Selling to teens is tough, but selling “through” them to parents can reach varsity-level difficulty. Teens (and young Millennials in general) carry a great amount of influence with their parents, particularly in certain categories such as electronics. According to a 2015 YouGov study, teen influence over parents’ purchases ranges anywhere from 25% (for parents’ footwear) to over 90% (for teen fashion).
So it’s not just teen-focused brands that need to carefully consider marketing to teens; if you have a brand that’s focused on Adults 25-54 or Adults 35-64, chances are a lot of those customers are parents, a fair number have teens, and many of those teens are influencing their parents’ purchases.
As you consider how to win the hearts and minds of these teen influencers, consider these three distinct cases:
1. Products that teens use, but parents buy or fund. Not surprisingly, these are the products where teen purchase influence is the strongest. In the YouGov study, it tops 90% for categories such as teen apparel, footwear and personal care product, and 80% for leisure products. However, brands in these categories need to “thread the needle” to be youthful, impactful and relevant to Millennials without completing alienating the parent who’s making or funding the purchase.
Consider two-track communications that emphasize different but not contradictory messages; tell the teen about personal benefits and relevance, while emphasizing value, quality and trust among parents. Where applicable, remind parents of their relationship with the brand when they were teens, and tell them their teens will be in good hands today. Personal-care products such as Clearasil and Maybelline generally do a good job of these “two-track” communications, maintaining a cool factor among teens but a trust and sterling reputation among parents.
2. Products that parents buy, but the whole family uses. In the YouGov study, teen influence is still strong here (typically in the 50-60% range). Think of household products, appliances and electronics, as well as experiential purchases such as a restaurant meal or vacation.
Here, there’s potential to show how the brand can bring together a family. “Family time” is very much on-point right now, between multigenerational family living, Millennials being closer to their parents than Gen Xers were, and increasing numbers of diverse families whose cultures value time together and respect for elders. So show families enjoying, say, a McDonald’s meal, a Disney vacation, a Sony TV or a Ford SUV. Convey not only the communal benefits (everybody enjoying it together and creating a memory) but the individual ones, too (fun for the teens, a good value for the parents).
3. Products that parents buy, and only parents use. Influence lessens here, but is still significant. Mobile devices and personal-care products are the low-hanging fruit, but there’s even potential with parents’ fashion and cleaning brands. Here, it’s a modified two-track message. Parents still need to hear about value, quality and trust. But teens need to hear that these products will keep their parents contemporary and relevant, will be easy for the teen to set up, maintain and troubleshoot for them (especially if they’re mobile devices), and won’t cause anybody any embarrassment.
Teens also sometimes need a nudge to recommend the product. Apple is one of the gold standards in this category; in many families (including mine), a Millennial can safely recommend it to Mom and Dad knowing it’s contemporary, well-made, a good value and a breeze to set up and operate. An added bonus is that it makes it easier for families to stay in touch (hence, all the memes about “parental text fails”).
If you don’t think you have a teen-focused product, think again … standing between you and many adult customers is a teen gatekeeper you need to win over.