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Was a Gender-Neutral Doll the Right Move for Mattel?

Posted by Dr. Erica Carranza

Fri, Oct 04, 2019

MattelCreatableWorldSized

Did I ever tell you about my dissertation…? Wait, don’t go! I promise it’s interesting.

It was 2002. My advisor and I had been studying gender stereotypes, which we found were still depressingly pervasive. Then, for my dissertation, I examined reactions to men and women who broke the mold. I thought that people would dislike stereotypically masculine (e.g., ambitious) women and feminine (e.g., sensitive) men, but try to hide it—so I measured their emotional reactions using facial EMG.

Facial EMG involves placing pairs of electrodes over muscles that contract when we frown or smile, as shown on the Mona Lisa. (My apologies to any art history majors out there.) People can’t mask the immediate, involuntary emotional reactions that register in their faces. Most of that muscular activity is too fast and too subtle to be captured by human or computer/AI-based facial coding, but EMG captures it well. At CMB, we have a method of measuring emotional reactions tailored to market research—it does an excellent job and doesn’t involve electrodes. But if you expect people to actively lie about their feelings, facial EMG is the way to go.

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What did I find in analyzing literally millions of milliseconds of facial activity? Feminine men elicited warm smiles from women—but were laughed at by other men. And masculine women were universally reviled. Lots of eyebrow furrowing. People didn’t even try to hide it.

Add this to the many other forces that encourage adherence to gender norms—like the manly men and womanly women portrayed in everything from blockbuster movies to local ads—and it’s no shock that kids learn gender roles early. Kids are perceptive. They see stereotypical male and female characters held-up as ideals in toys and on TV, and can easily infer what’s expected of them.

In this way, gender stereotypes are both pervasive and constraining, like invisible straightjackets we wear everyday—we don’t have to let them confine us, but the pressure is always there.

That leads me to Mattel and Creatable World, their new gender-neutral doll. According to their official tagline, it’s “designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in—giving kids the freedom to create their own customizable characters again and again.”

Here is a major toymaker refusing to communicate an expectation that “boys will be boys” and “girls will be girls.” This is huge. Especially when we consider the crucial role of play for kids in imagining possibilities, exploring interests, connecting with others, and discovering oneself.

So did Mattel do the right thing from a moral perspective?

Yes. No doubt in my mind. When kids don’t feel the need to live-up to masculine and feminine ideals, they get to be who they are without pressure or fear of reprisal. They can be smart, compassionate, strong, expressive, ambitious, fashionable, funny—or all of the above. It’s up to them!

But Mattel is a publicly traded company looking for healthy profits. Particularly nowadays, when so many things—online and off—compete for kids’ time and attention. So it’s also worth asking:

Was a gender-neutral doll the right move from a brand perspective?

Again, I’d say yes. It’s exactly the right move. Why? Because of the crucial role identity benefits play in driving brand appeal.

At CMB, we’ve identified four key psychological benefits brands need to deliver in order to drive appeal:

  • Functional Benefits (e.g., “checking-off” goals or to-dos; saving time; saving money)
  • Social Benefits (e.g., sense of community; conversation; social connection)
  • Emotional Benefits (e.g., positive feelings; enhanced joy; reduced pain)
  • Identity Benefits (e.g., pride and self-esteem; self-expression; a positive self-image)

We leverage all four in BrandFx, our proprietary approach to helping clients achieve brand growth. In fact, we recently fielded a BrandFx study with over 20,000 U.S. consumers. In total, they provided nearly 40,000 evaluations of major brands across multiple industries. We’re still knee-deep in analysis (more blogs to come as we roll-out our results!), but so far this much is clear:

Identity benefits are particularly important.

That holds true across brands and industries—even “rational” industries like financial services. But it’s especially true for brands in the entertainment space, like Mattel. With Creatable World, Mattel is helping kids explore, express, and embrace their unique identities with a doll that offers more possibilities and imposes fewer constraints. This will pay off in kids’ interest and engagement.

Yes, many parents may be against it. But I have two things to say about that based on what we’ve seen across multiple studies:

First: Kids tend to drive toy purchase trends. They see, they like, they ask… and ask… and ask… And parents want their kids to be happy, so kids often get what they want—even when their parents feel ambivalent about it.

Second: Most parents aren’t morally opposed to their kids playing with toys associated with the opposite gender. It’s that they’re afraid of other kids’ reactions. As a parent, I can relate. There are times I’ve steered my boys away from things that I thought might lead to the spirit-crushing, innocence-busting experience of being ridiculed by peers. But when parents see evidence of shifting norms and acceptance among kids, their fears will diminish—and the fact the Mattel has released a gender-neutral doll is evidence in itself. After all, Mattel knows kids, and they put a lot of money on the line. So, if my boys want a Creatable World doll, it’s theirs. Because what I really want is for them to be able to choose their paths—and feel valued for the amazing, unique individuals they are—without having to squeeze themselves into a narrow vision of what it means to be a man.

If change is on our doorstep, I’m ready to welcome it in, and I’m likely not the only parent who feels this way.

 


Erica CarranzaErica has a B.A. from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. in psychology from Princeton University. Prior to CMB, she led insights research at American Express, where she was a recipient of the CMO Award for Achievement in Excellence.

Topics: marketing strategy, brand health and positioning, digital media and entertainment research, growth and innovation, Identity, emotion, BrandFx, consumer psychology

Wear Your Brand Hat to Ensure Segmentation Adoption

Posted by Brenda Ng

Tue, Sep 24, 2019

Wear Your Brand HatThe best segmentation is wasted if your internal teams and agencies aren’t using it.  Compared to a one-time launch event, an adoption campaign takes place over time, and allows for new behaviors and an understanding of the target segments’ lens to groove.   

Brand Hat

Create and have fun with an adoption campaign by putting on a brand and product management hat.

  • Target: Which groups should adopt the new segmentation?  Marketing, sales, product, executive leadership, agencies, finance, customer service?  This determines the scope and reach of the campaign.
  • Goals: Focus on deep understanding of your prioritized, target segments, not necessarily every category segment.  What behaviors do you want to see?
  • Duration: Like any product launch, the campaign could be broken down into three parts: pre-launch to anticipate and raise awareness; launch to introduce; and post-launch to provide reinforcement.
  • Naming: Own it!  Create a name for the campaign that links to the segments or the benefit of transitioning to a new segmentation.  It can be activated during the pre-launch, teaser phase.  For example, “Coming soon.  A Fresh Perspective.”  Or “They’re arriving.  The Fabulous Four.”

Fun. Fit.

A bevy of fun, engaging ideas can be modified to fit your company’s culture or industry.  Everyone has a different learning style, so mix it up to dial up the reach.  A few jump-start ideas:

  • Create each segment’s LinkedIn profile. Or create Tinder profiles.
  • If each segment had an Instagram account what would that look like? If you have the budget, provide instant cameras, assign a segment to a team (or better, have a team member complete the algorithm to determine their segment), and have them complete a scavenger hunt using snapped pictures.  Use cellphone cameras for a no-budget option.  Or create a Fun Friday where each team dresses up like a segment, brings a segment’s favorite foods to share, plays their anthem in the background—and the other teams guess the segment.
  • Create an internal website or database that has the facts, figures, sizing, valuation, etc. to be used in estimates, forecasting, and modeling.
  • Rename conference rooms by segment name, for 3-6 months. One conference room per segment. Further bring the segment to life through decorations, and interactive experiences.

Brief Details

Small details matter to reinforce adoption of the new target segments. 

Refresh templates for creative briefs, new product briefs, and market research briefs to include a trigger:  Which target segment is this effort for?  Leave space to include important insights and numbers.

Now, you have the keys to a successful segmentation.  We’re happy to help.


Brenda NgBrenda Ng, VP of Strategy and Account Planning, spearheads CMB's engagement solutions from product development to strategic planning.

For more insights, please follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Topics: product development, marketing strategy, market strategy and segmentation, brand tracking, experiential marketing, engagement strategy

Will Technology Kill the Research Star?

Posted by Megan McManaman

Wed, Sep 18, 2019

Notes from WIRe’s New Directions in Market Research

WIRe Speakers and Moderator (pictured left to right): Jackie Anderson, Blair Bailey, Bridget Nelson, Beatrice Capestany, and Karampreet Sandu.

CMB was thrilled to host and co-sponsor WIRe’s (Women in Research) lively panel this week: New Directions in Market Research. The panelists—CMB’s Blair Bailey, Shark Ninja’s Bridget Nelson, Reputation Institute’s Karampreet Sandhu, and quantilope’s Beatrice Capestany—provided a lot of insight on the challenges and opportunities facing the insights industry. Through their perspectives, we explored how tech is changing the world of insights and the role of the researcher—a topic that’s been the subject of thousands of tweets, thought pieces, industry reports, and an unquantifiable amount of hand-wringing.

Technology Take Over: Friend or Foe?

We’re happy to report there was little hand-wringing about the death of the researcher and much excitement for the future of insights and market research. Our diverse panel agreed technology won’t obviate the insights role—but it is irrevocably changing it by forcing many researchers to re-evaluate where we can add true value to our clients.

Platforms to Consider

The discussion was as wide-ranging as you’d imagine with a topic as broad and nebulous as “technology in market research.” The panelists sang the praises of Slack to facilitate agile solution development and communication, various automation platforms such as Alteryx and quantilope, and the exciting advancements that Virtual Reality may offer to create powerful participant experiences and insight.

Looking Ahead

Ultimately, the question is not, will the insights role survive into the 21st Century, it is who will leverage the right tools while channeling the data fluency creativity, context, and storytelling acumen that bring meet our clients’ challenges?


Megan McManamanMegan McManaman, Marketing Director, is one of CMB's strategists and insight-miners with a passion for storytelling.

For more insights, please follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Topics: consumer insights, professional development, technology

Socialize your Segments to Inspire Action

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Wed, Aug 28, 2019

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My segments are defined, my typing tool is working, and my personas are created … and you’re telling me I’m not done yet?!

Yes, the end of the research is really the beginning of your segmentation. Once you’ve landed on an excellent model and algorithm for defining and distinguishing your new segments, you need everyone to know them!

At CMB, a standard part of our Segmentation program is to workshop with our client’s internal teams to obsess over the persona behind each segment, e.g. understand more deeply what can motivate “Defensive Donna” or how to pin down the “Explorer”. For B2B and B2C segmentations, the process is very similar, though all workshops are customized to account for the uniqueness of your segments and the needs of your stakeholders.

Typically, we plan and facilitate workshops of 2-4 hours, depending on the needs of the participants. The goal of the workshops is always the same: socialize the key insights about each segment, then apply that learning to real business needs.

For one large client, we brought the entire 100+ Marketing staff through an interactive 2-hour workshop (four workshops of 25-30 people each, over two days). After a discussion of the pre-work (there is always a creative homework assignment to inspire participants), the groups were split into diverse functional teams who rotated through stations focused on one segment each. The stations included video that brought the personas to life, infographic-style banners depicting the key elements defining the segment, take away “baseball cards” with key stats and insights, and more.

Once everyone has had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the archetypes for each segment, small group breakouts focus on one segment each. They are tasked with developing messaging for this person, choosing or developing fitting products for them, as well as tackling other business issues. Often, we will look to adjacent industries to examine how they appeal to this target. As appropriate, we may fill backpacks or briefcases with products fitting the persona. We then look across all breakout groups to see how distinct the segments are in vivid detail.

There are myriad exercises that we can and do engage in—from in-person workshops to VR experiences. All of them deepen and hone your understanding of the segments and compel you to apply your learning to critical business issues. Our clients solve for their targeting needs, including and especially for messaging and product development, but also for perfecting pitches for your sales team.

Participants walk away from the workshop with memorable and actionable insights, and as enthusiastic evangelists.


Kathy OfsthunKathy Ofsthun is CMB's VP of Qualitative Strategy + Innovation.

For more insights, please follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Topics: qualitative research, market strategy and segmentation

The 5 things to do BEFORE you Begin a Segmentation

Posted by Athena Rodriguez

Tue, Aug 13, 2019

planning

Segmentations can be big endeavors—organizations investing time, money, and people, need to see meaningful outcomes. While it’s tempting, especially for seasoned researchers, to dive right in, solid up-front planning is critical when it comes to building a segmentation your organization will accept and implement.

With decades of segmentation experience, we’ve found the key to a successful outcome lies with engaging stakeholders early and often.  Follow these five steps to ensure alignment prior to questionnaire development.    

  1. Set expectations. Engage with end-users early in the process to clarify what the segmentation will and won’t do. Often time, LOBs have competing priorities which one segmentation may not be able to satisfy.  It’s much better to identify and address potential disconnects prior to getting started.  To ensure data quality (i.e., keep your questionnaire a reasonable length), you’ll likely need to negotiate trade-offs.  Consider using additional follow-up studies to gather additional insights that aren’t crucial to segmentation. 

  2. Understand relevant initiatives. Questionnaire real estate is at a premium so use it wisely. Examine relevant existing research to make sure you’re building on rather than replicating it.  Are there ongoing initiatives that could provide some direction?  For example, what marketing campaigns are planned, who are they targeting, and why?  Alternatively, is there upcoming work that could benefit by examining through the lens of segments—product development comes to mind here.

  3. Learn from the past. Understanding how your organization has used (or not used) segmentation in the past can help you to avoid potential pitfalls. Examine past segmentation efforts in your organization.  What worked—and perhaps more importantly, what didn’t? 
    • How was the segmentation used? What decisions were made? 
    • If it wasn’t used, why? Was it overly complicated?  Was it too simplistic? Did it lack face validity or contradict how the organization currently sees the market? 

  4. Define success. It’s crucial to know how end users want to use the results prior to questionnaire development and analysis. What does success look like?  The answer will differ based on the end-user.  A product manager may want to develop products designed to meet target segment needs (an if you build it, they will come approach) while your marketing team might expect to pinpoint target segments within an existing database—two very different uses. 

  5. Identify your audience. Are there portions of the market that don’t make sense to include in your study? Alternatively, are there people that might not currently use your products or services but have the potential to in the future.  One obvious example of this is in the financial services sector.  Young investors might not have enough investable assets to be profitable, but given the stickiness of the relationship, it’s important to attract young investors who have the potential for future profitability (well after they’ve paid off student loans and saved up for a down payment).

Making the most out of your segmentation investment means more than choosing the right scheme—it means translating insights into decisions. Ask the right questions from the beginning and you’ll be on your way to helping your organization gain the clarity and focus the best insights initiatives provide.

Athena Rodriguez is CMB's Senior Project Director and leads our Senior Resource Team.

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Topics: market strategy and segmentation