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Kids’ Research in the Middle East – tiffinBOX Insights interview

Insight is delighted to speak to Pratibha and Varsha, the co-founders of tiffinBOX Insights, the first children research, consultation and engagement firm in the Middle East.

What inspired you to launch tiffinBOX?

All of us have passionately served corporate clients delivering consumer insights across the spectrum, and many times crossed roads in our professional lives. There were times during our big agency stints, when each one of us felt a strong urge to do more meaningful work that is driven by passion and a mindset to make a difference

Understanding Kids and delving deep in their minds was always something that intrigued us; it has long been an area that is under-served with a lack of specialised tools and methodologies to appropriately and sensitively research kids.

While the influence of kids has been talked about at multiple levels, their real needs and emotions and the evolving parent-child dynamics rarely form the basis of the marketers’ plans. Being young mothers ourselves, we understood how different this audience is and how much of an influence they have on all family decisions.

It is no surprise therefore, that kids marketing is primarily a blue and pink paradigm, while the kids’ reality is far more colourful. We thus decided to take up the task of bringing the reality and ‘say’ of generation Z and the emerging Alpha generation to the forefront, and help brands create more responsible child-appropriate offerings.

Which services and proprietary products does tiffinBOX provide to clients? What is the geography of operations?

At tiffinBOX, we lay the most emphasis on development of relevant products and services.

Given our focus on KIDS’, each of our proprietary products has been developed keeping in mind the specific needs of the marketers to this segment, and the unique characteristics of the segment itself.

We understand that this segment is an ever-evolving one, and it is imperative to continuously track their attitudes and behaviours to be on top of the latest in their world.

KOIN – Kids’ ongoing Insights programme, is our proprietary offering to help clients keep abreast with the latest in the Kids’ space. We cover topics across the spectrum – from Kids’ digital / media interaction, to food and beverages consumed, entertainment and toys, education and even the kids’ connect with global concerns of sustainability, global warming, amongst others.

KASH – Kids as Shoppers and Influencers is our Shopper Insights offering, that is uniquely designed to understand the pester-power dynamics across all Kids relevant categories, over and above the understanding on – decision paths, choice drivers and circle of influence. It helps develop a holistic understanding through mapping the journey across the phases of influence (PRE), interplay (DURING) and interaction (POST)

Our other customised offerings are – K-BONDS and K-LAB. K-Bonds is the tool specially designed to understand and analyse the strength of the Bonds kids have with the brands in their life. The Bond is evaluated on Qualitative as well as Quantitative measures, and for a deeper understanding, a kid-tailored approach to cognitive interviewing is used to uncover their brand stories and the various milestones in their journey. The Quantitative scales have also been uniquely designed for kid-appropriateness, and we extensively use emoticons and story-telling approaches to elicit responses. K-Labs is our innovation and product development offering. It is designed to evaluate new concepts, products (digital, non-digital) and design, and to ensure actionability, we keep a good representation of kid-consumer, gatekeeper / decision maker and experts in the LAB

KUBs – Kids as Buddies is another very relevant product to the clients. It is a through the year Kids’ Connect program designed to help clients experience the world of kids first-hand.

Our strongest pillar is SAWALEFa gamified Community/Panel of opinion leader MOMs and KIDS, with representation across KSA and UAE. We reach out to these Moms and Kids throughout the year, for our ongoing understanding as well as ad-hoc requests. The community’s high continuous engagement is a result of incorporating game mechanics in the overall engagement process viz. Challenge, Compete, Collaborate, Champion and of course, Cherish Rewards.

We are based in Dubai, but execute and engage with clients across the Middle East – Asia and beyond. This year, we partnered with clients for their strategic initiatives in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and South East Asia.

Why are kids an important audience for marketers to study?

Kids of today, the Generation Z and the emerging Alpha generation, are influencing almost all family decisions, much beyond the categories of their direct interest. And interestingly, the parents are more than welcoming of the kids opinion and influence. In one of our recent study on choice drivers of stayacation destinations in UAE, a panellist quoted – “We were planning our stayacation, and I was looking for resorts on the net. My son, 6 year old, was with me and we were browsing through the pictures of various hotels and resorts. There was this resort with a small slide in the pool, my son immediately spotted it and insisted on booking the resort with the “slide in the pool”. That is how the resort got finalized!!”

With such undeniable influence, it becomes imperative to all marketers catering to kids and families, to understand kids as consumers as well as influencers.

There are marketers who have taken note of the active role of children as consumers and influencers, but still the kids’ real needs and emotions and the evolving parent-child dynamics rarely form the basis of the most marketers’ plans.

These kids’ of today, also represent the market of tomorrow, which makes it even more important to deep-dive in their world today and connect with them to develop a long-standing future driven relationship.

How is research with kids different from research with adults?

Research with kids is a completely different ball-game. It is an extremely interesting audience but a very challenging audience to engage with and research.

Unlike adults, in addition to the demographics, many other elements need to be kept in mind while designing Kids’ research. Depending on their stage of physiological and cognitive development, the kids’ ability to infer and respond changes almost every year. Their socio-cultural environment and school curriculum also has a strong bearing on their exposure levels and influences.

They have short attention spans and their energy levels could vary drastically, hence kid-appropriate engagement tactics play a significant role in all interactions.

So, some of the critical angles to be kept in mind while designing and executing Kids’ research are –

i. Kids’ age and gender
ii. Their physiological and cognitive development at that age
iii. Their socio-cultural environment
iv. The latest in their ‘play’ world
v. Relationship with the primary decision maker / gatekeeper
vi. Circle of influence – Siblings, friends, older children, digital etc.

Kids are a challenging audience to explore. Which tools and techniques do you use to engage with them?

We employ child-friendly, age appropriate research tools and techniques that use game-mechanics in its design. These have been developed under the guidance of many child psychology and behaviour experts, teacher trainers, instructional designers and technology experts.

We take pride in our specifically designed gamified PLAY-ALONG approach, which is used in all kinds of interactions, from group interactions to individual interactions to ethnographic interactions.

The venue for the research is also chosen keeping in mind the age and stage of development. FUN venues are usually used for group interactions with a higher age-band, above 8 years. And, for the 4-6 years old audience, where the presence of a parent / guardian and a familiar setting is important, a home venue is preferred.

Another important consideration is the use of two or more moderators, with at least one being a teacher, or a story-teller, someone who actively interacts with kids on a daily basis, and knows the tricks and tips to energize the kids with the latest in their world.

Which gamification approaches does your team leverage?

We use game mechanics to amplify participation, engagement and well as elicitation.

For participation, the key mechanics employed are, a sense of community and collaboration. Our mothers and kids panel is not just approached for research questions, but there is continuous engagement on topics of their interest, both offline as well as online. Most of our KIDS’ groups are designed as events to ensure increased participation, where a formal invite is sent to all participants with the game-plan for the day. For higher engagement and elicitation, mechanics of competition, challenges and achievements-rewards, are built in all the techniques. Our proprietary PLAY ALONG approach is an evolved approach that uses kid-appropriate game mechanics across all researcher-child engagement methodologies.

What is the role of parents when doing research with kids?

Parents play an important role. The Kids’ participation in any research is confirmed only on the approval of the parents.

And, given the role of parents as final decision makers or gatekeepers, they also almost always are a part of the research design. It is important for the marketers to understand the parent-child dynamics and not just stop at each one individually.

Based on your experience, what does it take to be an effective kid researcher?

Effective kid research requires a completely different mind-set, being unconventional is an imperative and requires complete and continuous immersion in their world

An effective kid researcher-moderator should definitely be – a good listener, empathetic, totally unbiased and inclusive, with an element of spontaneity and fun. He or she should be a master story teller, with a constant desire to learn and re-invent.

Tools and techniques for Kids research will continue to evolve with the fast-evolving audience, and a successful kid-researcher would be one who adopts and adapts at the same pace, and keeps abreast with their world.

tiffinBOX has launched Sawalif, a gamified community of opinion leader mothers and kids in the UAE and KSA. What is your approach to maximizing community engagement? How can clients benefit from insights the community delivers?

The use of game mechanics is the key to maximizing the engagement in the community. From recruitment to continuous engagement, the program is built by rewarding its members not just monetarily, but through points and badges and creating opportunities for them to showcase and shine as an individual. This has kept the community wanting for more, and has also encouraged many non-members to participate in the research work.

Through Sawalef, clients get a through the year access for any ad-hoc requests with a much reduced delivery time from information to insights. Sawalef also feeds into our On-going Insights programme – KOIN, which the clients can access through our periodical reports. The coverage of topics is wide and depending on the client’s need, questions can be incorporated anytime if the year.

Can you share some of the success stories that you are proud of? And what are the future plans for tiffinBOX?

Much of the learnings and insights have been inducted into future marketing plans by consumer industry leaders.

Our recent work revealed how the parent-child dynamics are evolving and a more collaborative approach to parenting is being adopted across all child related decisions, whether it is a minor decision of selection of a school bag or an important decision of a child’s career. Such a revelation has helped family brands define their evolving target audience and build their communication strategies, rooted in the parent-child needs and motivations. One of our client’s feedback – “Just wanted to let you know that the workshop went very well! The team was able to have a deeper understanding of our XXXXX mom from our consumer learning. The report was able to successfully bring to life our consumer! It unearthed a really strong emotional tension. XXXXXX generated a lot of positive response from the team”

We have also worked extensively on understanding the digital behaviour of the kids in the region. Keeping in mind that this generation is that of digital natives, tiffinBOX concentrated on identifying nuances that could make the digital experience, fun, friendly and fruitful for each child.

The latest syndicated release on Ramadan Emotions, a highly successful initiative, was designed to help family brands develop impactful Ramadan communication and connect with its consumers in the most effective way. Here as well, in addition to uncovering the adult’s emotional space, for the first time the child’s emotions and manifestations of the Ramadan values was understood. The motivations and payoffs of the parents and children during the Holy month was a revelation in many ways, and it was surprising to see how children related to the emerging Ramadan values of solidarity and responsibility and practiced the same in their own little ways.
The power of the Ramadan Emotions study is in its actionability. Ramadan communication has been a cluttered space, this one-of-a-kind study is designed to help brands create an impactful Ramadan communication strategy, perfectly aligned to their brand core. We use our unique workshop approach to co-create the strategy and ensure seamless transfer of insight stories in the execution.

TiffinBOX Insights has big plans going forward. In addition to client consulting on specific business issues, we will continue to expand the scope of our Kids’ ongoing insights programme (KOIN) that is built on a through the year parent-child understanding, to bring out trends and insights on the most relevant topics.



Pratibha Jain Mathur

Co-Founder and Managing Partner at tiffinBOX Insight

With over 14 years of total experience, at Nielsen, TNS Global, SixthFactor Consulting and GE Capital, she has led business units and regional relationships with industry leading FMCG, Telecom, Nutrition/Healthcare and other high profile clients, helping them solve some of their most critical business issues in the consumer space. She is a multidisciplinary, multifaceted consumer research and insights specialist, with hands-on experience across the qualitative & quantitative research domains, and social media analytics, in the Middle East and India. Pratibha has a Post Graduate Degree in Management from MICA (Mudra Institute of Communications), India, and Bachelor of Commerce from Delhi University, India



Varsha Sharma

Co-Founder and Managing Partner at tiffinBOX Insights

Over the past 14 years of her career in Advertising and Market Research, Varsha has spearheaded strategic initiatives during her tenures at Grey Worldwide, Nielsen and TNS in the Middle East and in India. Whether it is advertising campaigns, consumer research programs or events, her qualitative research and depth of knowledge make her the quintessential brand consultant.

Varsha has a post-graduate degree in Marketing and Mass communication management from NiA, India
About The Author
Insight World Editor