5 Ways Toy Playtesting With Children Increases Likelihood Of Launch Success
One of the least utilised tools for toy and game companies is toy playtesting. This is not quality testing or chemical compliance, we mean consumer research to validate the appeal of a toy or game product.
The toy and games industry is stuck in a cycle of massive product churn and ongoing development of new products. We tend to launch a load of new stuff to the market, see what sticks and then move onto the next product development cycle. As an industry we generally don’t pay enough attention to trying to reduce the constant product churn and to successfully establishing evergreen products which sell year after year. There are so many other pressures on the product development cycle – sales, marketing, engineering, tooling, quality etc., and toy companies often don’t want to make things more difficult because it is already difficult enough to get a fully working, QA certified, retail approved product to market, without worrying about the end consumer – the child who will play with the toy!
Most toy and game companies could benefit from doing more consumer research, especially play testing research where children get hands on with products. In more than 1200 focus groups conducted with children and parents, we have never run a toy playtesting project which failed to deliver key learnings which are likely to increase the chances of launch success.
Here’s 5 reasons why playtesting toys with children increases the chances of launch success:
- Dexterity Fit – one of the most instant and obvious issues for failure of new toy lines is if the target consumer cannot use it properly. The first shipments may still sell based on conceptual appeal, but reviews and word of mouth will likely kill a product which can’t be used properly affecting demand for future shipments. When we playtest toys with children for our clients we often see products which are either too large for small hands or which require a level of dexterity which does not fit with the target markets level of physical development. We have tested $multi-billion products for the biggest toy companies out there and found these kind of shortcomings, this is an ongoing potential banana skin for toy companies. When it costs $hundreds of thousands to launch new toy products, why would you risk getting something so fundamental wrong?
- Uncovering key marketing drivers – we’ve tested a lot of TV adverts for toys and games, and found some of them were selling the wrong product features with the wrong message, which lead to product launches failing. Clearly it makes sense to develop marketing communications which communicate compelling product features and benefits in a relevant way. Consumer research testing toys with kids typically identifies key marketing drivers or key barriers to purchase, which can be fed into both advertising production and media buying.
- Investigating the hierarchy of appeal – research play testing can usually help you get an idea of which product features and benefits are the most important to the consumer. Let’s say for instance that you have a play dough type compound product, and you have a unique texture, a non stick element so it won’t make a mess that is difficult to clean, a sparkly finish so it looks glitzy and a special patented extrusion feature which nobody else is offering. That’s a lot going on in terms of what might be appealing. Research testing with children and parents can help you to understand which element has the most appeal.
- Understanding the purchase dynamic – one area which toy and game companies should generally understand better than they do is the purchase dynamic. This would generally be the parent and child interaction about a product, where the parent often acts as a gateway for responsible positive play and the child is more motivated by what is most fun, popular with their friends, collectable etc. This dynamic changes by product category, by theme, by time of the year/occasion, by age of child etc. Understanding how this dynamic relates to your specific product is important, because the more you know about why & how your products are bought the more you can facilitate and prompt purchase with good marketing, product and packaging design and customer service.
- Test and validate tactile appeal – this is last but definitely not least. Children are much more tactile than adults. Younger children utilise the sense of touch more than how a product looks, and touch dominates their judgement of a toy. We spend a lot of time, money and effort on developing compelling product packaging which looks good, but how much time do we as toy companies spend getting the touch sensation right with our products? As adults we can’t feel and experience toys the same way as children do. Research testing can identify any key features with strong potential for tactile appeal, and can also identify if tactile appeal is lacking. Quick fixes can often be applied late in the product development cycle in terms of adding textures via manufacturing techniques or via adding materials which are more interesting to touch.
These are only 5 of the launch success factors for toys and games which can be identified or enhanced by research playtesting with kids. There are many more of course, but most importantly we encourage clients to look at consumer playtesting as an opportunity to increase the chances of success for toy products, not as an extra complication for harried development teams. In the end the company needs product launches which succeed above all, and research playtesting can be a valuable contributor to success.
If you’re interested in conducting research playtesting or just finding out more, please feel free to drop us a line and we’ll be happy to discuss with you.