Capturing the heart of a teen consumer is no easy task. They have completely different motivations than their tween and young adult counterparts. I believe that there are three things that matter to the teen consumer: inspiration, disruption, and value. Teens need to feel inspired by the brands in which they invest their time and money, which companies like Pepsi have shown they understand. Their latest cause-marketing masterpiece, “Pepsi Refresh Project” has created a viral marketing juggernaut. Consumers are asked to participate in a voting process by selecting their favorite non-profit cause for micro-grants. They are also able to submit their own funding ideas in several key areas, including arts and culture, health, food and shelter, and the planet. Almost two million people “Like” this on Facebook. But inspiration via cause marketing strategies is not the only thing that’s important to teens. Retailers like American Eagle Outfitters offer visual inspiration to teens, and brands like Apple – with their cutting edge technology and upbeat advertisements — are incredibly rousing as well.
While the notion of disruption may seem a bit counterintuitive, it’s necessary in order for teens to embrace a new brand. We often hear about the power of disruptive technology, and one example I love to use relates to digital downloading. When music companies decided to phase out singles, teens and young adults began sharing files illegally online – practices that were eventually replaced by legal services like iTunes and Amazon.com. No longer was it necessary to purchase a 14-track CD for the sole purpose of owning a single, favorite song; consumers simply didn’t have to pay for music they did not want. However, record labels were not prepared to deal with this, and still have not recovered. Their initial strategy was to sue consumers, the majority who were minors, instead of focusing on solving their main problem: creating and distributing music consumers wanted.
This is a case where I believe disruption can also go a step further. Simply put, disruption literally means “an interruption or interference.” It is about innovation and understanding where your brand fits into a consumer’s mindset. Teens literally need to be interrupted to pay attention to your brand.
Let’s think for a moment about a teenager’s typical day. They normally rise around 6am or hit the snooze button, therefore throwing off the rest of their prep time for the day. They’ll eat something for breakfast on the run (how nutritious that something is, isn’t clear), dress, and either drive to school or catch the bus. They’ll spend eight hours interacting with friends (and hopefully learning something.) Then they’re off to sports, after school activities, a part-time job, or some combination of these. They’re finally back at home in the evening doing homework, chatting with friends online, and (maybe) watching some TV.
There’s a lot going on throughout that day, and at some point, a teenager makes a decision to either interact with your brand or not. Are they eating your breakfast cereal? Dressing in your clothes? Talking on your cell phone? Driving your car to school, or walking there in your brand of shoes? They’re doing these things with someone’s products, and how they decide what to use is a result of a series of choices — both their own and others’. It could be mom who ultimately plunks down the cash for the purchase, a friend who lets them know what the “latest thing” is, or a team member who advises them on the apparel that will best improve their game. So whatever your brand can do to be disruptive – to make just enough noise to become relevant – is extremely important to this group of consumers.
Finally, you have to offer value. Any business student, upon writing their very first business plan, is told that they must offer a “value proposition.” This is a simple statement that normally starts with “We promise to…” and ends with “give you the shiniest hair possible, the most stylish pair of shoes, the best fashion content…” But there is one ending that trumps all others: “at a reasonable price.” When it comes to teens, price matters — more than you think. It did even before the Recession hit. So you can only imagine how they feel about it in this post-Recession era. Teens have tons of expenses: lesser commitments like prom, clothes, and electronic, and the big ticket items as well, with college and a car purchase looming. The list goes on and on.. Value, indeed, is of the most importance these days.