Targeting the $100B Teen Market

There are 19.4 million teens out there with money in those jeans pockets. Because more families have two working parents, teens are more independent and have greater decision-making responsibilities. Consequently, teens have more purchasing power than any other generation did at their age. In fact, current teen spending exceeds $100 billion a year and continues to grow. So what does it take to capture the attention of the average teenager? With the growing trend of shopping online and the overload of hip and trendy commercial advertisements, it takes more than just an ordinary catalog to grasp the readership of this generation and to cash in on its incredible purchasing power.

The answer is not as simple as creating a trendy eye-catching catalog. Teens want the company they are buying from to reflect their lifestyle. From hip-hop to skaters and from clubbers to preppies, teens are a diverse group. They all want to be different, but of course, as long as it makes them just like everyone else. What's a marketer to do? Here are some key fundamentals for catalogers to consider as they target the teen audience:

Talk to teens. Having a personal connection with teens is more critical than it is with any other age group. Don't rely on your adolescent memories or depend on Generation X to write your copy. This new generation of teens is not following in the footsteps of their predecessors. Research has shown that while Gen Xers were much more focused on individualism, you will find that the current 13-17 year olds are following trends in mass proportions. There is much more of a shared sense of what is cool and what is not.

Market ahead of your target age group. If you are targeting 12-15 year olds, conduct focus groups with 16-19 year olds before writing your copy. Remember that younger teens want to be like those a few years older than themselves, so leverage what the older teens are saying to grab the younger teen audience.

Feed teens information. The teen years are tough for any generation. It's a time of great change and uncertainty for adolescents. They are looking for guidance from credible sources. Supplement your copy with peer written/suggested beauty tips, relationship advice and fashion ideas to draw in your readers. The good news is that teens don't necessarily differentiate editorial from advertising. They see it all as information, and if they recognize and trust the source of advice, they are likely to be influenced.

Be ready for change. Teen preferences rapidly change, making it important to be ready to shift a catalog's focus at a moments notice. To keep up with the changing trends, product and layout changes must be made very close to press time. Shortening cycle times is critical to meeting the needs of this group of potential customers. Catalogers can achieve this by using electronic files, which are easily retrieved and quickly converted for distribution through conventional print, digital print, CD-ROMs or over the Internet.

Leverage all your marketing channels off your print catalogs. With the growth of online shopping, smart catalogers are building bridges between print and the Web and achieving exciting results. For example, Alloy, a booming teen-market cataloger, organized an online chat with a hot band and promoted the event through its catalog insert cards, cover stickers and ink-jet messages. This drew attention to its Web site and increased Alloy's credibility with this demographic group.

Integrate your traditional print and online efforts with digital print. Much of the younger generation is regularly surfing the Net. And teens are poised to become the largest group of e-commerce users, that is, if they can get Mom or Dad's credit card. But teens also like to linger over printed images. They like to have something to show their friends in order to ask their advice before making purchasing decisions. Make it easy for them to order a print catalog over the Web. When companies integrate new media with traditional print they are able to reduce their inventories or materials and overhead costs. Prompting teens to order print catalogs via the Net allows marketers to utilize new technologies like digital printing to produce catalogs on more of an as-needed or on-demand basis.

It is important to recognize the potential this audience presents for catalogers looking to capitalize on a powerful market. This requires new and innovative approaches to grab and hold the attention of a generation that moves so quickly. However, with a market of this size and with this purchasing power, it's worth the challenge.

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