When USA Today recently ran an article that highlighted the way some travel brands are pursuing teens and preteens, it was gratifying to see that companies are starting to create products and programs that are taking this market more seriously. For years, I’ve been advocating that selling to families is as much about talking to the kids as it is the parents.
Critical to tapping into this opportunity is recognizing that tweens are a different market than teens and that any approach to marketing to families with children needs to recognize the unique characteristics of the various segments within the children’s market.
Tweens is the term given to the 20 million children in the U.S. from ages 8 to 12, also known as Generation Z (although there is debate in certain quarters whether this generation started in 1995 or 2000).
For those of us in travel, one of the most interesting aspects of this audience, according to a recent JWT study titled “Gen Z: Digital in their DNA,” is that over 25% of the tweens surveyed said that all or most of their social-network friends live a plane journey away. How exciting is that for an industry looking to find and nurture more travelers.
Equally significant, according to a BRANDchild study, tweens influence 80% of their parents’ brand purchases, and a YTV Kidsfluence study found that 40% of tweens feel they influence the choice of vacation destination, and 61% said they influence the selection of the hotel.
The challenge though, is that tweens, as the name implies, are too old for things designed for young kids, and too young for activities and approaches aimed at teens and adults. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that brands have ignored this audience—focusing on younger kids and older teens—but missing this vital and distinct audience in the middle.
One resort that seems to understand the value of more fully segmenting the family market is Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont. Here they’ve divided the kids market into six distinct groups starting as young as three months. Tweens get split between the Adventure Rangers (ages 7 to 10) and Notch Squad (ages 11 to 15) and they’re offered a comprehensive range of activities that they get to mix and match, including survival skills and high ropes adventure. They even get to select the counselor of their choice. And just to underscore that older teens are indeed an audience onto themselves, the resort invites 16 and 17 year olds to be “Mountain Explorers” and has built an array of activities and events that are specifically designed to challenge and interest this “older” crowd.
Similarly, Celebrity Cruise Lines offers five different program levels for kids, including “Ensign” for children ages 9–11. Much of the activity revolves around the ship’s Fun Factory, complete with the latest gaming equipment and titles, and tweens have the freedom to to sign themselves in and out without parents until 10 p.m.
As you contemplate forging your own approach to the tween market, you need to recognize that many aspects of their interests, tastes, attitudes and buying habits are different than other segments of the youth market. So take the time to meet with tweens and invite them into your product planning and marketing discussions.
As a generation that has lived their whole lives fully “plugged-in,” tweens don’t need parents or teachers to gather information—they are true digital natives, fully trained to have it all at their fingertips via computers and mobile technology. Amazingly, it’s said that today’s 8 year old is more likely to own a cell phone than a book!
As you’d expect, they are spending considerable time online and heavily engaged in social networking on sites like YouTube and Facebook. Their friends have a tremendous influence on a tween’s preferences and they want what their friends have, according to a Harris Interactive & Youth Education Research Group study. So you better be sure your online presence is continually updated, rich with multi-media content and easily shared with peers online.
Tweens buy experiences, not products. They believe in causes and a green planet. And, they value some of the same things as their adult contemporaries—escaping everyday life, discovering other cultures and having interesting learning experiences.
Just as importantly, Generation Z is more connected with their parents than prior generations. In fact, Gen X parents and Gen Z kids are watching the same television shows and developing affinities for the same brands, according to a Grail Research study. And with parents looking to increasingly use travel as a way to spend more quality time with their kids, there’s an opportunity to build unique experiences around things that both generations enjoy.
It all adds up to an audience that’s young in years, but mature well beyond their age. For travel brands, they represent an interesting segment of the children’s market.
One that seems worth exploring.