Marketing to the Net’s Future Means Marketing to Youths

Marketers who want to capitalize on the future of the Internet must take advantage of the more than 65 million youths between the ages of 5 and 17 with Internet access at home and their $60 billion in disposable income, according to Datamonitor.

A considerable proportion of today’s youths already have access to the Internet, either at home or through school computers. In addition to the 65.3 million with Internet access at home, Datamonitor found 54.1 million youths with access to the Internet at school. The potential for marketing online to the 5 to 17-year-old set becomes even more apparent when it is considered that they currently spend 5 billion hours online annually.

While the rate of Internet penetration varies widely from country to country, Datamonitor found Spain has the lowest levels of Internet penetration among youths; Sweden, Britain and the United States all have a high proportion of online youths. By 2005, 74 percent of the youth population in western Europe and North America will have regular access to the Internet, and they will spend increasing amounts of time online as they become more familiar with the medium.

Although the youth population will remain stable, the number of online youths will increase as the number of households connected to the Internet grows. Datamonitor predicts that the increasing use of the Internet in schools will act as a driver for this, as children with school access will also seek access at home. The income of online youths will also continue to grow. Historically, pocket money has tended to increase faster than inflation. Between 1999 and 2001, pocket money in France increased by 21 percent over inflation and GDP, in Germany by 35 percent and in the United States by 10 percent. If this trend continues, expect to see a rise in the disposable income of online youths above the rate of mere population growth.

Several challenges await marketers looking to reach the online youth market. To attract and retain this demanding audience, Web sites must be designed around the specific characteristics of their target audience: Boys seek novelty and entertainment, while girls enjoy fulfilling goals and prefer to feel part of a community. Teens are rarely impressed by generic teen-oriented Web sites, preferring to find sites that support their interests.

The sheer diversity of Web sites available mean that there is no shortage of competition for youths’ attention online, and as youths become more proficient users of the Internet, Datamonitor expects competition between Web pages to be on their PC monitors will heighten.

Datamonitor analyzed several youth-oriented Web sites that demonstrated different yet successful approaches to online youth marketing. Despite the differences there were several common themes: Web site design must be clear and uncluttered making it easy to discover what is on offer; and the prime purpose is to provide a valuable service to the browser and only then to engage in some form of marketing. The key to success for these Web sites is providing the browser with a good reason to return.

“The Internet has now become a fully functional alternative marketing and selling medium,” said Piers Berezai, Datamonitor consumer markets analyst. “The escalating number of online youths means that this medium will grow in importance. Youths’ browsing exposes them to brands and marketing in a new and fundamentally different way. For the first time, youths can interact with and, to some extent, influence the marketing that they receive. If used responsibly, the Internet will act as powerful advertising medium, if not it can just as easily turn-off his Web-savvy set of consumers.”

Jupiter MMXI found that teenagers represent 12 percent of the European online population, and in June 2001 Europeans ages 12 to 17 spent nearly 8 hours online — an increase of 2 hours in Britain and France and 3 hours in Germany since January of 2001.

Reaching teenagers online has many benefits for marketers. First, teens are very receptive new ideas and technologies. Second, they pass on the information and ideas the find to friends — a process that is made much easier over the Internet. A Jupiter MMXI consumer survey in the United States found that 38 percent of teenagers share information they find online, including photos, music files, jokes and greeting cards several times a week. This trend should also be seen in Europe, where Jupiter MMXI found chat and email services, such as MSN Messenger in Britain, Spain and Norway; email providers Caramail.com in France; and GMX.de in Switzerland and Germany are among the most popular sites for this age group.

While they do not have the buying power right now, Jupiter MMXI predicts that European teenagers will be comfortable buying a range of products and services online once they acquire credit cards. Compared to 18 to 25-year-olds, Jupiter MMXI found teenagers spent slightly more time on retail sites than the older group, who have credit cards and spending power. In June 2001, teenagers surfing from home spent an average of 7.5 minutes per day and 19.5 minutes per month on retail sites, whereas 18 to 25-year-olds surfing from home spent 6.5 minutes per day and 19 minutes per month on retail sites.

“While they don’t transact online because they don’t have credit cards, the Internet impacts teens offline purchase behavior,” said Noah Yasski, research director for Jupiter MMXI. “Longer term, as experienced users, they are likely to become online shoppers when they become adults. Much of the today’s teen behavior will be mainstream tomorrow. Teens pioneered text messaging on mobile phones and chat on instant messenger applications, both of which are becoming widespread. They are showing the potential uses of the Internet beyond email and visiting Web sites using a browser. Teens flocked to Napster and are heavy users of communication applications sending their peers music files, photos and other digital content.”

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