The ABC’s of Marketing to the Y’s

It’s marketing, but it’s no stock market or dog food commercial. This Web
site is “kewl” … a girl can “get styled” or “vent” while she’s creating her
own jeans design. Second Generation is
aiming for and hitting its target audience: teen girls. And its efforts
will probably pay off most handsomely in a market that was worth about $153
billion dollars in 1999, and, according to Jupiter Communications,
online spending by teens will increase to $1.3 billion in the next two

“When you are a teen, you have the strongest opinions you’ll ever have in
your life, but you have no one to listen to you,” says Jane Mount,
co-founder of Bolt, a Web site designed
specifically for the teen market. Bolt has answered teenagers by providing
them with a Web site that is written by its readers. “What we provide is an
opportunity to say what you think to millions of other people your age,”
says Mount. “You’re bound to find other people who like you and who agree
with you.”

But Bolt wasn’t always so hip. When the site first debuted about three and
a half years ago, the staff wrote music reviews, and articles in an attempt
to inform teens what was cool. It didn’t take long for the realization to
set in that kids have their own views on what the trends are.

Trends are of great importance in the teen space, says Matthew Diamond,
chief executive officer and co-founder of Alloy. Not only must
you know what the current trends are, but you must be certain that your
brand is part of them. “Ultimately, it comes back to how strong you made
your brand,” he says. “Our key is we circulate a catalog, we have a book
imprint, and all of these build a very strong brand and drive traffic to the
Web site. Then on the Web site, you give them content that is relevant,
that they like, that gives them a sense of community and they’re going to
come back.”

Teens are looking for a place to belong, and sites that market to teens can
work together, says Katie Arons, publisher of ExtraHip, a magazine targeting plus-size
teens. “We have a niche market, and we find that because we focus on that
market, other sites are willing to link to us, because we are not in

How exactly does a 20 or 30-something marketer find out what is on the mind
of a 15-year-old with cash in his pocket to spend? Bob McKamey, director of
strategic planning at Web site development and marketing firm Imagine That, is bullish on his team’s
approach. “We went to a local school and asked,” he laughs. “Even the
terminology on the site has to focus on and target the younger

Tommi Lewis Tilden, editor in chief of Teen
agrees, but is concerned that adults get the idea that because
they may talk alike, teens of all ages think alike. “I think the teen
market is a little bit over saturated at this pointI think that we are
headed towards a backlash in a way,” says Tilden. ” The key is to narrow in
on the segment of the teen population you’re looking for. Everyone is
addressing the teens as a mass force, and they’re really not.”

Tilden recently attended focus groups for teenaged girls. The first group
of girls was 14 and 15 years of age, and the second group was 16 and 17.
The difference was remarkable, according to Tilden. “If you really
customize your product or message to the teen and understand the
developmental stage, then you can be successful, because at every stage
there is a huge market.”

It’s not just teen-only sites and magazines that are hoping to get kids to
open their wallets. A lot of the brands that their parents knew and love
are re-i

nventing themselves in order to be considered hip enough for the
younger generation. Nike is creating a
sub-brand that will be targeted at teens, while Ogilvy Public Relations recently created
a marketing campaign for American
that was in no way designed for mom and dad. The Halloween
promotion featured “scream mail,” e-mail with celebrity screams that could
be sent to friends. Mark Curran, the managing director of Ogilvy’s global
marketing practice, notes that the reason for the new approach: “I think you
have to really appeal to them on an almost individualistic basis.
Customize. The approach of mass media has to be looked at, and there has to
be a lot more personalization to the teen audience if you want to make it
stick to them. If it is a traditional brand, what has to be factored in is
how to make it contemporary.”

Having been teens once ourselves, it’s evident to any adults interacting
with Generation Y that times have not only changed, they change overnight.
A product or site that is popular today maybe tomorrows dead fad. Just ask
New Kids on the Block. Pitches to the teen market must be updated
constantly, and Web sites must be changed often. There are a few articles
that might remain on the Alloy site for a few days, but most of the content,
news, horoscopes, and gossip are changed daily. Matt Diamond insists this
change is imperative. “By changing it you are getting kids to come back
frequently because they want to find out what is going on,” he says. “They
want to know if their e-mail has been answered. They want to know of their
message board has been posted, and they want to know what is happening with
DiCaprio, Britney Spears, or InSync.”

Choosing products to sell or creating products can be made easier by simply
listening to your market. Alloy and Bolt both have areas designed to get
information from teens on what they’d like to purchase. Second Generation
not only listens, the company responds. “Every e-mail that comes in,
whether it is positive or negative, is responded to,” says Ken Farestein,
vice president of sales. “Customers of all ages are surprised when
companies respond directly to them.”

Every audience has its challenge, and teens are no exception. This is a
segment of the population that has been advertised to since birth, and they
are not easily swayed or fooled. “I think one thing that is difficult for
people who are marketing to teens is that the traditional approach has been
to pull the wool over their eyes, and that doesn’t work,” points out Bolt’s
Jane Mount. “The challenge is to realize that and be up front with it.
They have no problem with being marketed to as long as the product is
personally relevant. If you have product that they are never going to be
interested in and you are trying to shove it down their throats, they aren’t
going to pay much attention. If you actually develop products that meet
their needs, however, they will be thrilled about that, and it will work to
your advantage. People try to change their marketing message and not
necessarily change the product. But these kids are too savvy for that.”

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