I recently had an a-ha moment. I’m aging myself here, but it happened during my 20-year high school reunion.
While reconnecting with old friends, I was struck by the lasting impression that brands make in high school. Some of the my favorite hangout spots — a local pizza parlor and a mom ’n’ pop diner — still thrive today and are still beloved by locals. And the “prestige” automotive brands back in high school (Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Jeep) are now the ones my high school friends buy as they start to earn more.
Impressions last with people, too. Classmates who were known as friendly, fun, and supportive in high school are still the center of attention today.
In marketing, we sometimes think teen marketing is only applicable to teen-specific categories and brands. But my experience during our high school reunion shows that building a successful brand requires starting early. Even if teens aren’t your main target audience today, you have to start reaching these customers if you want them to consider your brand in the future.
You don’t have to be a teen brand to start marketing to this audience. Here are three ways brands can successfully build a lifelong relationship with a customer, beginning in their teens:
1. Offer Entry-Level Products
If you’re selling high-priced items, only a few teens can afford your product. Consider creating an entry-level product that introduces your brand to younger customers.
For example, it wasn’t feasible for many teens to drive a Jeep Grand Cherokee back in high school (or now), but some could afford a Wrangler, a less-expensive and more-rugged alternative. By offering a vehicle with a lower price point, Jeep is beginning a relationship with younger customers — a relationship that will potentially last as they become older.
Of course, you can’t just offer a cheaper product. Entry-level offerings still need to reflect your brand. Engage teen customers to gain a better understanding of what they need, and then talk to your customers to learn more about your own brand. Using this customer intelligence, you have the tools to introduce more affordable products that still uphold your company’s standards.
2. Support Local Schools and Youth Organizations
Younger people support socially conscious brands. Businesses do well by giving back to their communities, and supporting schools and extracurricular activities can help achieve that. What can you do for local schools, teams or youth organizations? Can you sponsor college scholarships? Begin a pro-social initiative to encourage studying or sports participation?
Some high-profile examples of this include MTV’s support for Rock the Vote and VH1’s Save the Music Foundation. These campaigns let companies engage teens while tackling timely social issues. Knowing your customers — and understanding their passions and what social issues they care most about — will help inform your cause-marketing initiatives.
3. Evolve With Your Customers
Some brands are “Forever 21” (including the brand with that name) — meaning they continue to target younger people and don’t age with their customers. Others, such as Ford’s enduring Mustang brand (now 50 years old and still an automotive icon), change their marketing to grow with their customers.
Regardless of your approach, your brand needs to evolve—and that requires understanding your audience. MTV had to conduct research to learn how to speak to Millennials rather than Gen X, as the former group began to represent their target audience. Comedy Central had to do the same as Millennials began to take over their Adults 18-34 target. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola continues to market to its old customers, which is why those who drank Coke in the ’60s now frequently drink Diet Coke, Coke Zero or a tea or water from the company’s vast lineup.
To evolve your brand, consistent customer engagement is key. Doing so involves maintaining dialogue with your customers to understand why they do what they do.
Customers today — teens included — are more empowered than ever. But what I’ve learned in my high school reunion is that some business basics remain. It’s about building relationships with customers — and doing it consistently. Just like lasting high school friendships, creating brand loyalty is about two-way relationships that endure throughout the years.