Reversing Roles: Teens In The Drivers Seat

Just to be clear: although the title of this post may suggest that I am going to be talking about teens driving their moms to soccer practice in a fuel-efficient hybrid vehicle, I'm not. (Although I've always loved creative writing and that visual gives me a good start -- maybe I'll expand on that in a later post!) Instead, let's talk about a very real shift in the way we as marketers look to influence this market now and in the years to come.

It used to be, and still is, a winning strategy to employ what we call the "big brother/big sister" approach to targeting a younger, teenage audience. It works for teens and it works for college students. Get the classes just above your target audience to adopt and become enthusiasts of your brand, campaign, product or service and your audience will follow. As young adults have aspired to be adults they look to idols and mentors. Most often, aside from celebrities and athletes, these role models tend to be older siblings or fixtures in the community that are just a little older in age. Remember this commercial? It's a perfect illustration of the influence, positive and negative, a slightly older role model can have on a younger audience.



An interesting shift is occurring in today's culture though. More and more, teens are influencing older demographics than the other way around. We'll need to keep this shift high on our radar as strategic recommendations based on behavioral information from generations past will start to see declining results. Those who understand how to build and cross the generational gap in the opposite direction will reap the most benefit. Here are a few reasons for the shift and predictions on the effects to come:

Reason #1: Teens have greater access to information than previous generations and greater ability to intermingle with their generation. This is due to the rise of technology and communication platforms that enable research and connectivity.

EFFECT: Teens are no longer in need of older siblings to aid their social life or knowledge of culture. The effects of this aren't being seen solely in marketing, but in other areas of life as well. Teens are growing up more quickly and are savvier at an earlier age than previous generations.

Reason #2: Young, successful entrepreneurs are fueling the "anything is possible/go get it now" drive in teens. The Mark Zuckerbergs of the world aren't viewed just by darn-I-wish-I-would've-done-it adults but also by why-do-I-need-to-listen-to-you-when-I-can-just-be-like-the-Facebook-Founder teens. Not to say that every generation doesn't have darling prodigies -- Bill Gates anyone? -- but with a lower barrier to entry for startups in this fast-paced age anyone with a computer, Internet line, and drive can fast-track a business.

EFFECT: Confidence within this age group will continue to build as peer success stories continue to increase. Young entrepreneurs will continue to be touted, causing ripples not just in marketing but in the education and business world as well.

Reason #3: These shifts are leading to a savvier consumer base. Ability to research facts behind products and marketing messages allow teens to debunk claims. Increase confidence strengthens the "you're not going to tell me what to do" attitude that teens historically have had which leads to stricter critique of information, brands, campaigns, products and services that are presented to them.

EFFECT: Thankfully, this is one that brings "fun" to a marketer's workplace. Teens are willing to give more to those that are honest and connect with them. Furthermore, they're more open to second-step tactics such as couponing since most don't have a heavy income (not at least until they have launched their first tech startup!) As we, as marketers, look to connect with this audience campaigns become more fun and focused around "give us a try" versus "we're the best." Creativity increases in campaigns as new, cheeky tactics are used to engage and connect with this audience.

So, be mindful of these generational behavior shifts in the years to come to help ensure successful marketing. Because it's not just about targeting the right audience, it's about creating compelling messaging, and that might mean a little role reversal.

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