The teen demographic in the U.S. is quickly changing, and many brands are not well-equipped to respond. In 2012, 64% of the U.S. population was made up of non-Hispanic whites. Census data from last year, however, shows that America's racial and ethnic minorities now make up about half of the under-five age group.
These two stats illustrate dramatic changes in the American population — particularly among young people. Rather than being predominantly Caucasian, teens feature populous Hispanic, Caucasian and African-American demographics, plus a smaller, but fast-growing, Asian-American demographic.
The shift to a majority-minority population in the United States is happening more quickly than expected, and it’s a move that has significant implications for both government and business institutions. If you market to teens, here are three pieces of advice as the U.S. population goes through this shift:
1. Include media consumers who don’t fit the typical profile of your audience.
One important consequence of diversity, globalization and the wide availability of the Internet is that the interests of teens have become less predictable. White teens watch BET, some African-American teens love Korean soap operas, and Asian teens can be found watching the El Rey Network.
New channels launched in the past year have started adapting to this multicultural view. Instead of speaking to a specific ethnic group, these networks speak more broadly to a multilingual, multiethnic viewer. For example, El Rey Network carries original programming produced by Robert Rodriguez, who recently told the LA Times that he wants to “open the doors” and help the network “become a people's network with true diversity.” Revolt was launched by Diddy and hopes to be the MTV of the Millennial generation by offering content that is “far broader than hip-hop.”
These cases represent new media entities that do not explicitly market to just one ethnic group. In the same way that these channels cater to the various Millennial backgrounds, marketers will have to reconsider what they think they know about this generation of consumers.
2. Mirror the majority-minority population in your communications.
Forget the days of having a token Asian- or African-American teen in your ads. Your marketing tactics should better reflect the diversity of today’s teen demographic.
Some recent Hollywood movies have started reflecting this new racial reality. The Paranormal Activity franchise is actively targeting Hispanic moviegoers, and the Fast & Furious has also been a pioneer in targeting multicultural moviegoers.
Marketers should remember that resorting to “tokenism” won’t cut it. This is a generation that grew up with an increasingly diverse population. What marketers consider “representative” might not be the same as what these teens consider truly diverse and representative of their circle of friends. If you’d like to market to teen Millennials, it’s important to nurture an ongoing relationship with them and make sure that your communication efforts closely reflect how they’re thinking about diversity.
3. Look for ways to transcend language.
Many teens use language very differently depending on the situation. For instance, they might speak Spanish or Chinese to their parents, a mix of English and their parents’ language with friends of the same background, and then English with friends from other backgrounds.
All your efforts — from advertising to customer insight — should reflect this complex reality. For example, if you regularly engage teens via surveys and discussions, using fewer words and more graphics might do a better job of including those for whom English isn’t their only language.
Whether engaging teens offline, on social media or through an online community, marketers should expect responses that are not in English. Asking for input on social, you might get responses in Spanglish or other occasional phrases from a non-English language. These are important answers. Make sure somebody on your team can read them and translate them if needed.
The majority-minority teen population represents critical challenges for brands. But this movement is also a big opportunity for marketers who can engage, market and tell their stories in a way that resonates with the new racial reality.