5 lessons marketers can learn from the toy industry

MATTEL CANADA, INC. - Mattel and Walmart Canada RevolutionizeToys are very powerful and successful at engaging people so these marketers have an inherent advantage over others.

However, Exponential’s Francesca Baker unearths data around toy shoppers to throw up five key lessons that marketers in all sectors can learn from to make their campaigns more effective.

Any marketer can learn a lot from how the £5.5billion UK toy industry has developed skills and strategies for luring and engaging audiences, starting crazes, acquiring new customers and inspiring creativity.

To illustrate the lessons to be learnt we analysed the online behaviour of almost 192,000 toy shoppers to build consumer profiles incorporating interests including arts, auto, business, home, shopping, sports, technology and travel.

Lesson #1: The obvious audience isn’t the only audience.

Of course there is an obvious core audience buying toys – parents. For instance, they’re 44x more likely than the average person to buy children’s books and 212x more likely to buy highchairs. Toyota should note this group is also 91x more likely than average to be interested in a Prius.

However, analysing online behavioural data reveals that people without children are 18% more likely to buy toys than the average while people living together who aren’t related or in a relationship (aka multi-occupancy households) are 25% more likely to buy toys than married families.

This shows the huge potential market of toy-buyers (probably buying for themselves or kids of friends and relatives) that exist beyond the core obvious audience.

Lesson #2: Nostalgia is a powerful tool

This high propensity for people without children to be interested in buying toys may be down to nostalgia. People without children, for example, are actually 46% more likely than those with children to be looking at Disney Channel content online – a clear example of how data can be used to challenge “traditional” assumptions.

Non-toy related brands such as Hovis, Polaroid and Cadbury’s have all successfully used nostalgia in their marketing campaigns to connect emotionally with shoppers. Using familiar messages that have nostalgic resonance, particularly in modern digital formats, can have a profound effect for all marketers.

Lesson #3: Every product can have a playful element – particularly in the digital world

Everyone likes to play in some form of way. Psychology, sociology and neuroscience all point to the fact that playing is good for us, to learn, to distract, to create or to relax, and people in all life-stages and lifestyles are rewarded by them.

The desire for play is what keeps an interest in toys and games a consistent part of consumer’s lives and means that people will seek opportunities which allow for play – particularly in our increasingly busy lives when there is less opportunity to play in the “traditional” way.

This opportunity is facilitated by new technologies which enable us to play or experience entertainment in different ways.

“Experiential” is the key word here. Everything that people choose to interact with can have a playful element – including advertising and the product itself. “Gamification” and experience, whether through challenge, reward, social interaction or pure escapism, can add a powerful and novel dimension to communication.

For example, motor insurance providers can create simple driving games, perhaps with promotional prizes, or banks can create fun apps so people can watch their savings grow or see illustrations about what it could buy depending on how much they save each month. It’s not about being silly and frivolous, but connecting with consumers.

Lesson 4: Multiple brand interactions generate a higher regard among consumers

The most popular characters among our toy-buying audience include older, classic ones which have formed associations with consumers over a long period.

We might not be surprised to see that families with kids under five years old are 5x more likely to buy Star Wars toys than average, however, families with children over 16 are still almost 3.5x more likely to do this. Star Wars is, consequently, a great example of a product that offers options for multiple different age groups to maintain its relevance over a long period of time. Barbie is another toy that exhibits these same characteristics.

The longer and more consistent the interaction, the more the brand is emotionally cemented in a person’s mind. Just as successful toy brands have diversified across formats, other marketers can also use numerous platforms and portals to reiterate and build upon a message to extend reach whilst reinforcing their presence among existing audiences.

For example, a travel company could develop mobile advertising to connect with customers whilst they are away, making themselves integral to the whole experience – not just booking.

Lesson #5: There are numerous opportunities for product diversification

The way in which people can experience toys is more varied than ever and toy brands know this. For example, toy shoppers are 27x more likely than average to read comics and 26x more likely to play video games.

Toy marketers realise that innovation and product extensions maximise customer reach and reinforce brand saliency. Our study of the Thor film sequel ‘The Dark World’ revealed fans of the film were 72x more likely than average to be interested in Lego, who of course, launched a Thor- themed range of figures.

Understanding key overlapping areas of interest – such as Thor and Lego – provide any marketer with an opportunity to create new products or adapt and extend current ones. The earlier example about parents who buy toys for children being 91x more interested in a Prius could highlight an opportunity for Toyota to integrate more ‘family friendly’ features into different models such as in-seat DVD players.