SUMMARY: Teens (ages 13-19) love email and IMing - 70% of them in the US
use it constantly. They also change their email addresses
constantly, and are very wary of any messaging that smells of
marketing hype. Here's how to approach them...
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 ages 12-19)
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 teens love.
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," says Woods.
Even when teens have joined a list, Woods finds a much higher occurrence of invalid addresses and closed accounts than with the adult population.
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 possible.
-> 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 shelf life.
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