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Forrester Research recently released a report that anyone who’s ever lived with a teenager would call blindingly obvious. Among 4,681 Americans aged 12-17, the general sentiment was brands should leave them alone unless they have a problem.

For most teenagers, I imagine being “friends” with a brand is the equivalent of your mom coming downstairs during your party. Of course your parents are always present, since you still live in their home. But when you’re together with your friends, it’s more fun to act is if your folks weren’t upstairs straining to hear everything that’s going on.

Statistically speaking, it may be near-impossible to incentivize young people to interact with your brand. If Forrester’s research is accurate, just 6% of Facebook users aged 12-17 want to be friends with brand, and almost half think brand shouldn’t be on social media, period.

These numbers aren’t surprising: would you have wanted to engage in a public conversation with Head & Shoulders when you were 14? Or have Stridex calling you out on your feed when you complain about a zit? Uncool.

Of course brands want to reach young people, those with the disposable income from their parents. Generation Y or Z or whatever the MMM is calling it these days generally has significant decision-making and therefore purchasing power. So what’s the course of action?

Active Listening and Patience

According to the Forrester report, 28% of those surveyed said they expect brands to listen to what they say via social media and get back with them. In other words, they want their complains heard and addressed, but would otherwise rather be left alone. Brands would therefore be well advised to engage in active listening, being reactive rather than proactive, with this touchy age group. Push too hard and invade their personal space, and they’re likely to turn on you. Stay quiet but aware and offer help when it’s requested.

This approach takes patience. Teenagers’ buying habits are not yet set, but this doesn’t mean they’re not acutely aware of brands and choices. By taking a hands-off tack, responding when called upon for assistance, you’re still reinforcing your brand albeit at a slower pace. Young people are still forming their identities and opinions, and often change their minds seemingly with the blowing of the wind. Consider the long-term rather than the immediate sale when targeting messaging at younger people.

Just as teenagers grow into adults and come back to their parents saying, “Mom, dad, you were right,” they also become valued customers. By concentrating on communicating with people via the channels and means they like and are comfortable with, you can foment the lasting relationships your brand is looking for.

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1 Response

  1. Great points, Matt. There are several studies out there that also point out that text messaging has been the communications inner sanctum for the 12-20 year old crowd. Why? They recognize that Facebook has limitations where conversations between trusted peers is concerned. let alone all the attempts at brand marketing. And this inner sanctum is a shifting, delicate, and vulnerable realm. Perhaps the young can indeed teach us all something. That there are limits to the intrusive habits of marketers.

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