The 6-Year-Old in You


Part of my job is to ask the annoying “why” questions a 6-year-old is prone to ask. They ask things like: Why is the sky blue? Why do cars have 4 wheels? Why do grownups lie but tell us to tell the truth?

Why ask such questions as a grownup? you may ask. Because insight and understanding only arise when we question. To never question things, and to accept things as they are, is to ride the surface of life. And because without posing these kinds of questions, you cannot consistently position a brand or launch effective campaigns. You must find out what makes people tick. You must ask why people prefer certain things over others, and be prepared to dig beneath their surface responses.

One of the best places to be an inquisitive 6-year-old is at a shopping mall. There are so many people of different stripes, so many different brands and micro-worlds. And so many questions to ask and insights to glean.

Last year, I went to the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto, for two reasons: To get a new phone at the Telus store, and to get an accessory for my laptop. I first went to the basement floor for my phone, and noticed a big, modern, but empty Sony store. Why so empty? Why so sad a vibe?

I went to the Telus store and a very nice, young techno-Hipster behind the counter, found me a new Blackberry (yes, I’m a proud holdout and have no interest in getting an iPhone). I then made my way up two floors to the Apple store, which happens to be directly above the Sony store, in the same relative position. It had a similar square footage as well, but one huge difference: Even though it was a weekday mid-afternoon, it was not at all empty. It was absolutely overflowing with people – as always.

I bought my dongle, which took all of 8 minutes with my snappy sales associate in a royal blue polo with his magical little device. I was about to leave, but then I instinctually turned around and went back downstairs to the Sony store. I walked around and looked at all the product displays. Gizmo after gizmo, but nothing I wanted to touch. I talked briefly to the slightly distant sales guy, who was more interested in checking his text messages. I looked at the posters and artwork, which seemed to be trying a bit too hard. And the 6-year-old in me had my answer: “It’s boring.” And “they don’t really care about me”. And “this is for old people”.

Today, that store no longer exists. While the Apple store may want to lease the space next to it, as it really can’t accommodate the crowds that it attracts.

But this post is less about a comparison between Apple and Sony than it is about connecting to your 6-year-old consumer, who feels more than he thinks, who has visceral and instinctive responses to things, who hasn’t learned how to lie effectively, and is terribly imaginative. This is your inner focus group. And by the way, this is the part of you that makes you buy a sports car or pays through the nose for season tickets to your favourite team. And makes a whole bunch of other decisions for you, which you then busily post-rationalize. All good marketers should therefore be having a very open ongoing dialogue with their inner 6-year-old.


– W.