Overlooking the Teen Market?

A column about a year ago discussed emerging opportunities in the tween and teen market. Most direct marketers tend to shy away from these groups, believing they don’t have credit cards and therefore aren’t viable direct response prospects.

Well, a lot’s changed. Teens now represent a viable direct response audience. A June 2003 Harris Interactive study shows the ability to buy online is no longer a major concern. Some key stats from the study and Jupiter Research (a Jupitermedia Corp. division):

  • Teens (13-19) spend $94.7 billion per year, $3,309 per person.

  • 37 percent of teens’ income comes from parents, the rest from jobs.
  • Online spending projections show teen expenditures are on the rise:
    • 2003: $1.7 billion

    • 2004: $2.6 billion
    • 2005: $3.6 billion
    • 2006: $4.8 billion

Jupiter Research also reports 29 percent of teens research products online before a retail purchase. Some $20 to $25 billion of offline spending, therefore, is directly influenced by online research.

Teens also influence an untold amount of spending by their parents, everything from cars to travel to computers and other consumer electronics. Teen power is fascinating. Consider these observations from a Euro RSCG study, “Connected and Connectivity — The Power of Teens Online”:

  • They’re the most informed and media-aware group in history.

  • They’re extremely tech savvy and viewed as CTOs of their households.
  • They’ve been marketed to their entire lives. As a result, they’re marketing savvy.
  • They’ve had more choices than other generations, and, thanks to numerous easy ways to communicate with peers, they express both positive and negative opinions about products, brands, and companies.
  • They’re the first generation of true multitaskers, easily balancing email, chat, and other communications simultaneously.
  • Their entire lives have been spent in a world where everything’s immediate: instant downloads, overnight delivery, microwave meals.

A teen may be nonplussed to lose TV and cell phone privileges. She still has the most important tool for teens today: her computer.

Teens’ computers are a central communications system for email, IM, blogs, even phone calls. They don’t need much else. If you have products to sell to teens, approach them electronically. Review previous columns to refresh your memory on privacy issues and other pitfalls in talking to this audience.

As for credit cards, according to MSN’s Money Central, one in three high school seniors has credit cards, half in their own names. Seventy-eight percent of college students have credit cards. The trend is toward teens getting credit. Back in 2002, one in seven teens under age 18 had a credit card. Teens can obtain credit cards without parental approval, according to the Ceridian Corporation.

What should you keep in mind when marketing to teens via email? Seven pointers:

  • Offer. Address what teens buy. There’s plenty of research available, so make sure what you sell isn’t old news. The offer must be constructed in line with teens’ mentality. They have a fair amount to spend but are very frugal in certain areas. Many shop in discount stores and use coupons. For the most part, look for lower-priced products.

  • Copy. Because teens email, chat, and phone simultaneously, they’ve developed a shorthand to get thoughts across faster and with fewer keystrokes. It wouldn’t surprise me if most text abbreviations, such as LOL and CYA, originated with teens. Whatever you sell, speak their language. Pick up a handful of teen magazines and visit teen sites to see how advertisers address this market.
  • Graphics. Teens respond to bright colors and splashy graphics. It goes with their upbeat, fast-moving, multitasking personalities. They’re anything but muted and pastel.
  • Shopping choices. Yes, some teens whip out credit cards and buy directly from your site. Many won’t. Give them options:
    • Have them ask Mom or Dad to charge it. This works with products parents perceive as educational or worthwhile.

    • Provide a printable coupon they can take to a retail store. Help them find the stores in their areas that carry your product.
    • Give them instructions on how to pay by check. They may have their own checking account or can hit up their parents for a check.

  • Coupons. Think coupons are for old ladies? Think again. Teens have become coupon clippers like their grandmothers. Not for $0.25 off a can of tomato paste, but certainly for things such as PacSun T-shirts (buy 2, get 1 free) and free shipping from skateboards.com. Check out PitBossAnnie.Com for an overview of deals, coupons, bargains, and stuff for teens.

  • Tell-a-friend (or 10, or 100) feature. Because they’re so adept at communications, teens can spread the word about a product or service faster than a speeding bullet. I watch my son type at the speed of light, IM at warp speed, and talk so fast it would put the old FedEx spokesman to shame. Rather than tell them to tell a friend, give teens a reason to spread the word. An exceptional product, a big discount, and a meaningful freebie are all good reasons. If you want to learn how teens are actually hired to spread the word, check out Tremor, a Procter & Gamble unit that has more than 250,000 teens spreading the word for national advertisers.
  • Interactivity. Teens love to interact. Instead of static, one-way communications, look to activities in email and on landing pages that encourage participation, such as surveys, polls, games, and message boards. Fun contests and sweepstakes go beyond data collection forms.

A facet of email marketing to teens is influencing other purchases at home. The average teen won’t book a family vacation but can greatly influence the destination that’s picked.

A few final tips to keep in mind:

  • Teens are aware of the economy and the fact money doesn’t grow on trees. They part with money more reluctantly than many adults do.

  • They know in six months, fashions will probably change — and take that into account when buying clothing.
  • Teens aged 13 or 14 want to fit in. They buy and wear what others do. At 18 or 19, they’re into standing out and spreading the wings of independence.

Marketing to teens is a challenge, but the rewards are there. Remember: Today’s teens are tomorrow’s young adults.

Keep reading…

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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