the parents, the program will take off."

When considering how to market youth programs, the age range of a potential audience can be fairly broad. In scouting, for example, it ranges from 7 to 18. In order to capture the attention of the tween and teen audience, the marketing approach should shift to target the child personally. Hopkins said the marketing appeal is basically the same across ages, except that older kids will need less parental buy-in. Instead, marketing efforts should center on things that will attract teenagers.

"You have to find out what drives them," Hopkins said. "Teenagers like to do things. They like to be out and about. They like girls or they like boys, so when you do a teen program you look to make things specific. A lot of times in teen programs you can make them co-ed because one draws the other—girls draw boys, and boys draw girls. A lot of times people forget that, but that's a big reason why teenagers join programs—for social reasons, and for fun. It's a social outlet to meet people."

Teens and tweens are their own audience with their own preferences. And while parents may be the target for marketed programs for younger children, that doesn't negate a small child's preferences. Diane Landsman, president of Ideas That Work, a marketing and corporate communications company, said that in her experience as a mother and as a marketer, if you sell the kid, often you sell the mother.

"You always want to position your pitch as something that would be of interest to the child," Landsman explained. "Gone are the good old days when mom made the decisions. The real consumers in the family are the children. You want to make it something that resonates with the child especially if you're selling a program that even smacks of anything that might be good for them. You have to be especially careful that you don't undermine the fun in the interest of the benefit, whether it's health, nutrition, education, whatever."

When crafting marketing messages, don't talk down to kids. Instead, Landsman said you should try to remember what it was like to be a kid, yet recognize that today's children are a lot more sophisticated and aware. They can understand something that's a bit more sophisticated than you might think, but be careful not to over-promise. Kids are smart. If you lure them in with a colorful invitation and they get there and there's no program to back it up, you've shot yourself in the foot.

"Make sure your programs are as good as your marketing," Landsman suggested. "If they aren't, take a look at that first. Word-of-mouth will be huge if you've got a good program. In recreation, with park districts and that kind of thing, kids talk. Moms talk. That will be your biggest marketing success story, word-of-mouth."