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Marketing to Youth: No Longer a Dark Art

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It takes a lot more than Harry Potter's brand of wizardry for marketers to understand the spending habits of what is commonly referred to as the youth market—those between age 6 to 18. In fact, it requires a flexible understanding of the subcategories within this vast network of youth.

And success ultimately will require a combination of spells and strategies that allow for those young shoppers to identify and connect with your brand.

Today's youth market includes kids (6-9 years old), tweens (10-13 years old), and teens (14-18 years old), and their interests, attitudes, tastes, and buying habits vary nearly as much as those of the residents of Gryffindor and their Slytherin counterparts. But those young consumers are, often, much more sophisticated than many marketers recognize.

It's tough because buying decisions among these groups can vary by both age and gender. For example, boys within a specific age group make very different decisions about purchases than girls within the same age group.

Determining who will spend precious disposable income on toys versus clothes versus music requires marketers to summon a combination of clever techniques borne from experience, trend-spotting, and hard data.


The overall youth market these days is savvy and well-informed. Kids are becoming shopping "experts" by the time they reach middle school, and they continue to wield a lot of influence on what their parents buy.

As they get older, those budding consumers get even better at recognizing inauthentic attempts to market products to their group. Kids are influenced not only by TV commercials but also by the things that they see other kids using at school or at camp.

Tweens and kids rely on their parents to buy them the things they covet. By the time they become teenagers, they are able to research, browse, and exhibit impulse-buying behavior that adults demonstrate.

Here are some things marketers should consider when approaching this diverse, ever-fungible demographic called youth:

They have money, despite the economy

Recent research indicates that youth are being affected by the recent economic storms but have not been as hindered in their spending as their parents.

According to C&R Research's syndicated YouthBeat report:

  • More than 40% of teens say they have more money to spend this year; only 16% say they have less.
  • Nearly 40% of teens say they are spending more than last year, while 33% say they are spending less.
  • Nearly 90% are aware of the economic situation, and 77% indicate that their parents have spoken to them about the economy.
  • As for what's in their wallets, by the time they hit their tween years more than 78% of them have nearly $50 to spend.
  • Almost all the survey participants earn money by doing routine chores around the house, such as feeding pets, cleaning their rooms, and helping in the kitchen.
  • As they get older, youth are more likely to make money by caring for younger siblings and preparing meals—and even running errands once they have earned the right to drive the family car.

 Customer and in-store experiences matter

Peer influence is important when youth shoppers are considering where to buy products in person, but how they are treated when they actually shop is also critical to developing brand loyalty.

If the experience involves youthful shoppers' being treated with respect, they are more likely to develop an affinity for that particular store or brand. If that's missing, they will shun that store and pass along the negative experience to their friends as often as possible.

In online shopping, more boys (63%) shop at pure "online-only" stores than at the online sites of brick-and-mortar stores (51%), According to the YouthBeat report. Girls have no real preference between the two, although the Internet-only shoppers (57%) outpace those who shop at store Web sites by a slight margin (54%).

Life-stage purchase tracking is key

Marketers need to use the research that's out there to make sure they stay in tune with the needs of the three major youth segments.

For example, boys under the age of 10 list video games, candy, and snacks as the top three things they want to buy, while girls in the same age group list clothes\shoes, candy, and snacks.

Teens, on the other hand, list clothes, eating out, and going to movies as their top 3 selections, a distinct shift when it comes to disposable income. Recognizing and responding to those differences can give marketers an edge in developing effective campaigns aimed at a desired segment of the youth market.

* * *

So marketers really don't need Harry's wand to successfully reach out to this valuable demographic. By making sure they can track the buying patterns of the youth market within the specific segments and along gender lines, marketers can craft promotions and campaigns that allow for success in cultivating a buzz for products aimed at those consumers.

Mixing a little artistic flair with the science of accurate market research can save even the most befuddled marketer a trip to Hogwarts and provide the returns those campaigns can generate.


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Paul Metz is senior vice-president of C&R Research, Inc. ( www.crresearch.com), a Chicago-based market research firm. He can be reached at paulm@crresearch.com.

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