Marketers Turn to Teens The Buzz


There is one increasingly important group of people that marketers want to get to know about more and more-- young people. The future of the marketing world will be focused more and more on youth.

The Growing Generational Focus

Marketing is always generational. Think of any ads you've seen: they're usually geared towards a specific age group. And while youth -- from 19-year-old teenagers all the way down to 10-year-olds and younger -- have long been targeted by marketers, it's happening even more these days.

Ads aimed at young people can have a wide reach. That's because teenagers influence their parents' spending habits. So, if marketers can persuade teenagers about a product, they can influence not one, but two, generations.

"Yes, youth have incredible buying power on their own," says Shannon Kowalko. She is the director of community and event marketing at a marketing firm. "But also, they have 'swaying to buy' power. The influence they have over the adults in their lives to purchase continues to grow."

The way marketers are reaching out to youth is changing. It's more of a two-way dialog now, says Rex Whisman. He's the principal of a U.S.-based consulting group.

"In the last century, we tended to shout out one-way communication messages and hoped for a response," he says. "Today, and in the foreseeable future, we marketers need to develop two-way conversation with parents and their kids in a softer and more authentic voice."

Whisman says that today's marketers also need to know that teens' decisions are much more values-based than they were in the past. He says that young people are looking for opportunities to engage with other people or organizations that stand for something.

"Organizations that understand this and build their brand based on mission, core values and engaging their stakeholders, like parents and kids, will be sustainable," he says. "Those who do not will need to hit the reset button or vanish."

For example, right now, many marketers are connecting to young people through two touch points: teens' love of technological gadgets and their passion for environmental sustainability.

Gotta Get the Gadgets

With so many advances in technology during the past decade, there have been changes in how youth interact with companies. Through websites and blogs, companies can now hear, louder and clearer than ever, what young people think about their products.

"The Internet has empowered young people who don't hesitate to let brands know what they think," says Kit Yarrow. Yarrow is a consumer psychologist, a professor of psychology at a university, and co-author of a book called Gen BuY.

"They're therefore involved in every aspect of marketing today -- from influencing product designs to promoting them on YouTube."

Yarrow says that this interaction between consumer and product is changing the way marketers target youth.

"There's a closeness today that you didn't see 10 years ago," she says. "Kids talk directly to brands through Facebook, their ratings, Twitter... and marketers listen and respond."

Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are essential for the marketers of today.

"Social media is no longer a fad," says Whisman. "It is a 21st-century way of doing business. If your company does not have a strong online presence and is not able to effectively communicate with parents and their kids, you don't exist."

Kowalko says that companies need to stay on top of all the technological-related trends that youth are excited about. For example, right now, everyone is app-crazy, so companies should focus on that.

"Companies should seriously consider offering their own app," she says. "Pre-teens and teens count on it."

Yarrow says that today's tech-savvy teens need more stimulation to hold their attention. They need more, as she says, "sparkle and zap."

"They want 'new,' and they think innovation is essential," she says. "This means more product rotation, more innovative offerings and, well, simply more desires on the part of kids today."

Go Green

Andrea Learned is a sustainability communications expert and writer in Vermont. She says that today's youth have grown up with a high awareness of reusing and recycling -- even as they continually upgrade their electronic devices. Therefore, marketers often focus on being "green" in the eyes of teens.

"What [teens have] seen going on around them and what is important to their friends -- whether because it is trendy, or because it has been deeply considered -- are their behavior cues," she says.

But marketers would be wise to not put too great an emphasis on being green.

"To the younger generations, eco-products or more eco-responsible business practices are to be expected," says Learned. "Any brand making too big a deal of touting them will be suspect."

Marketing Into the Future

Some people say that generational marketing hasn't really changed at all. Jim Cone is a U.S. lifestyle analyst. He says changes are coming, but nothing has really happened... yet.

"There are all kinds of things in the pipeline... but the reality is, what is working, what is the driving force, is still TV and [teens'] peer groups," he says.

Yarrow says that one of the things that is changing is that, in the past, teenage girls wanted to dress like their moms. Now it's just the opposite. This may give the illusion that stores that once marketed to adults are now marketing to teenagers. That's not necessarily true -- they're just marketing the look that everyone wants.

"I remember seeing my mom dressed up to go out and hoping I'd have pretty dresses like hers someday," says Yarrow. "Today, moms are more likely to want to dress like their kids. So, it's not so much that adult stores are offering kid products -- it's that a youthful look is more universally appealing."

And aside from young people's love of technology and sustainability, today's marketers need to realize that they're not necessarily in charge of what youth enjoy. It was easier in the past, but with the Internet empowering youth's decision-making, marketers must adapt.

"It's not about telling kids what's cool," says Yarrow. "It's about showing how their products fit into what the kids say is cool."

Links

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