Five minutes with Emma Scott
Emma Scott, chief executive of Beano Studios talks to Transform magazine about the ins and outs launching a kids' brand like Beano, from making it relatable to both kids and adults to the strategies used to target a young audience, and how to 'think more kid' could benefit brands worldwide.
How did you relaunch an 82-year-old analogue brand like Beano?
I’m a real believer that if you really understand your audience you can build a successful and sustained brand.
If you were creating a rebellious multi-channel world for older kids now, you probably wouldn’t start with creating a comic first, however the ‘literary’ roots of the Beano have given us huge permission to create hugely popular experiences on Beano.com, on TV with Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed (on the BBC, Netflix and YouTube) as well as a huge renaissance in the comic, which is now growing very successfully.
What I think has been key was finding out more about the older kids that would consume what we created and their parents’ attitudes. At the beginning we found that 70% of British parents knew the Beano brand from their own childhood, but a far fewer (43%) would recommend a friend to buy it. We also researched with children and when they engaged with the comic and our digital plans for Beano.com their reactions were extraordinarily positive.
So here was this apparently, rather over looked brand where there was huge residual awareness, love and most importantly great potential.
How did you go about creating a new brand for Beano that was both relatable for kids but also for adults that had grown up with that British icon?
The brand is aimed at older children, but we kept the original ethos of “mischief” and Beano’s irresistible, rebellious spirit that had appealed to previous generations to ensure we could bring parents along for the ride. Our characters are still joyously, riotously imperfect and we think that’s both timeless and particularly pertinent for today’s kids who are often subject to pressure and anxiety at school, online and even geo-politically.
But the digital world where kids now spend most of their time isn’t made for them. Gaming, YouTube and social media are largely designed for 13+ so we came up with a proposal to do Beano.com as a content rich website filled with games and quizzes but that was a safe online space for children.
How is launching a kids’ brand different from launching another brand? What strategies do you use to target a young audience?
As with all brands, you have to start with the audience and kids can be an unforgiving lot. Generation Alpha (born in 2010 and after) have a wonderful moral compass and ‘cancel culture’ is rife if they think you behave badly.
Research with them is trickier too. As a child you’re used to school environments and giving an answer that you think the questioner wants to hear. So, having real experts in kids’ research is crucial.
With adults, trends spread like wildfire online and are immediately visible and trackable but with kids they often travel offline, through the playground, way before they get manifested online. For example by the time most of the world knew about Slime it was beginning to be over for kids. So we’ve built a unique blend of offline ethnography and digital analytics to ensure we can spot trends quickly.
How does audience insight and data mining help a brand achieve its best possible outcome?
The shape of the business now is different to the beginning as we’ve learnt about our audience. We’re creating new things that seek to break and remake industry conventions and outdated engagement models to make brilliant, safe content and experiences for kids where none currently exist. And talking to our audience is at the core of that – from working with our Beano Brain tools we’ve changed the design and UX of beano.com several times since the launch in September 2016, and similarly changed the mix, tone and balance of content on the site and how we’ve acquired our audience has changed radically and very successfully.
Right now using audience insight and data is more important than ever. Brands naturally want to help families and do the right thing but it’s important to listen and co-create with your audience. We’ve seen over the last eight weeks of Covid-19 how boredom has steadily increased for kids. So instead of just introducing fun activities for kids to stop boredom we created a campaign in partnership with YoungMinds to find Britain’s Funniest Family. The whole concept of it is to allow kids and families to create funny videos that can help get the nation smiling and we’ve had hundreds of submissions. Without the data and insight we would never have got to this solution so quickly.
You’re on a mission to make the world ‘think more kid’. What does that mean and how could that benefit brands worldwide?
That was our launch mission and it worked well for us but as I said we’re evolving so now we’re on a mission to egg on the world to take bigger creative leaps!
Beano is foremost a kids’ brand and the has always been from a kid’s point of view, so it felt natural that our starting mission was to take away the filter of adults. But as Beano Studios grew our mission evolved with us.
At its core it’s the same behaviour “think more kid” was all about causing good mischief – taking risks and defying convention but we evolved the wording so it was crystal clear. “Think more kid” was taken to mean we were only talking about kids but actually we want to harness their behaviours and attitudes. This generation of kids are amazing creative problem solvers – they look at things differently and creating solutions to some of the biggest problems this world is facing. Just look at what Greta Thunberg has achieved.
What are the perks of driving growth of and working on digital products/ brands? What are the challenges?
The perk is the potential for change and evolution. It is quicker and usually easier to change digital products and brands. We have a live platform where we can experiment with content and also interact with 3 million kids. That’s not just a perk - it’s a privilege.
But relevant curation is essential. To have such a wealth of content but create a platform which can feel personal and relevant to users is vital. We’ve honed our UX experience and SEO strategy to deliver that for our community.
Ultimately you can’t rest on your laurels and stick with the same tried and tested, whether your brand is analogue, digital, or in our case both, you have to keep evolving, changing, just as your audience and customers are.
How did your experience in launching the UK’s first free digital TV platform and working in the digital and TV realm of the BBC help you in creating Beano Studios?
These experiences and working in cable TV and leading initiatives like the BBC’s first on demand trial, a pre-cursor to the iPlayer, taught me to trust my instincts and to always understand the end customer or viewer.
If you can feel something has legs you’ve really got to go with it and be confident enough to know when you’re onto something. But it is also knowing that the path won’t ever be straight forward and mistakes are always made.
I love the fun of the new and of building and growing great brands - and that can only be done with great teams. I love working with great people and at Beano Studios we’ve had the very best.
Do you think the future of branding and creative agencies will be solely based on digital?
No, not solely digital. Of course now there always needs to be a digital element to anything that is created, and I believe that will rapidly escalate post the Covid pandemic. Younger generations don’t see brands as digital or non-digital – it’s a completely alien concept.
Gen Alpha were born the same year as the iPad, they were pretty much born into this world with a device in their hands. These kids are not defined by the internet but in control of it. They are digital architects, digital creators and digital mechanics. However, they also embrace “old-fashioned” pursuits – we here kids talking about crocheting and knitting and the love of a tangible comic that they can read.
However, the broader challenge for branding and creative agencies will continue to be how they seamlessly merge the offline and online worlds and where and how to reach customers – which is getting harder and harder. And I will keep saying it, if you know your customer, viewer, listener really well you will know how to find, engage and retain them.