Mr. Rosenberger

Family Travel

Building Brand Loyalty When your Customer is Under 10

By Matthew Rosenberger, Consultant & Publisher, ABC Travel Guides for Kids

Food marketing campaigns aimed at children on television, magazine and during movie theater "previews" is widespread. In fact, the food and beverage industries spend billions of dollars per year to market to children in the United States. This money is spent to help children recognize and differentiate particular products and logos. It works. Studies have shown that at 2 years of age, children may have beliefs about specific brands, and 2- to 6-year-olds can recognize familiar brand names, packaging, logos, and characters and associate them with products, especially if the brands use bright colors, pictures, and cartoon characters. By middle childhood, most children can name multiple brands of child-oriented products. Even among very young children, awareness and recognition translate into product requests, begging and nagging for specific product names and brands.

A Stanford University study, examined the effects of the branding of a heavily marketed popular fast food brand on preschool children's taste preferences. Preschool children were asked to taste identical foods in packaging from McDonald's and unbranded packaging and to indicate if they tasted the same or if one tasted better. Each food sample was divided into two identical portions, one wrapped in a McDonald's wrapper or placed in a McDonald's bag, and the other in similar wrapping without the McDonald's logo. The children were randomly asked to taste first one and then the other of the five identical, differently packaged, pairs of food samples and indicate whether they tasted the same or which they thought tasted better. With four out of the five foods - chicken nuggets, fries, carrots and milk - significantly more children selected the McDonald's product as tastier, despite the fact that the foods were exactly the same. McDonald's was chosen because it is one of the largest fast food advertisers in the country and the expectation that most, if not all, preschool children would be familiar with the McDonald's brand because of extensive marketing. The study hypothesized that 3- to 5-year-olds would prefer the taste of foods they perceived to be from McDonald's compared with the same foods without McDonald's branding.

The hypothesis proved to be correct. The McDonald's branding effect is very strong, even for preschoolers as this study demonstrated that even young children are swayed by brand preferences. As the largest fast food advertiser in the United States the children came to the study familiar with the McDonalds brand. Furthermore, the children even preferred the taste of carrots and milk, healthy foods, when they thought they were from McDonald's.

Other studies have also confirmed that when given a choice to select products from pairs each comprised of branded and non branded products, such as popular drinks, snacks, toys, breakfast cereals, and sportswear, children under the age of 10 chose the branded, advertised product in preference to the non branded product even when the non branded control products were carefully selected as close perceptual matches for the branded advertised products. Once again confirming that very young children see, understand, and remember product logos and advertising.

In today's marketplace children are either spending or influencing billions of dollars worth of consumer products and services. Traditional marketing techniques that have focused on mom and dad are missing the mark. It is no longer the most effective way to sell children's products through their parents. Kids have their own preferences (and their own bank accounts). Advertisers recognize this and have made children the focal point in numerous campaigns by creating colorful logos and images that were once reserved for kid's products and now common practice for the advertising of adult products to attract both parents and children. Furthermore, with more television advertising programs geared toward children, more magazines and print material available for children and more city attractions trying to reach children (think of the "Children's Museum"), the under 10 demographic has more power to influence family purchasing decisions than ever before. Kids' preferences and voices are louder and stronger today in large part because they know that companies want their business and will go out of there way to create products and services that are current and meet their preferences (think McDonald's Happy Meal).

While more and more hotels are offering amenities for kids, or creating activities or kid's clubs, there is tremendous opportunity for growth in this area. If your hotel wants to attract families and specifically those with children under 10 then these trends in advertising should not be ignored. It is not enough to create a family package with a plush toy and cookies upon arrival. It is not enough to offer tickets to the aquarium and breakfast. The parents might be drawn to you because of these amenities and family packages but your missing an opportunity in the early planning stages of the trip if you are not engaging their children with something on your website or a strategic alliance with a kid-friendly partner. There are not enough alliances being formed with partners that have established recognition and preference among children.

So what type of branding is your hotel engaged in to reach children? Have you considered the impact branding has on children under the age of 10? Branding is an advertising method designed to establish recognition and positive associations with a company name, product or logo, with the goal of creating lifelong customers. We know now it's possible to reach customers even when they are still in diapers. Since brand recognition begins as early as 2 years of age, particularly when cartoon (think cereal advertisements) or cartoonish (think fast food advertisements) licensed characters are used to sell products, experts agree that marketers who reach these very young children with an effective branding campaign build stronger brand loyalty as a child grows. Even if a child does not buy the product and will not for many years, if the marketing begins in childhood the net results could be far reaching.

Take another look at your hotel marketing, logo and advertising. Have you considered incorporating a cartoon or cartoonish character? What about incorporating bright colors and pictures into your marketing plan? Why not enter into a partnership with an already established kid-friendly brand to help attract more families to your property, especially if your brand is not viewed as particularly strong in the family travel arena. Come up with a plan on how to work together for mutual benefit. The whole point of joint promotional and marketing partnerships is to get your guests thinking about your (or your partner's) brand long before their visit, like when they are shopping at the supermarket or toy store and see a display featuring your hotel (and the partnership you have formed with their brand). How about starting with your website. Have you thought about incorporating a section for kids with games and printable coloring pages? There is tremendous opportunity on the web and this would certainly engage and get the kids thinking about your website before their visit.

If you want to build brand loyalty for the under 10 crowd then you must develop a specific marketing plan to attract them. Starting with your website, you must reach them with the things that are recognizable to them and part of their everyday lives. Form alliances with partners that have already strong recognition in this demographic. Once you accomplish this they will prefer you, remember you, and might just become customers for life.

Matthew G. Rosenberger is a family travel consultant and publisher who works with hotels that want to be recognized as the most family friendly in their region. He is publisher of ABC City Guides for Kids, an all-in-one alphabet book, activity guide and souvenir. The books are customized by hotels and resorts to feature their images, logo and address on the book's front and back covers. Mr. Rosenberger also promotes his selection of family friendly hotels at his website and family travel related assignments through his "We Love Kids" and "TOP FIVE" pick selections. Mr. Rosenberger can be contacted at 215-242-4011 or mgr@kidstravelguides.com Extended Bio...

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