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Kids Say the Darndest Things

. . . Especially if you ask what they think of your product.

Jim Scott and Richard Williams knew they had to go to the source if they wanted their Belly Washers line of children's drink bottles to succeed. So what better way to get inside the minds of their target audience than to form an advisory board of kids?

"We've been surprised at the input of these kids," says Scott, 41, co-founder of In Zone Brands Inc. in Austell, Georgia. "They give us continual feedback." That's because the kids sample and review their products, such as fruit juices in bottles featuring characters like The Simpsons and the Powerpuff Girls. Some kids even offer input on product design or marketing messages. Sure, the approach has helped business--but it's also fun and educational. The first meeting was at Universal Studios in Universal City, California; subsequent meetings have been held online and via telephone.

Such an approach can work for any company, says Sharon Livingston, president of Executive Solutions Inc., a market research firm in Syosset, New York. For instance, you can recruit retired people to attend a creative session to generate ideas for your product and marketing. "It's terrific for the community and the business community," she says. Incentives can be money, gifts or even a trip.

You can use your advisory group as a creative session or as a focus group. A creative session comes up with new ideas, while a focus group discusses ideas that already exist. To encourage participants to brainstorm, ask questions such as: "What have you always wanted in this kind of product?" and "What don't you like about it?" Just remember: No idea is a bad one in a brainstorming session.

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This article was originally published in the February 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Kids Say the Darndest Things.

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