Specialised marketing: The five most important ‘do’s’ for the ‘family’ target group

In order to be successful as a company, it is necessary to understand your target groups and to align the subsequent marketing programs optimally towards them.

However, with communication programs targeted towards children and families, it is often the case that the individual family members are not addressed in a differentiated manner.

This failure will often result in serious consequences. Planned marketing measures can fizzle out or won’t work as planned.

In order to execute successful family marketing, it is worth taking into account the five tips below before investing in a marketing campaign:

1. There is no such thing as “one family”

The ‘family’ defined as a homogeneous target group and lifestyle does not exist. How family is defined and what is understood by the term has become more diverse as an expression of the pluralisation in our society. Today, people live and shape their own family units individually. Not least for marketing purposes it is crucial to note that the term ‘family’ has become much more open and flexible over the last few years. Major life events such as marriage and biological parenthood which decades ago were still a natural part of most family structures in Germany, have now become optional in the modern family construct.

Whether it be working mothers with children, single parents, same-sex partnerships, long-distance relationships or marriages without children, these and many other ways of life are common in today's society.

As a natural consequence, decisions today are no longer made by one person within the family but are usually made collectively. For example, children are sometimes more significantly involved in deciding which bread topping to purchase, which car to buy, which holiday trip to book or which media content to consume. Children are a central component and driver of the decision-making processes within the family.

This means that "the family" is not a homogeneous but a heterogeneous target group.

This is a critical insight to consider when planning marketing programs.

2. Pattern recognition as the basis for successful marketing

An important component for individualised brand communication in the social family context is the identification of patterns. These are the attitudes, values, information and consumption patterns of the target group. Marketing measures are far more successful if they are geared towards the circumstances of the respective families. These must first be recognised upfront.

Marketing research tools can be utilised to identify pattern recognition. If the respondents have the same behaviour, they can then be clustered into "consumer profiles". Children can also be grouped into homogeneous sub-target groups based on the same personality traits given the basic personality traits of children have already evolved by the age of four. By comparison this approach is more effective than simply addressing them on the basis of their age or gender. A psychographic criterion will contribute much more to the understanding of children as a target group.

In the context of pattern recognition, there are "buyer personas" or "personas". This refers to the exact description of an imaginary person who exemplifies a consumer from respective consumer profiles. Personas consist of a concrete and concise description of family members. Similar to a profile description such as: name, place of residence and specific occupations. In addition to this they can be precisely defined on the basis of their consumption, media and information behaviour, their values and expectations from the provider of products or services and thus this approach helps to fully understand the target group.

Let's imagine for example a children's and young people's book publisher wants to develop and market its products in a target group-oriented way. Let's also imagine two target groups: One family is a cosmopolitan, nature-loving family with a high level of education who lives together with friends in a house on the outskirts of a big city and whose children go to a Montessori kindergarten. The other family lives in a new housing estate in a medium-sized city where the values of the meritocracy are central. Their credo is that performance is the basis for professional success and education is the basis for achievement.

Although the members of both families are the same age and they have the same number of children they will have completely different expectations towards the products of a children's and youth book publisher. Because of these differences, the products must be communicated marketing-wise through different media and with different messages - both textual and visual, if the marketing program is to be successful.

3. The right interplay between message and channel is crucial

The recognition of patterns on the one hand and the concrete description of consumer profiles on the other hand enables the development of ‘offer profiles’, which not only include the product or service, but also the communication offer. Without consumer profiles there are no target-oriented offers.

This is the formula for family marketing.

The decisive factor is the successful interplay of message, creation and channel at the right time. The right moments of need also play a central role. Information should be addressed precisely when the target person's receptivity is at its highest.

The application of the "Lasswell formula of communication" can also be helpful for marketing: "Who says what via which channel to whom and with what effect?". Whereby the right time, i.e., the "when" or "in which life situation" must also be considered. The solution to the Lasswell formula is not possible without prior pattern recognition, i.e., with specific target group personas and with the consumer profiles mentioned above.

4. The use of humour or irony should be used sparingly.

Children cannot deal well with ironic portrayals bas these are often misinterpreted amongst the young. Accordingly, irony and humour should be used sparingly. While children between the ages of four and six like to laugh at exaggerations, primary school children's understanding of humour is more complex: situational comedy, rule-breaking and simple puns can be understood amongst this age grouping.

Caution is advised when using humour, because very complex contexts such as parody, irony, black humour or sarcasm can only be understood by teenagers from around 12 years of age.

5. Family marketing should offer added value to parents

Parents are looking for guidance and support and are happy to be informed. In family marketing, therefore, products that make everyday life easier for parents are particularly high in demand. This is not necessarily about the most creative content, but rather about very practical aspects. Deutsche Bahn, for example, has introduced the "Leselok" for primary school children and the "Minilok" for kindergarten children. This reading material engages children whilst at the same time providing relief for parents or accompanying adults on long train journeys.

It is important to understand that marketing measures in the area of children and families only achieve a credible effect if the target group is addressed individually. However, this can only be achieved if the heterogeneity of the target group - including the individual realities of families' lives are recognised and taken into account when planning marketing programs.

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