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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.

EMGmonaCrop2

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

Strength-Based Leadership and Finding the #Boss Within

Posted by Blair Bailey

Wed, Jul 06, 2016

A few weeks ago, I relinquished my year-long membership to the "Broken Screen Club" and bought asgo-logo-home.png new phone. It was a good opportunity to clean up the apps I didn't need. I had two meditation apps, two fitness tracker apps, three nutrition apps, four dating apps, and two hydration-tracking apps. If there was a gap in my life, I had an app for it. 

I was an expert at pinpointing what I wanted to improve about myself and identifying the tools to do it...but was it working? Using these apps reminded me to drink water, but they also served as a constant reminder that I was bad at regularly drinking water.

Recently, I attended Strength-Based Leadership Workshop presented by She Geeks Out (SGO), a Boston-based community of women in the STEAM fields. The workshop was led by Katie Greenman, Founding Partner of HumanSide, a "human-centered consultancy" that works with individuals, teams, and organizations to build success from the inside out. Through activities and lively discussion, we discussed the concept of strength-based leadership and how to apply it in our personal and professional lives.

When it comes to introspection and self-improvement, it’s natural to focus on what’s wrong rather than what’s right. Strength-based leadership focuses on emphasizing an individual’s existing strengths and passions. The core belief is that there is higher growth potential in developing strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses.

At the workshop, everyone had a worksheet with about thirty traits listed and had to circle which traits we considered our strengths. For each of the traits listed, I wanted to brainstorm how I could improve on it rather than see if it was already a strength of mine. Next, we listed items from one aspect of our lives and discussed how our existing strengths would help or had helped us achieve our goals.

The last item was: "Something you're not doing so well with." It was easy for me to come up with something to improve upon...but how would my known strengths help? The takeaway is one of the central tenants of strength-based leadership—whether you're succeeding or not at a task, you should focus on your existing strengths to improve or to continue to excel.

Although the exercises focused on the individual, they can also be applied to teams. Focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses allows for diverse, passionate teams that can excel at the tasks at hand. It also creates a stronger relationship between a company's leadership and its employees. Acknowledging your employees' passions can build enthusiasm and promote evangelism. It's important to note that strength-based leaders don't ignore weaknesses altogether. However, they don't focus the majority of their time and efforts on filling the gaps.

Since attending the workshop, I’ve realized how much strength-based leadership plays a role at CMB. I’ve been assigned difficult projects and given unfamiliar roles that I was at first terrified to take on. But during one-on-one meetings, when I was internally panicking, my manager would tell me, “we thought of you for this.” Through challenges we reveal skills that are valuable to a project, a team, and the company as a whole.

Thanks to my "perfectionist" trait, it's still difficult for me not to focus on the negative, particularly my own. SGO's workshop provided me with a new perspective on how to approach my projects, my career, and myself. I still have more than one meditation app, but if that's the worst of it, I think I'll be okay.

Blair Bailey is a Senior Associate Business Analyst at CMB who still doesn’t drink enough water.

Whether you’re a segmentation guru, a tech whiz, or a strategic selling machine, we’re looking for collaborative, engaged professionals to join our growing team. Check out our open positions below!

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Topics: Chadwick Martin Bailey, marketing science, marketing strategy, CMB Careers, Market research

Marketers: Let’s See Some Identification

Posted by Brant Cruz

Fri, Jun 17, 2016

social_currency.pngVery little brings me more joy than a rich data set that smells like a powerful insight is ready to emerge. Likewise, few things create more angst for me than a powerful story hidden in data—when something is there but I just can’t connect the dots. Recently, I was rescued from any long period of angst I might have suffered by a collaboration with two great minds who bring complimentary skill sets to the table.

My two saviors were CMB’s own Erica Carranza (PhD in social psychology) and Vivaldi Partners’ CEO Erich Joachimsthaler (PhD and marketing thought leader). The “aha!” moment came from Erich and Erica’s ability to reframe what the data was trying to tell me—a multifaceted “identity construct” drives all our underlying digital social behaviors. It’s an idea with powerful implications for marketers and other business leaders trying to thrive in this world of digitally empowered consumers. Erich, Erica, and I will be sharing more on these insights and how to use them in our June 22nd webinar, Social Currency: The New Brand-Building Model. 

To help illustrate, I’ve spent the last week retrofitting this new realization to some of the best-of marketing efforts I’ve witnessed in my career, and I found some easy examples in gaming. Two examples in particular stick out. The first is the famous Call of Duty campaign that used the tagline “There’s a soldier in all of us.” The second is this past winter’s Star Wars Battlefront campaign, which leveraged the Star Wars fandom as part of a 30-year story (told in 30 secs). In both of these ads, the consumers—and their identities (real or aspirational)—were the heroes. The games themselves were enablers to further define and broadcast these identities. In a world where the most powerful brand-building content is created and/or shared by consumers, it’s particularly important to understand why consumers undertake the behaviors that Erich described in his original Social Currency work. 

Retrospectively, it’s been easy to see that game marketers have inherently known (or stumbled upon) the concept of identity being a key to great marketing. But, the real eye-opener here is that this same concept proved true for 5 disparate industries (auto, beer, fashion, restaurants, and airlines) in a rich data set of 18,000 respondents and 90 brands, which is the basis for our webinar next Wednesday.

 Register here!

Brant Cruz is our resident segmentation guru and the Vice President of CMB’s eCommerce and Digital Media Practice.

Topics: consumer insights, marketing strategy, webinar, brand health and positioning, customer experience and loyalty, customer journey, Social Currency

Punxsutawney Phil Predicts a High Open Rate

Posted by Caitlin Dailey

Thu, Feb 18, 2016

groundhog_day.pngRemember when clerks asked for our email addresses? Now, at many stores, we’re just told to give it. The result is an inbox flooded with promotions and “flash sales” from so many places that you can’t keep track of which brand is offering what. We’re bombarded with so many emails—which we may not have even wanted in the first place—that hearing the ding of a new message has become more of an annoyance than a delight. Are people even reading these emails anymore? And if they aren’t, just how effective are email marketing campaigns these days? 

Over the past couple of years, people have debated whether email marketing is still lucrative. Email services like Gmail are getting smarter—allowing consumers to curate their emails more effectively, which further complicates the matter for marketers. Still, most marketers agree that while it’s a viable tactic, email marketing strategies need to be adjusted so emails ultimately deliver positive interactions that drive results. This means ditching the “batch and blast” and moving to a more personalized approach. Combining market segmentation and database analytics, marketers can be smarter about which messages get delivered to which customers. 

Segmentation is indisputably powerful, but, once you’ve targeted your audience, there are rules of thumb for creating emails worth opening. According to this Entrepreneur article, your email should do one (or more) of four things: solve a problem, save your recipients money, make them smarter, or entertain them. I recently received an email that checked off two of these boxes, creating interest for me to read past the subject line...

On February 1st, DSW sent me a promotional email with the subject line: “Tomorrow, Phil’s deciding our deal.” Because the next day was Groundhog Day, I was interested enough to open the email and see how this related to a shoe sale. The email said that the deal would either be 25% off boots or 25% off sandals. The next day, I got the following message: “Groundhog says. . .25% off sandals for an early spring!” If Punxsutawney Phil had predicted 6 more weeks of winter, we would have received 25% off boots. It was a really clever and engaging (and money saving) way to stand out among the sea of promotions and campaigns I receive every day. Now, I can only hope that I’ll get a chance to wear my new sandals before May. 

If you’re looking for new ways to reach your customers with more personalized/relevant messages and you need help targeting them, check out our segmentation capabilities here

Caitlin Dailey is a Project Manager at CMB. Outside of work, she is a company dancer with DanceWorks Boston. After last year’s winter, she is glad that Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring!

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Topics: marketing strategy, customer experience and loyalty, market strategy and segmentation, retail research