New Insight into the $43 Billion Market You're Probably Ignoring

Last Updated Apr 22, 2011 6:42 PM EDT

Within five years, says the US Census Bureau, there will be more than 76 million American children under the age of 18. According to Tina Wells, CEO of Buzz Marketing Group, it's the 8 to 12-year-olds within this demographic who represent the "golden egg" for marketers. If you can figure out how to market to these kids, who spend approximately $43 billion annually, the payoff can be huge.

Technology, says Wells in her new book, "Chasing Youth Culture and Getting it Right" (Wiley, April 2011), "allows tweens to learn faster than any generation before them, and therefore to find their identity and formulate their opinions at a much younger age than society is used to."

So how do you tap into the tween market? I recently spoke with Wells, and she offered these insights:
Donna Fenn: Why are tweens so important for marketers?

Tina Wells: Tween's are what teens were 10 years ago. Their average weekly allowance is $9, and the bulk of their personal money comes from gifts from parents and grandparents. And there is more money here because parents will spend money on their children. And tween income is truly more disposable. I don't believe that a teenage income is totally disposable, because mom will say 'you have to contribute to your cell phone bill' or 'it's time you started saving for a car.' Tweens will say 'I've got $20 and I'm going to Justice and I'm going to spend it all.'

DF: In your book you note that marketing to tweens can be tricky. Why is that?

TW: I think that tweens see marketing in a totally different way. We think of Gen X as being turned off to the idea of marketing. I think tweens like promotions and ads, and being the center of attention. But they want to be communicated to in a way that makes sense to them. For example, they're not really swayed by celebrity endorsements. They grew up in an age where anyone can be famous. That's totally different from Gen Xers, for whom the only way to be famous was to be on The Real World. Now, you can make a video, upload it to YouTube, share it with all your friends, and you're instantly famous. So they'd much rather see themselves in an ad than a celebrity.

DF: You talk a lot about why it's important for companies to market to a mindset rather than a demographic -- that this generation is comprised of tribes, like techies, preppies, alternatives, and independents -- and that marketers need to approach these tribes in different ways. Still, there must be some commonalities among them. What are they?

TW: I think that they all seek acceptance, and they all find a piece of who they are based on the brands that they like. Brands matter to them and become part of their DNA. They also want what they want right now. They expect everything on demand. I tell all of my clients that if their product is not in stores when they run the marketing campaign, they may have to wait. Because tweens will go to the stores and if they don't find what they're looking for, they'll move onto something else.

DF: What are the most important things for marketers to know about tweens?

TW: There are a few things:

1. They're a lot smarter than we like to think. They're savvy and they get marketing. So you can't talk down to them, and don't be preachy.

2. If you're not talking to them socially, then they're not listening. They may be too young to be on Facebook, but there are tons of them on Stardoll, which does amazing brand integration. You have to meet them where they are and that's very much anti-marketing. Marketing often assumes that "my brand is so exciting that we're going to get you to pause your day and look at what we're doing." That doesn't work with tweens.

3. Do your research and know your customer. The American way of marketing is "if we create it, then they will come." But if your customer is not watching TV, then you should not be on TV. You need to figure out how you fit into their lives. One medium for tween engagement that some might find shocking is the radio. [Tweens] are still listening to the radio on the journey to and from school and on their computers. Tween-oriented stations on satellite radio and Radio Disney are popular ways to reach them as well. [On the Internet] they love Disney.com, Nick.com, YouTube, Facebook, Webkinz.com, and Clubpenguin.com.

4. Causes aren't just important, they're expected. Brands like to make big announcements that they're doing a tie-in with a philanthropic cause. But a cause should be a part of the brand all the time. This generation likes things and that are environmentally friendly, and I've heard that they also respond to anything that's related to cyber-bullying, which is a huge issue.

5. You have to be value conscious. The recession has put mom back in the driver's seat. She's thrifty and always on the hunt for a deal, but also wants to keep her family happy. If you can figure out how to satisfy moms, it will definitely pay off in the long run.

Does your company market to the tween demographic? What are some of the effective techniques that you've used?

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