As the father of two young children, I have experienced a range of interesting activities that come with being a parent.  Compared to my own younger days, one area that shows a striking difference is children’s birthday parties.

There’s been a long evolution from the standard of my youth – backyard parties with basic games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey.  The primary shift has been in the expansion of party venues.   These premises come in a host of flavors such as indoor inflatable playgrounds, amusement park parties, and art studios.  There is true innovation in this space and much of it is very entrepreneurial: from a refurbished school bus turned arcade on wheels to animal experts hosting parties, junior chef kitchens, and beyond.

There are even luxury options like spa parties for kids. In fact, the International Spa Association states 25% of the nation’s spas offer services geared toward kids under 13. The point is, this industry has developed a plethora of fun, turnkey options.

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These new, innovative services are not without a cost, however. According to IIAPA, an industry group that tracks the market, the average cost of an amusement park party is $370.  I’ve found similar pricing when researching other types of venues.

Additionally, economic, demographic and lifestyle shifts have created demand. Parties at home take a lot of planning.  With dual working parents becoming more the norm, time and convenience are of the essence.  The prospect of your child’s party requiring heavy planning, prepping, and shopping is daunting for time-strapped parents.   With more dual-income families and an improving economy, avoiding this stress is often worth the cost.

Moreover, the emotional pull keeps parents coming back. Birthday parties are important occasions which parents feel an obligation to provide a special experience for their kids.  Winning companies in this space do an excellent job at tugging the heart strings to make it happen, effectively linking emotional gratification as a parent to their services.  It’s one thing to forgo a special treat for yourself, but many parents feel guilty if they think they are missing out on creating childhood memories for their kids.  There is also a pressure of keeping up with classmates and your own precedent of last year’s party.

So it’s all great then?  Yes, until the parents burn out!

The first few times my older daughter went to a party at our local indoor ‘bounce center’ it was fantastic to see her enjoying the facility.  It was fun for both parent and child for a handful of subsequent parties for other friends as well.  However, by the time our cumulative trips reached double digits, the shine wore off.  This is part of what has driven the need for variety and new innovations in this space.

The evolution and growth in this category serve as a reminder of how market research techniques could truly help identify future opportunities. Entrants need to be fast moving, innovative, and flexible.  A relatively low cost of entry, wear out potential (described above), and the continual flow of new competitors should force more innovation in this space.

Generally speaking, traditional and new marketing research approaches are applicable in understanding these dynamics.  Attitude and usage studies could help identify new interest areas, and how to best create that emotional bond between a product or service and the customer.  Innovation testing measures the potential of new services and products that could keep parents interested in returning.  On-premise mobile surveys could provide in the moment feedback.

This reminds marketers of a few important themes:

1) Think like an entrepreneur. No idea is too small, too big, or too crazy to be given a second thought.
2) Continually seek the next innovation, someone else likely already is.
3) Find the emotional triggers in your category and inextricably link your product with them.
4) Be at the vanguard of activating against outside forces that could shape your category.

To further understand how critical innovation is to your business, click here to read Ipsos’ latest paper on innovation.