They may be young, but teens pack a powerful economic punch even in these tough times. According to Packaged Facts, they were a $79.7 billion market in 2006, and that figure is expected to grow to $91.1 billion by 2011. What teens like has a good chance of appealing to those who remain young at heart. Before you set off to target teens, here are eight tricks to help crack this audience: Take the message to them: Today's teens are so tech-savvy that if you don't make your pitch with that in mind, you might as well throw your hard-earned money out the window. They are chatting to their friends via instant messenger, email and social media. They are connecting and obtaining information from their computer, smart phone and, in some cases, game console. "To reach this demographic, in the hopes of having anything meaningful with them, you have to take the message to them," says Jon Gaskell, co-founder of SmartyPig, an Internet piggy bank that tries to teach teens about money. While SmartyPig teaches users about the importance of setting goals and saving for what you want, it also allows them to socialize and share with friends and family the ups and downs of saving for a specific goal. Next up: a mobile application because "this was something our younger customers demanded," says Gaskell. Take them seriously: One of the biggest mistakes companies make, says Gaskell, is underestimating the teen market. "When people have access to information, a greater amount of information than any other demo, they will know fast what they want. You need to be ready to change and enhance and meet their expectations or they will leave you."
But that doesn't mean setting up a profile page rife with corporate information and speak. "Don't over-sell them," says Simon Podd, head of U.K. sales for Bebo.com, a social networking site popular among teens. "Definitely don't treat the profile page as an ad. They have to feel like they're having a conversation with that brand while in their bedroom or on their mobile phone. By befriending a brand's profile page, they're giving you permission to contact them so don't abuse it." That means giving them some added value for spending time with you. That could be offering the occasional freebie. It could mean giving them the inside track on something that their peers would like to know. It could be allowing them to share with their friends and family. Be ready to listen: If you're willing to get on the social media bus, be ready to listen and respond to comments from your customers. Given how teens live online as much as offline, they're going to give you an earful. So address comments and update regularly. "At the end of the day, you're speaking to the end user," says Podd. "If they come back and it's not been updated, they will never come back." Make it fun: Teens, more than any other audience, like to participate. So be creative when pitching your product or service. Bebo.com helped U.K. drugstore brand Boots create a photo contest, in which users uploaded photos of themselves in full make-up. The winner would become the face of Boots campaign.
Contests go over well with this age group. So do polls, quizzes and giveaways, says Marisa Sandora, editor in chief of teen magazines QuizFest and ASTROgirl. "They are looking for added value." Short and sweet: It's true: they don't have a very long attention span. Hence, get to the point with lots of color and a funky design. QuizFest and ASTROgirl are filled with pull quotes, captions, sidebars and big headlines. "You have to have lots of entry points," says Sandora. The popularity of texting has also changed the way teens speak, so deploy those "LOLs" and "OMGs" in a way that isn't condescending. Placement is key: Teens want to be cool. For some companies, that may mean getting snapped next to a teen idol. Members Only, the iconic 1980s clothing company, is once again hip in part because designer and creative director Kelli Delaney was strategic in placing the garments on celebrities like Zac Efron, Miley Cyrus, and Taylor Swift. "When Miley wears our $700 bomber, we see a spike in retail," says Delaney. She also cultivates relationships with the bloggers who teens turn to for gossip and information and the right stores. "If it's the wrong message, they can turn on you on a dime," warns Delaney. "The boutique stores like Intermix and Scoop are what drive the teen retail scene. Of course, they will go to national department stores, but that's for hanging with their girlfriends. When they go to boutiques, it's like their own personal stylist, and it gives them the look and image of their favorite stars."
Be realistic: Teens may have vast spending power, but they're not above money worries, especially when 7.6% of adults are out of work. So while they aspire to look like their teen crush, they want it to be attainable. As a result, Delaney says she's shifted Members Only business so that 75% of the current collection retails for under $200. Sure, there are still luxury pieces, but cheaper versions are also available. "The classic Members Only bomber, we offer it in Italian lambskin for $650 and one in nylon for $98. Right now, you can't allow any potential customer to leave a store without an opportunity for them to participate in the brand. You have to have an entry-level price point and an aspirational price point." The price is right: The best -- and hardest -- aspect of this market is that it doesn't take a lot of cash to get their attention. The trick is grabbing it since traditional campaigns like a TV ad aren't as effective as they once were. Kenneth Hein, managing editor of Adweek Media, believes street campaigns are not only cheap but the most effective way of reaching this niche. So hit the sidewalk and hand out samples. "For teens, there is currency for being the first to try a product," he explains. "As adults, we're not as into discovery as they are." Another inexpensive tactic: setting up profile pages and cultivating fans on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.