Kids don’t want chocolate ice-cream: 5 things we’ve learned from conducting consumer research with children.

Hannah Hope

Senior Research Executive

Chocolate ice cream? Who wants that? Strawberry is where ‘it’s at!’

In truth, it is harder to conduct research with children compared with adult consumers. There are additional considerations to plan for which can make projects take longer. Having said that, it is important to stay focused on the job in hand: uncovering the insight.

At Blue Yonder  Research we are great advocates of consulting children in research. It hasn’t all been plain sailing though, we’ve learned some lessons the hard way. In this blog, using some working examples, I share our top 5 lessons for working with children.

First things first. Get permission and ethically assess the potential impact of your research on your participants. It is important for everyone involved. Always seek advice if unsure.

So, on with the lessons….

#5 Design bespoke research for children.

Children generally go through recognised developmental milestones and research needs to be designed to be affording of this. To state the obvious, 6 year olds are vastly different to 12 year olds, in stages of development and attitude.

Design the methodology with the age of the child in mind, considering how the methodology can help the child make themselves understood.

For example, sometimes in home paired sibling interviews can be effective. The presence of a sibling can provide comfort as well as give the confidence to express differences in opinion and to challenge. Here’s an example:

Boy, age 10: No, I really don’t like banana things.

Sister, age 11: Well that’s funny because we had a banana after tea last night and you ate that!!!!

Boy, age 10: Oh yeah, but I don’t like banana flavour things. I like real bananas.

In other studies, particularly with younger children, we sometimes use Mum to help us. Mums know their kids best at the end of the day and work with sensitivity.  For example, we might invite mums to our facility and train them how to interview their children at home.

Everyone knows kids have a short attention span so we encourage Mum to think about breaking the research into separate sessions, spotting when their children need a break.

#4 Be prepared for anything.

They say don’t work with children and animals, don’t they? I think the underlying message here is that you don’t always know what they’ll do, or say! It always makes me think of the black and white Blue Peter clip where Lulu the baby elephant goes off on one!

It’s the same when conducting research with children; you need to be on your toes. Once, a boy of 9 openly told me mid interview that the interview activity had sadly reminded him that his girlfriend had just split up with him. I wasn’t expecting that.

Still, it was proof that I’d done all the right things to create an open and supportive atmosphere for the interview, which leads me nicely into lesson number  #3...

#3 Take the time to create the right atmosphere.

It’s the simple things that create the right atmosphere: wearing the right clothes, getting down to their level, building rapport by talking about things that are relevant to them, maybe playing a game to begin with. Above all else make sure they know they are not being tested.

Working in home can help to create the right atmosphere, although you will need to make sure Mum is out of the way to make this work. When Mum appears , the dynamics change and two things happen. Suddenly, the children won’t talk to you anymore. Mum will (unknowingly) start to speak for them.

Here’s an example:

(Interviewer) Me: What do you like doing George, tell me what some of your favourite things to do are?

Mum: You love drawing, don’t you George?

George: *Mutters and pulls a grotesque face as mum turns her back* No. I hate drawing.

You will need to think of a polite way to ask her to leave. It can be awkward (believe us) so warn her in advance and explain why. (We tell our Mums that they are welcome to eaves drop or peep through the door to put her at ease.)

#2 Work with Mum.

There are limitations as to what children can offer and we often supplement their responses by consulting with Mum too. It is always good to see both sides. And how fascinating it can be. E.g., when Mums tell us that her children don’t like sticky or messy treats, is she right or could it be that she has a vested interest?

#1 Choose your stimulus carefully.

Think carefully about your stimulus. Consider it from a child’s perspective and take into account their frame of reference. Is there anything unintended it could represent or be telling them? The best example I can give is after creating large, colour concept boards for a new product development study, when in the first interview the response came, ‘Well I wouldn’t be able to eat that it’s too big!’.

To us it was clear that picture was not actual size, for one thing it would have made the product enormous. Yet the stimulus was taken at face value, so it was back to drawing board for us, literally!

Finally, if there’s anything to remember when conducting child research… it’s to expect the unexpected!

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