70% of America's 32 million teens use email on a regular basis.
However emailing teens is a tricky business: they change email addresses several times a year; they are suspicious of marketing messages; and, their desires fluctuate on a daily basis.
How do you get these fickle consumers to focus on your brand?
Follow these five steps.
-> Key #1) First, understand their online habits and mindset.
A snapshot of today's online teen looks something like this:
o In addition to email, 59% of teens send instant messages, 56%
percent listen to music online, 53% play games, and 49% surf for
hobbies/interests. (Teenage Research Unlimited, defining teens as
o Teens are constantly multi-tasking. "They have the TV on in
the background, they're doing homework on the computer while
IMing their friends and talking on a wireless headset," says
Richard Ellis, president of 12 to 20.
o They are well-connected (online, cell phones, instant
messaging) and define themselves through their connections and
their peer groups.
They consider their connections very personal: It's an "our own
code, our own language, our own club" sort of thing. So marketers
are very quickly seen as outsiders, even when marketing a brand
o They list family as the most important thing in their lives,
followed by friends and then school.
o Though they have access at schools, they're restricted in what
they can do there. This means that teens check email mostly at
home -- and often don't check until the weekend. Your message
competes with everything else they received throughout the week.
o Girls want to know what's trendy and fashionable, whether
that's in relation to movie stars, music, or fashion.
With boys, it's all about mastery and winning, whether that means
games, sports, or new skills. They want to demonstrate that they
can accomplish something. Give them the means to master something
or the opportunity to brag about their mastery to their friends.
-> Key #2) Consider each contact a first touch.
Teens change email addresses several times a year. "This is
partly due to unsolicited email, but it also depends on the
services they use and how they get access," says Michael Woods of
Teenage Research Unlimited.
"If they don't have a computer at home, they're looking for ways
they can get access, some that their parents are aware of, some
that they aren't."
Since it's simple to get a new email address, it's easier to
start from scratch when their in-box becomes inundated with junk
mail. "The clean slate idea is really part of their culture,"
Even when teens have joined a list, Woods finds a much higher
occurrence of invalid addresses and closed accounts than with the
You can try including a change of address link with each email
you send, but don't expect much. "I don't think kids will be that
responsible to inform you of an email change," Woods says.
In other words, a continuous flow of information is not always
-> Key #3) Watch your language ...
Teens are ultra-sensitive to the marketing messages that reach
them. The wording of your message needs to take a number of dos
and don's into account:
o Don't try to speak the way teens speak. This is the number
one rule of thumb, says Woods. "Hip" language is geographical and
has an unpredictable lifespan. Language that's cool in one area
and at one moment could be the "kiss of death" the next day.
And teens are savvy: they know you're not a bunch of kids on the
other end of the marketing message. "Kids are always saying
companies don't get it," says Woods.
Use common language that's not teen jargon, and cut to the chase.
o Don't hustle them and deliver on your promise. If you make
your offer sound like a gimmick or too good to be true, "they're
quick to move off and away from that," says Woods.
And you'll seldom get a second chance. "Adults will forgive
product advertising; teens won't," says Ellis.
o Do use testimonials. Teens are suspicious, especially online:
in a Teenage Research Unlimited survey, only 7% of teens rated
the Internet as the most trusted media (newspapers got top rating
at 45%, followed by TV at 33%).
o Do be entertaining. Using humor, popular music, or extreme
sports guarantees at least a cursory look.
-> Key #4) Promotions, contests, and exclusive merchandise
Teens see the Internet as a vehicle for free stuff. Winning small
prizes or having the opportunity to get something online that
they can't other places draws like nothing else.
-> Key #5) Get on the IM and wireless bandwagon
"There is going to be an explosion in wireless technology in
reaching teens," says Ellis. "They're so far down the connected
technology path that it's astonishing."
They want instant information, but they don't want it to intrude.
Teens see instant messaging as a way to communicate with friends.
Even if you're a brand they love, they don't want to hear from
you unless you bring something to the table that they want.
And what, exactly, is that? Sports, music, and fashion top the
list. "Maybe if they're kept up to date with sports scores, album
releases, tour dates?" Woods says.
Wireless presents the same challenges. "I've heard of concepts
where you might get a branded phone designed on the inside and
outside with a favorite artist, and on a regular basis you'll get
downloads of concert news," Woods says. But remember that kids'
interests change often -- a branded phone might not have a long
Useful resources relating to this article:
- Research firm specializing in the teen marketplace http://www.teenresearch.com
- Agency & consultancy specializing in to-teen campaigns http://www.12to20.com
- Survey site reaching out to kids http://www.kidzeyes.com
- Mobile Marketing Association http://www.mmaglobal.com/
- The Kids Market & The Great Tween Buying Machine (books from