Consumer Behavior: Learning From the Toddler Crowd

Brian Millar, strategy director at Sense Worldwide and co.Design contributor, spent a couple of years as a stay-at-home dad and learned a few things that proved valuable to his career as a creative strategist.

His insights are remarkably dead on. What that says about consumers, I’m not sure; but the 5 lessons he mentions can certainly go a long way in teaching consumer behavior.

1. Emotional benefits sell better than rational ones. 

Rational: “Eat your spinach, it’s good for you.”
Emotional: “Kids, tonight we’re having…pasta presents!” – also known as spinach ravioli.

2. Don’t ask your consumers whether they want something new. 

He cites two really smart guys in talking about how he got his kids to watch Laurel & Hardy in black and white, an impressive feat when they were used to watching the Tellytubbies.

Malcolm Gladwell in Blink (a book I highly recommend): “We’re programmed by evolution not to like unfamiliar stuff (me, especially). So if you ask people whether they’d like something completely different to what they already have, they say no.”

Steve Jobs – in a quote that was ironically talked about in my marketing class just this morning – acknowledges that he knew better. “He didn’t ask us whether we wanted to lose parallel ports, floppy drives, or DVD writers. He just stopped putting them on his machines, and gave us something better.”

Consumers don’t always know they want something until its put in front of them. Did you know you wanted an iPhone before those first commercials came out? It’s more likely that on June 4, 2007, you had no idea such a phone was even possible.

3. Bonuses are better than bribes. 

Sales promotions fall into 2 categories: bribes and bonuses.

Bribes: think vouchers, money-off deals, etc. When the bribes dry up, everybody moves on. Millar uses the example of airline-loyalty schemes: when you pay for people to like you, you shouldn’t be surprised when they demand more.

Bonuses: getting something extra for doing something you’d like to do anyway. Think 2-for-1, discounted upgrades, etc. Bonuses increase loyalty after the promotion ends, where bribes do not.

4. Move beyond functional equivalence. 

For toddlers, everything is a toy. The toy itself, the box it came in, pots and pans, or a pile of rocks – it hardly matters. As a toy maker, the goal is to make something that’s especially fun.

That’s what marketing really boils down to. All cars are basically functional nowadays, and a Rolex tells time as well as the $20 watch from Target. Price has to be justified with better design, luxury, and superior service.

5. Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.

It doesn’t matter how good your ad is, if the product is crap the product is crap. Telling his kids The Louvre would be better than Star Wars may have gotten them through the door, but skepticism quickly reared its head.

Lesson: “Don’t write checks in your communications that you can’t cash with your products and services.”