Teens, College Students And Young Adults: Where Does Email Fit?

As an Email Insider, you already know that email is a highly effective direct marketing channel. Even so, it can be hard to articulate why this is the case when confronted with constant questions about new channels such as text messaging or social network sites. This is especially the case when your target demographic is young and on the move. "Our consumers are all young, why in the world would we want to invest in email?" If you have ever faced this question, here is some ammunition for you.


First off, all those young people are not the same. In a collaborative project with the Center for Media Design at Ball State University, we identified several groups of consumers with distinct media consumption and marketing preferences. Of these, some of the most profound and interesting differences were between groups that are only a few years apart in age, but represent distinct life stages. Specifically the differences between the following groups identified in our research stand out.



• Teens: 15-17 years old, still in high school;

• College students: 18-24 year olds still in school;

• Wired: young males, post-college between the ages of 18 and 34 years old, without kids. They are employed full-time or self-employed, have a good income -- an annual household income of at least $35K; and

• Young homemakers: females, between the ages of 18 and 34 years old, who consider "homemaker" to be their primary occupation.

While these groups are broad and do not represent all consumers below 34 years old, the distinct differences between these groups may surprise you. Here goes:

Teens are 25% less likely than other groups we identified to have made a purchase online. It makes sense since they are less likely to have disposable income available. They are, as we hear often, less likely (than average) to be influenced by email and more likely (than average) to be influenced by text messaging to make a purchase. A deeper look at the numbers shows that these "facts" may be a little misleading. 42% of teens say they have made a purchase influenced by an email marketing message. Compared to 68% for all other groups, they are 38% less likely to be influenced by email than other groups. Alternatively, they are 2.5 times more likely than others to be influenced by a text message to make a purchase. Plus, they are fairly receptive to text marketing as reflected in relatively high opinions of text-based promotions, polls, and sweepstakes. Sounds good, huh? Not really; only 13% of teens have make a purchase influenced by text marketing. In terms of driving conversions, email outperforms the influence of text messaging, social networks, and IM combined. In fact, the only channel that teens say has more influence on purchasing than email... is direct mail.

College students are buying online, but they don't credit direct marketing with having any influence on that activity. In fact, 27% claim direct marketing has never influenced a purchase decision. As such, no channel looks great for marketing to college students when compared to the average. In contrast with teens, however, they have very low opinions of any marketing via text messaging or through social networks. Yes, they use these tools often for communicating to friends -- but sadly, marketers simply aren't invited to the party. Again, direct mail and email are the preferred channels for promotional marketing to this group; 50% say they have made a purchase influenced through email.

Wired consumers have good-paying jobs and no kids, which means they have disposable income. They are the largest media consumers identified in our study, spending an average of more than eight hours a day on their computers accessing the Internet, email, and using computer software -- including games. They use every channel available to communicate with friends and family -- they call, they text, they Twitter, they IM, they use Facebook (Sound familiar yet? Most of us fall in this group). Wired consumers are big online shoppers. Moreover, they are heavily influenced by email marketing. 89% say they have purchased as the result of an email marketing message they received.

Not everything should come to this group through email, though. They have clear channel preferences depending on the type of message being sent. Wired consumers are the most likely to have invited marketers to send text messages, but the text messages they want are financial and travel alerts. Send a promotion to these folks through a text message and you are likely to tick them off.

Young homemakers are also well-versed in new communication channels. They text, they use social networks, and they IM. But more than any other group, they don't want marketers bugging them through these channels. They have two channels open for marketers: direct mail and email. Given the choice, you would communicate with them through direct mail, but they are also open to email. 72% have been influenced to purchase through direct mail. 53% have purchased as a result of an email marketing message they received. What's most interesting about this group is its willingness to respond to surveys and questionnaires. They are important consumers, they know it, and they want to be heard. Just know their time is valuable and they will do it on their own time.

Even with these younger groups, email plays a crucial role. Email is no longer new media, it is an established, tried and true marketing channel, along with direct mail. Hopefully, this helps you answer some of those tough questions about the future viability of email.

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