April 19, 2004
How To

Virgin Mobile's Research on Six Critical Attributes of 15-24 Year-Olds & How to Market to Them

SUMMARY: Over the past two years, Virgin Mobile has cracked America's intensely competitive wireless market by relentlessly researching and targeting one specific demographic -- youth aged 15-24.

We got Marketing Manager Marcy Roth to reveal six demographic attributes she's discovered about the youth marketplace, including:

Attribute #1. They're into personalization

Attribute #4. They're the household CTOs

Attribute #6. They know they're being marketed to

You'll also hear how Virgin Mobile used these insights to create a wireless service that 1,750,000 kids find irresistible:
Since launching mobile phone service in the US less than two years ago, in July 2002, Virgin Mobile has gained 1,750,000 customers. That's no mean accomplishment in an already saturated marketplace.

Marketing Manager Marcy Roth attributes much of the company's success to reaching out to an underserved market. "It's a mature industry with close to 60% saturation, and one of the only segments that wasn't being reached was the youth markets," she says.

Virgin Mobile aimed to satisfy that segment. Through ongoing research in the field and through an online panel, focusing both on their demographic target and the vertical industry, the company came up with a plan to meet the needs of the youth market (defined by the company as 15- to 24-year-olds) not just with pricing but with a fully branded product that "really speaks" to the user.

Roth shared the six attributes most youths have in common, and how Virgin Mobile targets those attributes with its products.

-> Attribute #1. They're into personalization

The youth demographic sees their possessions as extensions of themselves. Things such as cell phones are symbols of who they are, Roth says, and they want to personalize them.

To appeal to that market and make personalization easier, Virgin Mobile offers a variety of different handsets to choose from. They also have thousands of ringtones online for users to download.

But Roth's team knew that letting users customize their phones meant more than just how the phone looks and sounds -- it meant letting users customize how the phone works and what it can do, as well. So, they came up with some VirginXtras. For example:

o Rescue Ring

Rescue Ring allows users to set up a rescue call for a pre-
determined time. "The phone says, 'Repeat after me,'" Roth
explains. "'Oh, my god. No, really? I'll be there in ten
minutes.'" In other words, a user pretends to have a conversation that they can use to get out of a nightmare blind date or other situation.

With Rescue Ring, Roth says, "You don't need a friend or someone to hang out around the corner. Kids love it. One girl at a focus group, she uses it all the time, even to get out of school commitments."

o VoiceMania greetings

Kids can choose from canned comedy, music, and extreme sports personality recordings as their voicemail greeting option.

-> Attribute #2. They're into music

It's pretty simple: the youth market digs music. What better way to tap into that than an exclusive partnership with MTV?

"Even if kids are not particularly MTV watchers, kids love
music," Roth says. "[The partnership] reinforces that we're focused on kids."

The partnership allows for exclusive MTV-related content on the phones. Among other things, users can access MTV news, download ringtones of songs currently playing on MTV, send text messages to Total Request Live (an MTV show), and send text messages to other MTV.com members.

-> Attribute #3. Their tastes change quickly

To keep the youth market happy, you have to evolve your products constantly, Roth says.

Keep offerings fresh and current with the times. "We had an Ozzy [Osbourne] application" for awhile, she explains. Now that Ozzy is no longer quite so hot, applications in connection with other MTV shows have taken its place.

-> Attribute #4. They're the household CTOs

"They're the ones who program the VCR for their parents. They're on the computer as soon as they can reach the keyboard, they're texting during class, IMing when they're supposedly doing homework," Roth says.

Give kids the keys to fun technology and they'll use it. "They're much more likely to pick up the phone and know how to use all the features within an hour," she explains.

Song ID is one such application. "You know when you're in a car and you hear a song and you don't know who it is? You can dial a code and the phone listens to the song and can tell you what the song is," says Roth.

-> Attribute #5. Friends and family are important

Young people are impressionable when it comes to viral
applications. They want to be in touch with friends and family and they want easy ways to make that happen.

That's why text messaging is so popular, says Roth, noting that 60% of their customers use text messaging. "One person starts to text," she says, and soon "they're texting about which side of the cafeteria they're going to meet for lunch."

The younger members of the youth market look up to older siblings and "want what their older brothers have," Roth says. "You show them a new phone that might have a 'kid' handset, and they say it looks like something for their kid sister."

-> Attribute #6. They know they're being marketed to

Young people are savvy from a marketing standpoint, Roth says. "They know companies are trying to market to them and companies are trying to use their lingo. They're sophisticated consumers, they know what they want."

Roth's team goes out of its way not to talk down to young
consumers. "We're pretty straightforward, we don't try to use slang," she says. One of their taglines, Live Without a Plan, was chosen because, while it's appealing to the youth market in particular, it doesn't condescend.

Language on the site hovers on the border of hip, without
crossing the line. It's lively, but not trendy. For example: "Had enough of the cellular charade? Then cut the cord and come with us."

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