Sesame Street's approach to connecting with kids is a winning strategy for any brand.

The Sesame Street Approach To Success Isn’t Just For Kids

“Helping children everywhere grow smarter, stronger and kinder.”

There may be no better mission statement than the one above from Sesame Street, the iconic children’s show that’s been gracing public television screens in the U.S. since 1969.

At Adobe MAX—The Creativity Conference in Los Angeles, Theresa Fitzgerald, VP and creative director of the Sesame Workshop, spoke to an enraptured audience about how her design team enacts this Sesame Street edict. The team’s strategy for success has led to 193 Emmy Awards.

Here are five strategies the teams in your company can learn from.

Play

It takes an immense amount of creativity to take a “letter of the day” and bring it to life in a very engaging way—everyday. To be up to the task, designers have to be curious, and approach each new challenge with wonder, Fitzgerald told the audience. “The work I’ve done for the children’s market is infused with joy – and it’s critical it has play...Play engages the head, the heart, and the body. And it builds resilience and empathy.”

Is play a part of your teams’ creative processes? Whether they are web designers or email marketers, app coders or finance directors, we all bring a creative process to our work and ‘play’ can be the difference between a fruitful brainstorm and a slow, tired meeting.

Deliver Content Through The Right Lens

Sesame Street was created to reach across social and economical strata. It was formulated to give children early education that they may not have been getting at daycare or home. Sesame Street was one of the first programs on television that starred people and characters of all colors, shapes and sizes. Maybe most importantly, the content for all these people—no matter creed, background, or economic status—is developed through the lens of a 3-year-old.

Be sure your team is crystal clear about the audience they are trying to reach. Whether it’s internal communications to employees about changes to the IT systems, or your marketing team researching new customer personas. Your teams must be using the right language—both words and graphics—to relate directly with the people they want to communicate with.

Continue The Stories Across Channels

Sesame Street began on TV but grew to other platforms. From books, to the web, and even theme parks and experiences, Sesame Street’s stories emanate from the core show and continue on. As a non-profit, Sesame Street actually has no marketing budget (and they just recently hired their first CMO). The stories are the marketing. So it’s imperative that what the children watch and hear is consistent, no matter where and how they interact with the show. Sesame Street has one-sheeters on every Muppet character that describes how they look, what they feel, and their personality type.

Your company likely has budget for marketing, but keeping the story consistent no matter where your company shows up is a must regardless of how much money you can spend. One way to ensure your story is consistent is to take a page out of the Sesame Street playbook and create your own brand book that describes your voice, tone, look, and feel, and share it with your ecosystem of creators.

Emotionally Connect

The Sesame Street muppets have an emotional way of connecting with children to tell stories that can change culture. In 2017, the show introduced Julia, a 4-year-old girl who is on the autism spectrum. Her debut marked the Sesame Workshop’s autism awareness initiative, “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children,” to provide ongoing resources designed to serve autistic children and their families. Some parents have said that since these efforts began, their feelings about themselves as parents have improved, and they think others are more likely to be empathetic toward them.

Brand purpose isn’t just a marketing trend but an important through-line for companies looking to connect more deeply with customers. Although illuminating the struggles for families managing autism isn’t the only "brand purpose" for Sesame Street, the commitment to it is what all companies can mirror. Julia is a continuing character on the show, and not just a one-off topic that takes advantage of a consumer trend or insight. Sesame Street saw a deep need to take on the subject of autism and it’s a continuing effort for the show. 

Be Real

Sesame Street is filled with cuddly fuzzy Muppets, but the characters don’t live in a fairyland. They live in our neighborhood, and although the Muppets aren’t human, they are three-dimensional characters with feelings like us. The world of Sesame Street isn’t “fake” or animated. All the different characters—from human to Muppet—interact with each other in a respectful and honest manner.

“Be real” is perhaps the best advice for all of our companies in today’s world of always-on social internet information overload, where customers require their favorite brands to be authentic, responsible, and transparent.

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