The ABC’s of Marketing to the Y’s

It’s marketing, but it’s no stock market or dog food commercial. This Web site is “kewl” … a girl can “get styled” or “vent” while she’s creating her own jeans design. Second Generation is aiming for and hitting its target audience: teen girls. And its efforts will probably pay off most handsomely in a market that was worth about $153 billion dollars in 1999, and, according to Jupiter Communications, online spending by teens will increase to $1.3 billion in the next two years.

“When you are a teen, you have the strongest opinions you’ll ever have in your life, but you have no one to listen to you,” says Jane Mount, co-founder of Bolt, a Web site designed specifically for the teen market. Bolt has answered teenagers by providing them with a Web site that is written by its readers. “What we provide is an opportunity to say what you think to millions of other people your age,” says Mount. “You’re bound to find other people who like you and who agree with you.”

But Bolt wasn’t always so hip. When the site first debuted about three and a half years ago, the staff wrote music reviews, and articles in an attempt to inform teens what was cool. It didn’t take long for the realization to set in that kids have their own views on what the trends are.

Trends are of great importance in the teen space, says Matthew Diamond, chief executive officer and co-founder of Alloy. Not only must you know what the current trends are, but you must be certain that your brand is part of them. “Ultimately, it comes back to how strong you made your brand,” he says. “Our key is we circulate a catalog, we have a book imprint, and all of these build a very strong brand and drive traffic to the Web site. Then on the Web site, you give them content that is relevant, that they like, that gives them a sense of community and they’re going to come back.”

Teens are looking for a place to belong, and sites that market to teens can work together, says Katie Arons, publisher of ExtraHip, a magazine targeting plus-size teens. “We have a niche market, and we find that because we focus on that market, other sites are willing to link to us, because we are not in competition.”

How exactly does a 20 or 30-something marketer find out what is on the mind of a 15-year-old with cash in his pocket to spend? Bob McKamey, director of strategic planning at Web site development and marketing firm Imagine That, is bullish on his team’s approach. “We went to a local school and asked,” he laughs. “Even the terminology on the site has to focus on and target the younger generation.”

Tommi Lewis Tilden, editor in chief of Teen Magazine agrees, but is concerned that adults get the idea that because they may talk alike, teens of all ages think alike. “I think the teen market is a little bit over saturated at this pointI think that we are headed towards a backlash in a way,” says Tilden. ” The key is to narrow in on the segment of the teen population you’re looking for. Everyone is addressing the teens as a mass force, and they’re really not.”

Tilden recently attended focus groups for teenaged girls. The first group of girls was 14 and 15 years of age, and the second group was 16 and 17. The difference was remarkable, according to Tilden. “If you really customize your product or message to the teen and understand the developmental stage, then you can be successful, because at every stage there is a huge market.”

It’s not just teen-only sites and magazines that are hoping to get kids to open their wallets. A lot of the brands that their parents knew and love are re-inventing themselves in order to be considered hip enough for the younger generation. Nike is creating a sub-brand that will be targeted at teens, while Ogilvy Public Relations recently created a marketing campaign for American Greetings that was in no way designed for mom and dad. The Halloween promotion featured “scream mail,” email with celebrity screams that could be sent to friends. Mark Curran, the managing director of Ogilvy’s global marketing practice, notes that the reason for the new approach: “I think you have to really appeal to them on an almost individualistic basis. Customize. The approach of mass media has to be looked at, and there has to be a lot more personalization to the teen audience if you want to make it stick to them. If it is a traditional brand, what has to be factored in is how to make it contemporary.”

Having been teens once ourselves, it’s evident to any adults interacting with Generation Y that times have not only changed, they change overnight. A product or site that is popular today maybe tomorrows dead fad. Just ask New Kids on the Block. Pitches to the teen market must be updated constantly, and Web sites must be changed often. There are a few articles that might remain on the Alloy site for a few days, but most of the content, news, horoscopes, and gossip are changed daily. Matt Diamond insists this change is imperative. “By changing it you are getting kids to come back frequently because they want to find out what is going on,” he says. “They want to know if their email has been answered. They want to know of their message board has been posted, and they want to know what is happening with DiCaprio, Britney Spears, or InSync.”

Choosing products to sell or creating products can be made easier by simply listening to your market. Alloy and Bolt both have areas designed to get information from teens on what they’d like to purchase. Second Generation not only listens, the company responds. “Every email that comes in, whether it is positive or negative, is responded to,” says Ken Farestein, vice president of sales. “Customers of all ages are surprised when companies respond directly to them.”

Every audience has its challenge, and teens are no exception. This is a segment of the population that has been advertised to since birth, and they are not easily swayed or fooled. “I think one thing that is difficult for people who are marketing to teens is that the traditional approach has been to pull the wool over their eyes, and that doesn’t work,” points out Bolt’s Jane Mount. “The challenge is to realize that and be up front with it. They have no problem with being marketed to as long as the product is personally relevant. If you have product that they are never going to be interested in and you are trying to shove it down their throats, they aren’t going to pay much attention. If you actually develop products that meet their needs, however, they will be thrilled about that, and it will work to your advantage. People try to change their marketing message and not necessarily change the product. But these kids are too savvy for that.”

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