Tap Into the Lucrative Tween Market

By Features Business on Main

These customers may be young, but they're old pros when it comes to consuming.

Twenty million strong nationwide, tweens — kids ages 8 to 14, who are often called “Generation Z” or “digital natives” — now flex $43 billion worth of annual spending power, according to Larissa Faw, editor at Youth Markets Alert, a trade newsletter based in New York City.

The young consumers receive an average weekly allowance of $12 each, up from only $5 in 2009. So despite family belt-tightening these days, parents still aren’t scrimping on their kids. Plus, says Faw, “nearly half of their parents [47 percent] dole out the allowance knowing it will be spent rather than saved.” That’s big news for small businesses looking to grow with new products or expand into new markets.

Predictably, the biggest slice of the tween money pie goes to video games (31 percent), with apparel/footwear and impulse buys, like snacks, tying for second (20 percent each). Consumer electronics and music/books vie for third (10 percent each), followed closely by toys/crafts (9 percent).

Reel in parents to pitch the kids

But make no mistake. While tweens drive demand, parents are the real buyers.

“We tend to live by the tagline, ‘Ask not what your product or service can do for them, ask what your product or service can do for their parents,’” says Tyler Sickmeyer, whose 5Stone Marketing agency in Kilbourne, Illinois, works with clients that cater to tweens.

Few tweens earn money on their own, and those who do are under parental control. Kids don’t drive and usually don’t shop alone. As a result, businesses that focus on benefits to parents, such as educational value or nutrition, while still appealing to kids — by offering fun experiences, cool trends or sweet tastes — will likely be winners in this market. “Everything from cell phones to cereal is a family-driven decision,” says Sickmeyer.

In today’s market, even when products are geared to grown-ups, you may also be selling to tweens.

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According to “Consumers of Tomorrow,” an in-depth market study from Grail Research, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based global researcher, Gen Z is “more connected with their parents than prior generations.” To back that up, Grail emphasizes the fact that Gen X parents and Gen Z kids are watching the same TV channels (Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite), developing affinities for the same brands (Gap, J. Crew, Polo Ralph Lauren) and playing the same video games — often together as a family.

What’s more, tweens are major influences on parental decisions about big-ticket items, like cars, homes, vacations, entertainment and restaurants.

How to run the tween playbook
Marketers with traction in this segment offer some surprises about what works and what doesn’t. Here are a few tips and tactics:

- Social media don’t rock this world. Internet regulations and COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) prevent marketers from targeting kids under 13. In addition, tweens rarely use search engines, often don’t spell correctly when they do, and frequently don’t have mobile phones. Says editor Faw, “The biggest mistake marketers make in targeting tweens is that they try to be cool rather than effective.”

- Offer experiences, not transactions. “Businesses need to champion the tween and resist the urge to be the authority,” says Kit Yarrow, professor at Golden Gate University and co-author of “Gen BuY: How Tweens, Teens and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail.”

Marketers recommend interactive adventures to engage tweens, whether that involves in-store contests, product testing seminars, or product promotion fairs at schools, sports leagues or other events.

For instance, at Yaldah magazine, a publication for Jewish girls 8 to 14 years old, publisher Leah Larson relies on an editorial board of 20 girls to brainstorm, edit and design the product. That, she says, makes the girls feel like they “own” the publication, so they’re more excited to share it.

LittleMissMatched, a retailer of mismatched accessories — like socks and gloves — for girls, leveraged its glamorous location in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal to host an evening fashion show for tweens and their parents in one of the station’s grand beaux arts halls.

Of course, all such events are also videoed and posted on YouTube.

- Think beyond the kid box. Since you can’t sell to a tween without persuading a parent, you might as well target adults directly. For instance, Robert Richardson, who runs a Las Vegas marketing agency, suggests sending your products to mommy bloggers for free review. “If you can get enough of them blogging about your product, you can make a significant impact in the marketplace,” says Richardson.

All in all, leveraging traditional marketing is likely to connect best with this age group. Sums up Faw:­­­ “Tweens are rather simple. They get excited about in-store samples, actually watch TV ads, and desire anything their older sibling has.”

Joanna L. Krotz writes about small-business marketing and management issues. She is the co-author of "Microsoft Small Business Kit" and runs Muse2Muse Productions, a New York City-based custom content provider.

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