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Steve recently gave an interview - he was asked to describe a day in his working life. Here is the transcript of the interview:

INTERVIEWER: Please describe a typical day as a toy expert

STEVE Firstly, I feel somewhat awkward with the label 'toy expert' - so many people in the toy business have greater knowledge than me on many topics. However, I guess I have some specific knowledge on certain aspects of the toy industry as well a good overall 'generalist' view.

INTERVIEWER Which specific topics would you claim 'expert' knowledge of?

STEVE Well I'm still cringeing slightly at the label, but I guess I probably have as good a knowledge as nearly anyone in terms of consumer research testing toys and toy manufacturing in India. I have also managed development of many toys and games (lots of hits and a few too many non hits!), but I think there are many people in the industry with similar experience of developing and launching toys and games, so not sure that one qualifies!

INTERVIEWER Ok, well thanks for the explanation. So what does a typical working day look like for you?

STEVE From about 7am I'm checking overnight emails coming in via India, HK and China.

After some kind of exercise I'll be at my desk around 08:30-09:00 typically. I then plan the day around a few key tasks and a reasonably active call schedule.

I'll usually try to keep the morning free to complete factory liaison tasks, work on Consultancy projects/presentations and to plan consumer research sessions.

In the afternoon, I'll tend to have phone calls with clients/customers, often back to back for most of the afternoon. Or I'll find myself moderating focus groups with children, something which never fails to be challenging/revealing in terms of how kids react to new toys.

Early evening I'll focus on family time before picking the call schedule back up, sometimes into the night! The worst start for a call time in recent weeks has been 1am, although going back further in time I have done 2am before!

At some point in the evening I'll make sure I've parked as many action points as possible in factory inboxes for the next day, and eventually relax with an hour of brainless TV before eventually sleeping from around 12:30am.

Not very exciting really when you write it down, but that's a fairly typical day in the life of this toy 'expert'!

The Phenomenon Of Toy Stockpiling & What It Means For Toy & Kids Entertainment Companies

One of the largest, but largely under highlighted trends we are seeing with today's children is toy stockpiling.

In previous generations, toys were limited in quantity for the vast majority of children. Each individual toy was therefore more cherished and played with more overall than we find today.

For reasons of confidentiality/security we aren't publishing any images of kids bedrooms with this article...but nevertheless, we have seen some truly astounding collections of toys during recent in home research sessions. Most children have literally hundreds of toys, and toy related products by the time they reach the venerable age of 7.

The reasons why this is such a critical trend to be aware of for toy companies, and kids entertainment companies looking to stay in or to enter the world of toys are several:

1. Toys Are An Easy, Budget Gift - despite large increases in manufacturing costs, toy retail price points are not significantly greater than they were decades ago. Due to the power of inflation therefore, comparatively toys are cheap from a consumer perspective these days versus some other types of consumer products. Therefore this encourages gifting by those who may or may not have an intimate knowledge of the child's play preferences (e.g. for children's birthday parties etc).

2. There Is A Bewildering Array of Brands & Products To Choose From - there is vast proliferation in terms of children's entertainment brands. This means that critical mass and getting in front of the crowd becomes critical for companies. Moreover, this proliferation vastly increases the risks of launch failure. (Although the risks can be reduced by kids market research with a reputable, proven agency!).

3. Toys Have To Work Hard To Retain Interest/Keep Kids Playing - the reality is that with so many toys owned by children, the play time on each product will be limited, especially when combined with the over riding preference for screen time if allowed by parents.

4. Standalone Toys Have A Harder Time Versus Kids Entertainment Driven Products - brands with ongoing consumer immersion and multiple touch points are going to have a huge advantage in terms of staying 'front of mind' for children. When combined with the significant financial risks involved in launching new toy product lines, this points towards ever increasing importance of perennial brands with multiple touch points/spin offs and entertainment licenses.

5 Common Issues We Find When Testing Toys With Kids

You can forget about every part of your process until you understand what the target end consumer is looking for, and what they will buy.

Everything else is superfluous to this point, because if kids don't want your products, everything else is merely part of your products journey towards the clearance aisle!

There are normally 5 main areas where we find Consumer Research helps Toy brands:

1. Dexterity fit - if your product is targeted at 4 year olds, but even a 10 year old would struggle to have the dexterity to meaningfully engage with your products you have a problem. We once tested a product range (based on a global perennial hit franchise), which was fundamentally not suitable for the target market due to lack of dexterity fit. That's comparatively easy to identify, and only a little more complex to fix! If kids can't play with the toy it isn't fit for purpose, and that's going to hurt your sales/brand.

2. Positioning mismatch - this is a biggie, because many of the most costly mistakes we've witnessed in the Kids Entertainment industry come from this mistake. What children perceive to be 'coo' and aspirational changes. So a 4 year old is driven by different motivations & aspirations than an 8 year old. Of course this sounds blindingly obvious, but alas mismatching is common. Here's an example, we once tested a TVC for a well known Global brand. Their clever agency had created a slick and glossy advert which they thought was just great. However, when the TVC aired, it failed to deliver any significant uplift whatsoever, despite strong media spend. When we tested the advert, it was based on a concept that was meaningless to the target market. They had created an advert which had the right positioning for early teens versus primary school aged kids. The revised ad which we tested and validated created a very strong sales uplift. The most painful part of this was that if we'd tested the concept of the 1st TVC before production we could have saved $millions in media spend and production...

3. Lack Of Tactile Experience - the best Toys, the one's which kids just keep on playing with are those which are the most tactile. Around half of the Toys we test (on average) don't have some kind of cool feature or mechanism that means children just can't put the Toy down. There is something ever so satisfying about clicking together Lego bricks, no wonder then that Lego is such a huge phenomenon. Clearly not every play pattern lends itself to that particular tactile experience, but priority/design direction must be given to deliver on this to maximise the chances of success in the Toy aisle.

4. Failure To Understand The Purchase Dynamic there are most commonly 2 parties to a Toy purchase - child & adult (most often this is mum/mom). There are certain factors proven to put mums/moms off i.e. need to buy batteries, annoying sounds/mechanisms, overly violent play pattern. Now for sure, sometimes the strength of the appeal to the child can outweigh the parental objections. This is normally one of the areas where we deliver most surprises to Toy companies & kids Entertainment brands when testing their products/content.

5. Failing To Address Obvious Problems - sometimes our feedback after Focus groups with children is met with a response along the lines of 'oh yeah we knew that'. Quite often this relates to some quite fundamental functionality or positioning flaw which is guaranteed to be causing damage in terms of bad word of mouth, kids drifting away from un-compelling entertainment content or returns at retail. Yet often a company will wait until we deliver the news they already knew (often delivered with the subtlety of a baseball bat!) before doing something about it. While this may sound ridiculous, it is understandable on one level - that being that there are so many other pressures & 'voices' in the process normally that it takes an external 'voice' to assert the obvious over more inward looking concerns.

So there you have it. Frankly, we'd be very surprised if your Toys or Entertainment content didn't suffer from some of these issues, as we find that in at least 99% of projects we find significant insight based on some of the above issues & other issues.

If you'd like to find out more about how we can help you embrace the benefits & value of Consumer Insight, please feel free to drop us a line...

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