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How Teens Influence Buying Decisions

Teen-oriented direct mail catalog lists merit serious consideration for inclusion in nonteen-oriented direct mail offers, including apparel, gift and homeware catalogs, and publishing offers.

By nature, brokers are always searching for new and responsive sources of names for their mailers; and managers, by definition, are constantly researching new markets for their list owners. So let’s look at some of the opportunities and strategies for putting teen-oriented lists into direct mail plans.

Let’s start with a look at the lists currently on the rental market from some of the major catalogs serving the youth market. Abercrombie & Fitch, Alloy, Delia’s and Esprit offer mailers sizable 12-month buyer universes, as well as traditional recency, frequency, monetary selections. Brat offers buyers/requesters with recency selects.

These catalogs’ average units of sale vary, ranging from $85 to $130. Abercrombie & Fitch features apparel for males and females while the other catalogs cater to a female audience. The Droog catalog, owned by Delia’s, features young men’s apparel and accessories and has a universe of 57,000 buyers. Common to many of these catalogs is a multichannel (catalog, Web site, retail) approach to serve their markets.

Though this article’s focus is catalog files, I should note that subscriber lists from some teen-oriented publications, including Jump, Teen Magazine, YM, Seventeen and Teen People, also are available on the rental market and that each offers a significant universe of active subscribers.

Let’s look at the teen-age market. For the purpose of discussion, I am including preteens and college-age young adults in the teen market, so we are looking at a market with an age range of 10 through college age. Numbering more than 32 million, these preteens through young adults – the demographic phenomenon known as Generation Y -differ from previous generations of teens.

Sociological factors, including two-income families, teen/young adult-oriented media outlets like MTV and the advent of the Internet, have shaped them into trend-driven shoppers who have been making many of their own purchasing decisions – apparel, music, entertainment – from an early age.

With annual purchasing power projected at $145 billion, Generation Yers constitute undoubtedly the most media-conscious, financially aware and technologically savvy youth market ever. And with this sophistication comes a level of importance within society and an overall personal independence largely not experienced by the teens of their parents’ or grandparents’ generations.

Reaching the teen of the household makes good sense and brings in dollars. Teen purchases are based on trends, making teens frequent and enthusiastic shoppers. Along with apparel and accessories, market studies show that teens are major purchasers of cosmetics, health and beauty aids, music and videos, electronic entertainment and athletic/extreme sports equipment.

Teen spending habits may, in many cases, be a function of parental permission, but teen spending power is, nonetheless, not to be overlooked or underestimated.

Teen-oriented lists reach multiple markets. Parents exert a major influence on teen purchasing. Thus, by reaching the teen of the house, you are also reaching the parents, who, in turn, are excellent prospects for nonteen goods and services for themselves as well as any younger children in the household.

Nonteen offers directed toward the adult female of the house are a logical starting point. Further, it is a reasonable supposition that teen purchases are a function of family affluence and purchasing habits. In other words, as spends the daughter, so spends the mother.

Remember that teen-oriented catalog lists, like children’s catalog lists, reach direct-mail-responsive families. One key difference, though, is that unlike children’s catalogs, the actual buyer could be the teen-ager rather than the parent, and for the most part, this information is not selectable. Mailers can direct their offers to the adult of the household by title slugging before the surname.

Mailers should take advantage of enhancements where available in order to refine teen-oriented lists for nonteen offers. The Delia’s file, for example, offers Experian’s Z24 catalog database enhancements. A children’s cataloger, therefore, can select families with presence of younger children by specific age ranges. Demographic enhancements such as age/gender of adult combined with purchasing affinities (i.e. apparel, gifts, homewares, garden, kitchen etc.) will also be useful in locating likely audiences for nonteen goods.

Finally, DMers should keep in mind that teens influence their family’s purchasing decisions in areas as diverse as snack foods, household products and, especially, technology and they are developing product preferences and brand loyalties that will last a lifetime.

If you still are not convinced about the wisdom of sending nonteen offers to a teen-oriented mailing list, just consider for a moment the current cultural cliché of teen whiz kids who actually know more about computers than their parents. Now compare this to our own generation of teen-agers who only thought we knew more about something than our parents did.

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