Following the annual meeting of the Children's Book Council on September 25, a program was held on reaching the multibillion-dollar kids' market. Two experts in marketing to children spoke to the crowd of about 200 children's book professionals about what publishers can learn from their competitors.
Suzanne Harper, editor-in-chief of Disney Adventures (a pint-sized magazine aimed at children ages 7 to 14) spoke first, letting the audience know straightaway that the tween market is bigger than ever, with 211 billion dollars to spend each year. The competition for tweens' cash is fierce: snack food, video games, CDs, DVDs and clothing are things that vie for their money. The competition for their time is just as high: playing video games, surfing the Internet, watching TV, listening to music, playing sports and hanging out with friends are all popular pastimes.
One way to get the attention of tweens, Harper said, is to know three important things: who they are, where they are and what they like. Harper chose a quote from Martin Lindstrom, author of Brandchild, to sum up marketing to the tween lifestyle succinctly: "Single products cannot and do not stand alone. It's all about projecting a lifestyle."
While Harper freely admitted she is no expert when it comes to children's books, she did offer some suggestions to the children's publishing community on how they might make books more in tune with the tween lifestyle:
Seek out where they are. Head to malls, skateboarding parks, concerts, the Internet, and magazines.
Let them use your book as a tool for self-expression, create graphics on your Web site that can be printed on sticker or T-shirt transfer paper, create posters, postcards, trading cards, etc.
Combine their favorite media choices to make book recommendations (i.e., if you like the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show, The Lizzie McGuire Movie and The Legend of Zelda video game, then you'll like InsertBook Title).
Make a DVD of the book. Offer extra short stories, journal entries, sidebars, etc. on your Web site (That chapter you hated to cut? It's now a bonus feature!).
Offer links to nonfiction Web sites when appropriate (Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code does this well).
Start an e-mail list and send readers letters from characters as well as from authors.
Put a code in your books so readers can go to your Web site and unlock a game, a character's diary entry, a secret about the book, etc.
Partner with bookstore chains to create fan clubs for certain books with meetings at the store.
Offer promotions that involve their friends (buy one, your friend gets one free).
In the bookstore, set aside an area just for tweens (with tween music, books, and signage). Avoid signage that implies the area is for "little kids" (i.e., using graphics of picture-book characters).
On the Web, create pages just for tweens. Again, avoid "little kid" imagery. Create targeted e-mail lists for boys and girls.
Julie Halpin, CEO of the Gepetto Group, a children's marketing firm, agreed with Harper's points, and stressed that marketing tactics for the three age groups (kids, tweens and teens) are and should be very different. She said that marketers must decide what age group they are trying to reach and be sure to focus directly on them.
Halpin said that when kids were asked what their favorite things to buy were, books were fairly far down on the list (toys came in first, followed by candy and music). The program reinforced the fact that a great deal of products are competing with books, but with targeted marketing, books can capture readers' attention—publishers just have to show them that the books are out there.