Marketing to teens has never been easy. The demographic is, by nature, fickle and finicky -- hot for one thing this month and disinterested the next, whether it's clothes, gadgets or a social media platform.
But the task has gotten even harder in recent years, with the proliferation of social media and shopping sites. While having more outlets or opportunities to connect with teens may seem like a good thing, if you have a limited marketing budget and resources, it can be a nightmare. Which sites do you invest in? All of them? Just a handful? If so, which ones?
Sadly, there is no secret formula to getting teens to want to buy from you (although until very recently it seemed like Abercrombie & Fitch had one). However, there are steps you can take to improve the odds that your marketing message will reach and be seen by them.
Here are nine digital strategies for wooing teenage consumers.
1. Work directly with teens. "Work directly with a well-connected trendsetter in that demographic," says Julia Benben, director of marketing, Freetoes, a toeless sock company that was founded by a teen.
"If you are going to sell to teens, we highly suggest enlisting an ambitious teen as an intern or part-time member of the team -- and allowing [her] to contribute in a meaningful way. Both parties will learn a lot," Benben says. (At Freetoes, the founder serves as their Chief Teen Trends Officer.)
2. Choose the right brand ambassador(s). "Don't look to Hollywood or the stage at Madison Square Garden for your next [brand] ambassador," says Tim McMullen, founder and CEO of advertising agency redpepper. "Today's teens are not as influenced by celebrities as the generations before them. Instead, look to the Web for social influencers followed by your target audience that fit with your brand," he says.
"YouTube is the most popular social channel among Generation Z, and it serves as the perfect native environment for paid influencers," says McMullen.. "Teens revere the trusted online personalities that they follow in the same way they do the most popular kids in school."
3. Hang out where they hang out. "In order to reach teens, you need to be present on the platforms they are active on," says Danielle Wiley, CEO, Sway Group, an agency that specializes in influencer programming. "They're on Instagram and YouTube and Vine. They aren't trolling Facebook for content and searching for connections [so much anymore]. So it's important for brands to develop campaigns that fit their consumption habits."
"According to a recent 2014 study by Piper Jaffray, Facebook's popularity among teens continues to slip, while Instagram has nearly tripled its popularity in the United States," says Sammy Lau, digital strategist, Canopy Labs, a predictive analytics company.
"As young adults leave the 'old' world of Facebook for the newer spaces of Tumblr, Snapchat and Instagram, brands need to take their marketing strategies to these platforms as well," Lau says. Marketing on social media sites has an added benefit: "Brands can add links to pictures of their products that allow viewers to purchase the product on the spot."
Also consider posting content on "social commerce sites where users curate and share, such as fancy.com, lyst.com and polyvore.com," says Mahogany Beckford, director of marketing at Schmid Manufaktur, a German boutique footwear company with an international clientele. The benefit of sharing on these sites is "they are very visual sites that let your audience do the speaking for you."
4. Make them feel special. "Teens are constantly searching for affirmation and their 15 minutes in the spotlight," says McMullen. And often "a simple social engagement is all it takes to make them feel special." Sharing their photos on your Web or social sites (with their permission) or "liking, favoriting retweeting or commenting on one of their posts will definitely bring their attention to your brand." And if they have lots of followers and "are an influencer, a follow can go a long way."
5. Ramp up promotions and outreach efforts to coincide with peak teen shopping seasons. May and June, for example, are peak shopping months for teens, says Beckford. "There are many events during these months -- proms, graduation -- where it matters that teens look nice," she says. "Late summer is another biggie because it's back to school time." So gear promotions, sales, rollouts and marketing efforts to take advantage of these peak teen shopping periods.
6. Make sure your messaging is age appropriate. "If you are trying to sell to teens, use teens [to help create your campaigns] and make the creative aimed at teens," says Katelyn Lohr, the 13-year-old founder of Freetoes. "If you are trying to hit too broad of a range you lose us." For example, "if you use a 13-year-old girl on a product that is clearly for 8 to 12-year-olds, you just lost that 13-year-old and older demographic," she explains. Similarly, "even though teens are typically in a hurry to grow up, they don't want 'old ladies' [women over the age of 25] trying to tell them what is cool."
7. Skip the hard sell -- and don't talk down to them. "Don't blatantly sell to me," says Lohr. "Lifestyle ads that include a product are more effective than product-driven ads," she says. "We want to see the product -- shoes, hats, cloths, accessories -- being used and looking great, not be told how great the product is."
"The key to marketing to teens is not to talk down to them," says Greg Rudolph, CEO, Board Blazers, LED underglow skateboard & scooter lighting. "Our product is targeted directly at teens, but you wouldn't know it from our marketing. Teens are young adults, so treat them as such. Don't try too hard to be cool. Just be authentic, fun and contemporary."
8. Invest in images. "Many of the teen-heavy platforms (Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr) as well as platforms with a wide audience that include teens (Pinterest) are focused exclusively on images," says Nina Hale, founder and CEO, Nina Hale Inc., a strategic digital marketing agency. So "having a robust visual pool to draw from is an ideal way to reach this audience. You can also use those [images] on social mainstays like Facebook and Twitter," she adds. Indeed, "you almost have to have an image with your post to get any attention [these days]. So [it's important to have] a strong visual marketing repertoire."
9. Think mobile. "According to eMarketer, smartphone user growth has been massive and will continue to grow among teens for the foreseeable future," says Austin Paley, corporate marketing communications manager, Blue Fountain Media, a full-service digital marketing agency. Therefore "it is important for businesses to have a brand presence on mobile devices, through a mobile app or a mobile-friendly website," he says. "For ecommerce stores or brick and mortar retailers that have larger budgets, mobile apps are the clear choice. But mobile-friendly websites are a great option for businesses with smaller budgets."