When you think of most 15 year old girls, you probably have pictures of somewhat immature but fun loving girls whose only interest is fashion, boys, and the latest gossip about who dumped who. You probably picture them barely managing an allowance or working some part-time job in McDonalds or a mall boutique.
You probably wouldn’t picture them living in NYC, with more talent and marketing know-how than advertising professionals three times their age, helping to run a hot up-and-coming marketing agency working with huge brands like Unilever, Playtex and Jones New York.
But it’s true. Yup – 15 year old girls. Sound crazy? You won’t think so after you read about my conversation with Heidi Dangelmaier, founder of 3iying, an all girl marketing agency.
3iying specializes in marketing and design strategies for girls 15-25.
It takes a lot to impress me in the brains department, but Heidi is just scary smart. She is a self described “girly scientist” who was the only female robotics student in the Princeton PHD program. She went from the world of science, to the world of video games, to the world of marketing. She is an inventor, and has used her scientific background and innovative imagination to create a company that can consistently come up with new, relevant ideas that resonate with their target audience.
You see – 3iying specializes in marketing to girls from 15-25. The women who make up the company are 15-25 themselves. After talking with Heidi I think there are four reasons for the company’s success:
1. The creatives, designers and strategists are, themselves, the target audience. Their bullshit meters go off the moment any sort of messaging isn’t authentic.
2. They focus not on what is, but on what could be. Traditional advertising is based on statistics, or what is known. 3iying focuses on innovation, or what could be. They look for holes, for unmet needs, for new angles all based on what consumers want, not what companies want.
3. They have a process. Because of Heidi’s scientific background, 3iying uses a proven process for their research, testing, and messaging. They aren’t just relying on creativity. They have a repeatable formula for success. Strategy always comes first.
4. Uncorrupted talent. Because 3iying is based in New York City, Heidi has unusual access to the best and brightest from area schools. The girls she hires may be young in age, but not young in skills. They are one talented bunch with an international background. Heidi makes a point to get a hold of these girls before they get out into a traditional agency setting. She wants to reach them before they are forced to give up their natural instincts in order to conform with the more traditional, and often male dominated world of advertising.
Let’s take a closer look at these.
Number one – Knowing their audience. What are some of the things that set off their bullshit meters? Advertising that pushes girls to be older. Girls want to be their own age.
Number two – Going beyond what is. The pervading thought among retailers is that girls like monkeys and frogs. The girls at 3iying don’t buy it. Advertisers defend this by saying “statistics show girls like monkeys and frogs.” But that’s largely been their only choice. Advertisers are measuring what is, since they often don’t have the capability to measure what could be.
I see this all the time in the web world. We call it a cow path. Webmasters say – “70% of our traffic goes to this page, so it must be the most important page on our site.” But what if the reason the traffic is going there is because you only have one clear call to action on your home page and it links to that one page?
Number Three – An emphasis on process. I wasn’t able to get the details (tried to snoop, but Heidi was too smart for me) but I did get this much. 3iying has a specific process by which they investigate and gather information. Heidi shares my disdain for focus groups. At 3iying they look for “hits” or those moments when you find something new that really resonates with your audience whether it is an idea, a packaging shape or a branding position. And they test sample sets so they have ammunition to back up their strategy and theories.
Number Four – The value of uncorrupted talent. I don’t have to tell anyone out there that your ideas and ideals take a pounding in the corporate world. As Roy Williams says, “Criticism makes you cautious”. I truly believe the reason you’ll be seeing and hearing a lot about 3iying is going to be because of the creative talent of these young girls. They still believe in their own voices. They still believe “they can” because they haven’t been exposed enough to corporate hierarchy telling them “they can’t”
I asked Heidi how she and her young “girl think tank” get respect from big name companies and billion dollar brands. She feels it’s because advertisers and companies are more willing to admit they don’t know what younger girls want. With older women, they think “Hey, I have a wife so I know how women think.” But 15-25 year olds? They’re more open to the idea that this group is harder to peg or understand. So they’re coming to 3iying for insight they feel they don’t have themselves.
So what can you learn from 3iying about marketing to 15-25 year old females? Here’s the company’s look at old vs. new ways to market to this group:
Old – Companies tell girls what to buy
New – Girls tell companies what to sell
Old – Media firms form exclusive executive boards of directors for connections and power
New – Girl media firms invite WWW mass to help build connections and gain power
Old – Make it fake, loud and fantasy-based to get attention
New – Make it authentic, honest and accessible to get attention
Old – Media and girls follow and mimic buying habits of celebrities. Brands pay stars for identity and attention
New – Girls are individuals who follow their own instincts. Brands don’t need stars to succeed
Old – Loyalty is achieved through making girls feel inadequate
New – Sustainable attraction and loyalty are achieved through helping girls become strong and independent
Thanks so much to Heidi Dangelmaier and 3iying for sharing your story and your insight.