Challenging Times for toy companies
This creates two major issues for toy companies. Firstly, how can we prise children off screens for long enough for them to play with our products? Secondly, where can we attract their attention which is split between traditional TV and cinema, content platforms like YouTube and Netflix and social media (yes, whether they are supposed to or not they are typically active in some way on social media of some kind!).
In some ways the answer to both questions are the same – toy companies must work harder than ever to engage children in both the play pattern and theming and characterisation of the toys. We must use the traditional media which although diminishing in returns still offer a significant reach and opportunity to influence our target market. We must also though additionally push further and further into the online world where children are. Toy companies need content strategies as much as they need advertising strategies now. Instead of thinking of toy marketing as communicating with children in a one way direction as per traditional advertising, we now need to think about engagement and interaction with children in the places where they are watching and creating content themselves.
A marketing plan for a toy company should look quite different today to a marketing plan of the past. It should look more involved, more complicated and more extensive because that reflects the changed world we are marketing our toys in.
The never changing fundamentals
There are many fundamentals though that haven’t changed, and this is the area where toy companies can start to get things wrong. While the array of marketing media at our disposal is much broader than before, the fundamentals of good marketing planning remain the same. The risk for toy marketers in these times is to get lost in a myriad of executional details and data versus retaining the same strategic approach while also utilising new tools.
Here are some fundamentals of good toy marketing which are still relevant today:
1. Sales driver: Integrating the product itself into the marketing method
For instance, TV gameshows normally lead to successful board games, because the end product is in effect integrated into the TV show. The creation of a range of toys with the ‘Ryan’s World’ brand which can be promoted on the massively popular YouTube channel of the child involved is another example of where the integration of product and marketing media can combine powerfully.
2. Clear brand values and identity
Brands are really powerful in the toy business. Having clear values and identity allows your marketing communications to be in sync with what your brand is all about. Brands are sold for €millions or even occasionally €billions in the toy industry, so this is a real tangible thing, not just academic marketing theory.
3. Clarity of marketing objectives
If you want to waste your entire marketing budget try having poorly defined or even no marketing objectives. Sounds crazy, but the number of toy companies who don’t have written down marketing objectives for their campaigns and brands is alarming. As the saying goes ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, you aren’t going to get there!’
4. Understanding your end consumer and the purchase dynamic
Toys have a really specific target market and a somewhat unusual purchase dynamic. The target market is specific because children develop so quickly – a 3-year-old is very different from a 5-year-old who is very different from an 8-year-old. The purchase dynamic is most often a combination of both the child and parent, and the influence of each on the purchase varies significantly by product category.
If any of that last paragraph is news to you, then you don’t know your consumer well enough which means you have very little chance of being sure that the products you have developed will appeal to either of the two key purchase drivers. You also won’t properly understand what your marketing message should be and the way in which that message should be conveyed.
I have personally conducted over 1250 focus groups with children and parents, and never had a project which didn’t find something significant that the client and myself found interesting and useful.
This need to understand the consumer is just as important now as ever, in fact we as marketers have never had more ways in which we can grow our understanding of our end consumer, so there are no excuses!
5. Evaluation of marketing effectiveness
Another fundamental principle of good toy marketing is evaluating the impact of marketing and the reasons for success or failure. The more you can understand what happened and why the better your marketing will be in future. If your marketing launch failed, maybe you had the right message but the wrong age target and tonality, or perhaps the message was wrong, or the media didn’t fit your product so well. If your marketing launch was a huge success, why was it a huge success? There are many unexplainable parts of what we do. However, if you launch a product which becomes a huge success it shouldn’t be hard to find out some of the reasons why children liked it so much and why they were so motivated to want the product. And if your launch is a catastrophe, again you should be able to find indicators as to why so you can avoid repetition of the factors causing failure.
In conclusion, toy marketing has never been more complicated or more involved, but on the positive side we have never had so many impactful ways to communicate about our products and to engage children in what we are doing. Good marketers still rely on strong marketing fundamentals to ensure their success though, it isn’t just about chasing hits, impressions, likes, it’s about delivering a well thought out plan effectively.