Monday March 15, 2021
In May 2016, I had the privilege of teaching a classroom of 6th graders at Severance Middle School how to create a new product and prepare it for market. The program was created by Junior Achievement Rocky Mountain, a non-profit organization that is "dedicated to inspiring and preparing young people to succeed in a global economy". As an entrepreneur, I was impressed with the quality and accuracy of the curriculum - it translates directly to how real business is done.
I started the day off in the auditorium where several classes (167 students in total) were presented with the challenge for the day. Oogie's Gourmet Popcorn, a local company based out of Denver, presented business problem to the students. While their snacks are popular with adults, they are looking to expand their market to the 13 - 18 year old market and asked for ideas for flavors that appeal to that demographic. There would be a contest at the end of the day and the winners' idea would be sent to the company to possibly appear on store shelves!
Next, we all went to back to the classroom where I lead a class discussion about what makes a product appeal to certain demographics, and not to others. It was great to see realizations setting in for the students as they discussed the brands that they were familiar with - and the ones they did not care so much for. I was surprised to find out that Costco is quite popular with 6th graders. Facebook is definitely not a favorite with the 6th grade demographic, while Instagram takes the cake!
My job was to prepare the class, which was divided into 6 groups of 4 students, to brainstorm ideas, perform market testing, design promotional materials, and create a pitch to be judged in 2.5 hours. Quite a tall order for such a short time, but not unlike a real work environment.
After sampling 2 of the existing "adult" flavors of Oogie's popcorn, the students set off on brainstorming new ideas for flavors. Now it was time to do some market research to see which flavors would be most popular with the 6th grade demographic. For this, we headed back to the auditorium, where all the students used tally sheets to poll each other on their preferred flavor. The students from each group then added up the totals to determine the winning flavor from their brainstorming.
I thought this was a great real-world example of a problem I find very often while coaching business owners. Many times, the idea an entrepreneur is most passionate about, is not the winning idea with the target audience. Even after releasing a product, it is very important to poll your existing clients for ways that they would like to see the product improved.
Now that each group had settled on their proposed flavor, it was time to build the marketing plan. This included the logo, branding, promotional materials, pricing, and place where the product will be sold.
We discussed as a group some popular brand logos and the fact that they are actually quite simple in design. We also discussed how each company has a specific set of colors incorporated into their logo. The students started a very interesting discussion about the Nike brand. Three students were wearing shirts with the Nike logo and the logo was a different color on each shirt.
I asked the class to picture a couple going out on a date to a "really nice restaurant", then I asked if that restaurant would be McDonalds. The all roared, "NO!" We then discussed what type of restaurant they had pictured - Olive Garden was a popular choice along with Pf Changs. We then discussed the difference in feeling of the Olive Garden brand vs. the McDonalds brand.
Each group was provided with a blank billboard, Internet popup ad, and TV Commercial storyboard to design ads for their chosen flavor. Here are some of the concepts they created:
This was a fun discussion! I asked the class if they would still use Instagram if they had to pay $1,000 / day. They were very unhappy with this idea! Next I asked if they would buy a bag of chips for $100, $50, $20, and then 10 cents? After contemplating this, they settled on a $3.50 price point as reasonable for a bag of chips.
Next we discussed the costs involved in producing a bag of chips and that the stronger the flavor, the more flavoring required and therefore the higher the cost to produce.
After considering all of this, each group set out to determine the best price, color scheme, logo, and brand image for their proposed product.
After completing the marketing plan, the final step was preparing to present their idea to the judges. Each group worked up a script and practiced it. Next they did some trial presentations with their teacher and I while we gave them pointers to improve their presentations. I encouraged them to use this moment to "WOW" the judge and be as fun and crazy and loud as they wanted to be. They sure liked getting permission to get crazy!
The winning flavor for our classroom was "Cinnamon Sugar" from the team of Sam, Jordan and Jade (pictured above). I was very proud of all the great work that each group put into their products and presentations! I am sure they learned a lot about what it takes to design a new product.
My special thanks to Ms. Butler! Her 17 years of experience and true passion for working with students is evident in the way that her class responds to her. I would have been lost without her assistance.