The Entirely Surprising Thing Teens Demand From Brands

Okay, let’s play a little guessing game: What do you think teens look for most in a brand? 

Design? Style? Trendiness? Not even close. As the mom of a teenager and two 20-somethings, I spend plenty of time around young people, but the answer to this question still surprised me. Teens value quality above almost anything else. 

It’s an answer you might imagine coming from a Baby Boomer parent instead of a 14-year-old girl. To uncover this unexpected insight, our team conducted peer-to-peer research, sending teens out for some honest talk with other teens about what they buy and why. 

At first, the quality answer definitely came as a surprise, but in light of the lackluster economy, it makes a lot of sense. As Reuters recently reported, older teens—those 16 to 19—faced an unemployment rate of 24.9% in April, and many news outlets have noted that the past few summer job markets have been the toughest in decades for teens. These are young people who don’t necessarily see a certain economic future for themselves.



Still, teens wield serious spending power, and brands and retailers can’t afford to ignore them. A spring 2012 report sponsored by Piper Jaffray, an investment bank and asset management firm, found that “teens plan double-digit spending increases in categories such as fashion, beauty and personal care, restaurants and digital media.”

So how do you make sure those dollars are spent on your brands? Convince teens you’re selling quality goods. Here’s how:

1. Stop focusing so much on price. Most teens aren’t nearly as price sensitive as you might guess—especially if they perceive your brand as offering long-lasting goods. Many young people told us they buy from Anthropologie, Nike, Apple and American Apparel. Those aren’t the lowest cost options, but as Kate, 16, told us, “I think durability is more important than affordability.” 

Tiffany, age 19, echoed those sentiments, “I would personally rather buy the more expensive item over the cheap item if I know I’m going to be using/wearing it a lot because you don’t want something that’s not gonna last because of its poor quality.” Some teens even made a direct correlation between price tag and quality. “If a brand is known as a high-priced brand, I usually associate their merchandise to be high quality as well,” says Allie, 16.

2. Work on your reputation. How do teens determine which brands offer quality? According to an NPD Group survey of 2,500 adults and teen consumers, word of mouth has the greatest influence on teen purchase decisions (36%), followed by advertising (32%), and online reviews (29%).

To earn the quality label, your brand needs to provide an experience that inspires teens to recommend it to one another. “If I love a brand I will always rave about that brand,” says Sofia, 19. “Brands are like best friends; if they’re loyal to you, you’re loyal to them!” 

Pay attention to how your brand comes across in traditional online reviews, as well as consumer mentions on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, blogs and Instagram. “Most of the things I buy are tech-related and expensive, so I do a lot of research before buying, which includes asking my tech-savvy friends and checking online before I buy,” says Danny, 19. 

3. Make a better first impression. Of course, the real moment of truth happens in-store. Teens are judging you by your packaging, merchandising and the way that sweater or shoe feels in their hands. They love to shop and are happy and willing to check out your brand in-person. “I won’t buy something if I am not sure of the quality,” says Carly, 15. “I’d rather check out the clothing in-store and see for myself.”

Reevaluate what kind of message you’re sending when teens show up at retail. “I judge a product’s quality mainly on the packaging and the actual look of the product itself,” says Tiffany, 19. “You can tell if a product has poor packaging, most likely the product itself isn’t going to be very nice quality. The more expensive a product is, the more time and attention they will apply to the packaging.”

Now for the million-dollar question: How well is your brand communicating quality to savvy teen shoppers? It’s a message you need to send loud and clear to make the sale. 

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