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.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.