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A study by Jupiter Communications claims that online spending by teens will increase to $1.3 billion by 2002. That's not chump change. To get a little of this action, you'll need to market to teens a little differently than you do to your adult customers.

Here are a few tips on how...


Teen years are almost like dog years with regard to the amount of change and development that can be packed into just 12 months. Think about it: though just a few years apart in time, 13-year-olds are very different from 16-year-olds, who in-turn are very different from 19-year-olds. But we often lump them all into an age-defined category called "teens." Be aware of this as you decide who to target and how -- you'll need to specifically identify who you're marketing to and customize your message and presentation specifically to them. It goes back to basic marketing: don't segment based on simple demographics - segment based on benefits that customers care about! Every stage offers a huge, receptive market, but you've got to carefully identify who they are and what interests them.


Remember when you were a teenager, how strongly you felt about the issues that affected your life, such as your parents and teachers, fashion, and your favorite and least-favorite music? Teens' opinions are very, very strong and they're looking for a chance to do two things: express them, and find others who feel the same way. Teen sites that give them a place to be heard, a place to belong, are more likely to be well received. To do this, you might consider putting up a comment board to let them provide feedback to the site and to each other, or you might post an on line poll: 'Jam it or Can it?' Don't try to force products or ideas down their throats as being the next big thing: just be cool and then let them decide. ( illustrates this nicely.)


In this way, teens don't differ much from the rest of us. Keep your brand image strong in various media beyond the Internet, and teens will respond by coming back for more. If you're a traditional brand trying to add a teen focus, consider making a new, more contemporary brand, or hooking up with an existing teen brand for a dual-promotion. Case-in-point: The "Roxy Edition" Toyota Echo.


Once you target a specific segment, be sure that your content is relevant to teens' lives. Don't try to start a chat session about dorm life and furnishings if your site is designed around a young teen audience. Know your segment: read their magazines, know which celebrities they love and hate (beware, this changes very rapidly), know what delights and infuriates them, and populate your site with it.


You don't necessarily have to write the copy for your site as if it just rolled off the tongue of an 8th-grader, but you should be aware of what phrases your target audience uses and which ones threaten to be outdated turnoffs. How do you do this? Ask. If you don't have the funds for a formal study, you might consider talking to a dozen or so kids that you, your family or friends know. Roll your ideas by them - they'll tell you if they stink. Get the language right, and get the message right so your site doesn't get the big "L" (for loser).


Remember how fleeting your tastes were when you were a teenager? How a best friend can become an ex-friend, and then a best friend again, all in one afternoon? Teens are hungry for the latest, the coolest, and the newest. You must update your site frequently or risk being labeled 'SO last week.' This means posting new features, pictures, ads, and offers every day, if possible. It means responding to emails quickly -- teens will come back to see the latest developments, and will be pleasantly surprised to receive a prompt, personalized response to their email.


Kids follow the lead of their favorite stars. According to Michael Landau, general merchandise manager at Yahoo! Shopping, "Celebrity fashion is a huge driver of consumer purchasing decisions.." This doesn't mean you have to hire Justin Timberlake (He's a member of N'Sync and Brittany Spears' to-die-for boyfriend - duh!) to plug your product. You can get creative without spending money. For instance, perhaps you could consider linking to a celebrity gossip column, or making fashion recommendations based on what Mandy Moore was wearing in her latest "Seventeen" spread, or listing celebrity birthdays in your horoscope section.


Don't try to make your product something it isn't. This generation of kids has been cleverly marketed to since birth and is too savvy for deception. On the other hand, don't assume that they are the cynical bunch that the Gen X-ers have been touted to be. Teens don't mind marketing messages in and of themselves, as long as the messages ring true and the products and issues are relevant to their lives.


Teens are not adults and most do not have the financial savvy and restraint that we come to expect from adults. Use secure payment systems and respect confidentiality when and if you collect information from teens. Your brand will benefit in the long run.

Marketing to teens can be some of the most fun work around - as well as profitable and rewarding - if its done right. And it's, like, totally not boring.

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Wendy Comeau is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. She is not a blonde.