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Interview with the Global Consumer Insights Director at McDonalds

Jennifer Pembroke Johnson is the Global Consumer Insights Director at McDonalds based in Chicago, Illinois U.S.A. With over 15 years of qualitative and quantitative consumer research experience on both the client and supplier side she knows a thing or two about doing research with children. We are very grateful to Jennifer for taking the time to talk to us and share some experiences, hints and tips.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO TALK TO KIDS?

“We may get different information if we only rely on the parents. It’s good to speak with both parents and children as you can see where opinions differ and overlap.”

“We often see kids and parents together but we also do kids ‘hang-outs’ to check concepts and flush out what they find most exciting, and fine tune those ideas before we put them into quantitative research.”

DO YOU DO RESEARCH IN-HOUSE OR GET EXTERNAL EXPERTS TO HELP YOU?

“We are very involved in our kids research and think there are some great firms out there that specialise in how to talk to kids. Just because you might have a research methodology that is appropriate for parents it’s not sure it would work well with children.”

“Kids attention span is shorter so the conversation must move on much quicker, and that requires someone with a special ear to help understand what the kid thinks and help them project their opinions.”

HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT RESEARCHING WITH KIDS?

“We do both home visits and focus groups. We like to organise friendship groups or meet ups with a few kids at a time. I think it is important as it has a positive effect on how people talk and play off one another instead of just having a one-to-one conversation. The results are so different. I find the same if we get a couple of mums together. It often makes the outcome feel more authentic.”

“I tend not to put boys and girls together because they are so different especially at certain ages. Recently when doing some kids triads (friendship groups) we had 8-9 year olds, the age when kids would be emerging out of Happy Meals, and we wanted to understand their interests in general. While sports is definitely a theme for both boys and girls most other leisure time activities were miles apart. Boys were into Minecraft and hardcore play like LEGO or that type of games, and girls we into dancing, singing and swimming. With the exception of Harry Potter even the books they read are different.  It was really good to be able to compare and see differences and similarities.”

KIDS ARE UNPREDICTABLE, HOW DO YOU MAKE SURE YOU GET THEM TO FEED BACK ON WHAT YOU WANT THEM TO?

“I think some of it is in the screening of the kids. We ask them questions, like describe a favourite character from a book for example, if they are really struggling to articulate that it’s a red flag. I also find that if you ask a kid to bring along a friend they tend to be more relaxed instead of being with a bunch of strangers. They are able to share a bit more freely. Also, their friend catch them out if they are making things up – “you don’t do that!” When they are with people who know them they can’t just tell you things that they think you would like to hear, and therefore it tends to be more authentic.”

WHAT TRENDS ARE YOU KEEPING AN EYE ON?

“One of the trends I think is really relevant for our brand is that kids are the mini-me of their parents. As a kid I didn’t go out for sushi with my mum and I didn’t go to a salon to have a manicure. Fine dining was for super special occasions. Today you can’t go into a restaurant or a salon without finding a 4 year old in there sharing the experience with his/her parents.

In focus groups you hear kids talk about their favorite food and places to go, and it’s about using chop sticks, and Asian food and Indian food… Kids just have a lot more exposure now and their parents are taking them along versus hiring a babysitter and leaving them at home. It’s a new market and the brand needs to develop with that mini-me trend.

As an example of that, when we were in London earlier this year we went to a place called Leon, and they don’t have special kids meals. Their kids offering was a smaller portion (half portion) of the grown up’s dish. So kids can pick and adult taste in a smaller size.”

WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF DOING RESEARCH WITH KIDS?

“You have to be a little patient. And you must have a very clear understanding of the research question”

“The best kids research is done by people who don’t stick to one single methodology but instead really craft a methodology to suit a particular project. You must be sensitive to kids need and demands and ensure the kids understand the question.”

“A good research partner has tools in their tool box that helps the child answer the question without it sounding artificial or projected.”

“Keep it simple – they are kids.”

WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE RESEARCH AFTER A PROJECT?

“The best research lives on. The best researchers can summarise the big ideas into small and easily accessible snippets of information.”

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A massive Thank You to Jennifer for talking to us!

3rd July 2015
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