5 Youth Insight Shortcuts That Will Take You Nowhere

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Feb 10, 2014 @ 10:17 AM

Youth ResearchIn marketing, media, innovation and even in research, we can sometimes become victims of our own efficiency. Staying “big picture” and abiding by the old 80 for 20 rule seem to make perfect business sense. And Occam’s Razor (the hypotheses with the fewest assumptions should be selected and that simpler theories should be utilized until a more complicated one merits priority) is an oft-adopted mantra among sensible researchers.

Certainly, when starting research with youth, it’s natural to look to simple rules, guidelines and models to aid in interpretation. But over the years, we’ve noticed a few youth research shortcuts and youth insight practices that tend to lead marketers nowhere.

  1. Get the facts. Of course, researchers shouldn’t ignore facts. In fact, for example, we start our YouthBeat YearBook by looking at the demographic realities, of today’s youth and families. But too often, we’ve seen clients start with a number designed to disrupt – say a large spending or influence number – and forget to bring kids’, tweens’ and teens’ voices and lived experiences to it. Understanding the size of a market is important, but so is identifying the dynamics that make a market and the products that comprise it matter to youth.
  2. Focus your reading. We often get asked for recommendations on research specific to a topic related to youth. And of course, it may be that the topic you’re interested in is covered in a single volume. But a deep understanding of youth requires context – it means not only understanding the role of a device in their lives, but it also requires understanding the way they spend their days. Perhaps you offer youth a product in the food category, but understanding how they relate to identity, morality, emotions and even authority come into play when you consider how to connect with them. And this matters more than, not less than, the flavor or property that they currently care about (even though, with the right knowledge to guide your analysis, this trendy data can be extremely valuable).
  3. Tune out and turn off. Of course, we all need a break from the subject that occupies our professional days! But too often, we’ve seen brilliant strategists and creatives toil away on an idea, or seek to develop an innovative concept, only to find that one just like it is already on TV or in-store. Understanding youth and youth culture doesn’t always mean participating in it (in fact, just because you’re an American Idol superfan doesn’t mean you’re attuned to youth’s perspective on the show!). But it does mean that you should turn on the TV or take in a kid flick or shop the aisles of the supermarket yourself, rather than just studying these from your desk. Don’t assume you understand a property’s appeal without really taking the time to get to know it (this is why years ago, many marketers saw Twilight as simply a vampire movie rather that recognizing the multiple moral and social strands that made it salient among teens).  And steal a page from the way youth marketers and creatives of the past learned about their competitive set: go to where your competing programs air, operate or get consumed.
  4. Start at home. On one hand, we advocate for looking at the local and not ignoring the children you know. It’s natural that many of us will feel the most inspired and interested in the youth already lurking in our homes or our lives! But be aware of the pitfalls of curbing your curiosity there. You probably don’t assume that the women or men you research are like all the men and women in your lives. Remember, there are as many different children and childhoods as there are adults and to only attend to the insights you glean from your own offspring risks leading you astray.
  5. Keep it simple. This shortcut misstep often sounds like an affirmation that “nothing has changed” or an explanation that suggests that any youth phenomenon has just one cause or catalyst. In fact, any trend or truth related to youth often stems from a number of situational conditions. Just as most youth behaviors live somewhere along the continuum between nature and nurture, most preferences held by kids, tweens and teens reflect stage, age, experience and culture-at-large. And when you’re trying to understand what make one property or product or brand really work with your target, seek out more than one answer – not just the simple one that surfaces first.

Tags: research, youth research, qualitative research, quantitative research, research methods

Making Retro Refreshing: Radio Flyer Reinvented

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jun 29, 2012 @ 08:31 AM

Radio FlyerThe first brand I worked on out of college, back in my ad agency days, was an iconic teen brand (which will rename nameless) that had seen better days. If you’ve worked on one of these brands, you know they can simultaneously elicit overwhelming affection and extreme frustration from those charged with nurturing them. Their brand caretakers wrestled with retaining the brand’s charm and reenergizing it at the same time. This is particularly true for the stewards of youth brands, who may have memories of the role the brand played in their own lives, but who have to rediscover the right way for these brands to connect with today’s youth.  We’re often asked for guidelines or rules for keeping classic brands cool…Clearly, one size doesn’t fit all in this regard. But we think Radio Flyer has struck a nice balance between authentic and exciting with some of their most recent innovations. Here’s how they’ve done it:

  1. They built from, not against their brand.  While Radio Flyer could have gone “everything container,” or even everything wagon, the brand seems to have recognized early on that its style was as important as its ride. Sure, its offerings are almost all of the four-wheeled variety (with the exception of little wheelbarrows and rocking horses), but they stand out versus the competition because they’ve kept to their classic look. Many brands have made wagons – even red ones – but the shape, the style and the lollipop-delicious-look of Radio Flyer products take them from scooter to sculpture. And when they have walked away from heritage red, they kept it basic: pink for girl trikes and primary colors as accents to their steer and fold riders. The essence of Radio Flyer exists in the middle of nostalgic and modern, and the brand seems to embrace it in product type, form, and aesthetic.    
  2. They found a way to fit families (not the other way around). The little red wagon might represent the most basic mode of transportation for the kid set (and for their stuff), but today’s parents are far from simple when it comes to their strollers. This generation of parents – especially those living in urban areas where your carriage carries more cache than your car – see their prams as much more than practicalities. It might be retro, but Radio Flyer delivers on timely design. Not only are the sleek lines and nostalgic materials (wood and aluminum) hip again, but the available add-ons make the wagon the perfect transition from baby’s stroller to big kid’s transport. With padded seats, beverage carriers and sun-shading umbrellas, the new Radio Flyer wagons meet the needs of moms and dads while the cushier seats suit the bottoms of the post-Pamper set.     
  3. They gave families a reason to re-buy, not re-use. Finally, following a trend set by many entrenched brands looking to re-establish their relevance, Radio Flyer went the custom route. Sure, you might have an old red wagon in your garage. But now you can get one made to order, with your child’s name on it. You can pick your own design, making the old fashioned four-wheeler fit whatever your style is. And it doesn’t just stop with wagons.  Radio Flyer kept the technology of their scooters simple – and reminiscent of the scooters they’ve sold since the 1920s – but they give kids a chance to put their personal stamp on them. The Style N’ Ride brings the customization and collectability of charm bracelets to a much more active mode of play.

Of course, keeping a brand strong over time is easier said than done. But we think Radio Flyer shows that oldies can be goodies if they’re treated with the care and consideration they deserve.

Tags: research, play, parents, Sports, outside, family, kids tweens teens

Navigating the New Dad

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jun 15, 2012 @ 10:02 AM

Last year right around this time, we conducted a webinar, (click here to view) “The New Deal on Today’s Dads.”

We discussed the latest stats…Happy Father's Day

  • 290,000 children cared for by stay-at-home dads;
  • 24% of preschoolers are regularly cared for by their dads (full-time and part-time);
  • 1.7 million single dads with children under 18.

We shared five ways in which dads differ today - they are more:

  1. Involved than any cohort before them.
  2. Likely to identify with the role of fatherhood than dads of the past.
  3. Diverse than previous generations.
  4. Likely to seek out information on parenting than in the past.
  5. Likely to purchase products for the home than in the past).

Finally, we provided some “dos” and “don’ts” to help you speak to their needs and show their authentic experiences.

A year later, we wanted to take stock of what’s changed even in the short time that’s passed since we presented…

  • Dad ads have been held to a higher standard. It used to be that simply including a dad in a diaper ad would get you a lot of credit. But Huggies learned the hard way that today’s dads don’t just want to be shown, they want to be respected. When Huggies suggested that the ultimate torture test for their product was a day with dad, papas protested. As Heather Chaet suggests in a recent AdWeek article, the “doofus dad” might be doomed. Now comes the hard part – getting serious about exploring dad insights…How will you get it done?
  • Cliché’d dad humor has been deemed not so funny. James Poniewozik of Time recently wrote a column called “Daddy Issues? What’s so funny about men taking care of babies?” In it, he suggests that TV might be out of touch with the true lives of today’s dads – particularly when it comes to that modern classic joke: man with a baby carrier strapped to him. He notes the appearance of this bit in the pilots for upcoming shows Guys with Kids and Baby Daddy. It might be hard to blame them for coasting on the coattails of the Hangover (we can’t say that we ever tire of seeing Zach Galifinakis with a Baby Bjorn bound to him). But as Poniewozik suggests, this jocular jab at dads might be a bit weary. Yet all is not lost…Poniewozik gives props to the creators of Modern Family, Louie and Up All Night and upcoming Lifetime docudrama The Week The Women Went (in which the wives of blue collar workers leave their husbands for seven days while they take a realty-TV mandated vacation) for not only treating pops like people, but also introducing some fresh new father jokes. It’s not that dads aren’t funny – it’s just that dad jibes should be better.  
  • The modern dad has been mainstreamed. We noted that Pampers was already doing a great job recognizing dads through promotions and events designed to honor and inform them. But just because fatherhood is mainstreamed, it doesn’t mean all dads take the same approach. Like chic moms who fight the good fight against suburban malaise, Hipster Dad refuses to retreat into regular-ness just because he’s a dad. (Check out his interview with Honest Toddler here.) And speaking of keeping up with the times, more and more two-dad households have gotten attention in the past year. JCPenney (rising to the occasion after protests over employing Ellen DeGeneres as their spokesperson) recently ran a Father’s Day-focused ad featuring real-life same-sex couple Todd Koch and Cooper Smith playing with their children. Oprah gave Neil Patrick Harris and partner, David Burtka, a chance to let the world into a day-in-the-life of their family with an OWN special devoted just to them.
  • Moms have emerged as a newly defined market! Finally, mom marketing hasn’t fallen to the wayside in the wake of a focus on fatherhood…Instead, mom promotions have sought to identify the specific role that mom plays in many families; and working moms have become a bit more complicated. With better depictions of stay-at-home dads come more complex female characters who are both ambitious and attentive to their kids at the same time. If the rules of masculinity are changing, so are tenets of femininity.

Perhaps this Father’s Day’s gifts to dads (and moms) is a promise – we’ll take a closer look at who you are in the upcoming year. Make sure you and your brand don’t forget!

Tags: research, youth research, parents, family, dad, culture, parenting

Tough Talk on Childhood Obesity

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Feb 13, 2012 @ 09:33 AM

Recently, a group called Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta ran a series of PSAs with the goal of reaching Georgia’s parents by breaking through the clutter of anti-obesity messages (see the PSAs and the article from the Chicago Tribune on this debate). Their tagline, “Stop Sugarcoating it, Atlanta,” suggests that their aim was to shock, or at least to shake up a populace that they perceive to be apathetic about the increasing size of its children. The only problem…they succeeded.

Most of us would probably pay little attention to yet another TV spot that spewed statistics about childhood obesity and its consequences (increased levels of diabetes and asthma, just to name two oft-highlighted downsides of carrying around extra weight); but these ads not only spoke about, but also showed the emotional consequences of being overweight. The captivating commercials feature overweight kids standing in sparse settings. We can’t tell where (presumably in Georgia) they’re from, what SES category they fit into, and in most cases, whether they come from obese parents. We don’t know what type of schools they attend, or what they serve in the cafeteria. We, the viewer, are simply confronted with the outcome of a complex system of events, conditions, and choices. And, importantly, the outcome is more apparent in the eyes of these kids than in the size of their bodies.  Child Obesity

It might be easy to applaud the efforts of this group and call it a day, but as the Tribune’s Bonnie Miller Rubin suggests, the response has been far from what this non-profit group expected. Instead of receiving accolades, the group has found themselves accused of “blaming the victims.” Experts have lined up on either side of this debate: do we stigmatize children further by showing unhappy overweight children, or do we keep these real children out of it? And, to echo a concern we raised in a blog post in 2011, are we focusing kids’ attention on weight in a way that might have undesirable side effects? We want our children to want to be healthy, but what are the consequences for those kids who currently are not? My own four-year old is proud to show off knowledge gained in school about how terrible it is to eat unhealthy foods (while, just a minute later, he refuses the broccoli we offer and begs for a fruit snack). Our kids know, at increasingly young ages, that eating healthy and being overweight is “bad.” Even if the shame in obesity is more about caring for your health and less about looks (at least for the youngest kids), there’s no doubt that we’re presenting the anti-model without unpacking the complex causes of the childhood obesity epidemic.

And importantly, will these ads really work to change behavior, or at least, affect attitudes? Perhaps they will make their viewers uncomfortable, and even angry. But in the aftermath, maybe families will take stock of their habits. On the other hand, this approach could open the door for many other ads that stigmatize the children who have become obese (again, because of a host of complex factors). This campaign could, as its critics contend, convey a less-than-flattering image of overweight kids that may be hard to combat on the playground, or in the classroom. Or maybe, the seemingly authentic fears and tears of these children will make us sympathize with them. The only thing missing from these ads: some solutions that empower kids, not just expose them.

Tags: research, Social Issues, advertisment, Youth, culture, youth media

Getting Away From Setting “Good-for-you” Goals for Kids, Tweens and Teens in the New Year

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Jan 09, 2012 @ 12:23 PM

At this time of the year, gyms are packed, diets dominate the banter or morning talk shows, and advertisements attach products and services to a collective desire to re-craft ourselves…But like so many other cultural rituals, setting New Year’s Resolutions might not be a concept that can be easily applied to kids, tweens and teens.

“Resolving” to do anything that requires long-term commitment might seem like a dealbreaker for youth. But we could find countless examples of kids, tweens and teens who set goals and achieve them. One recent example: Jordan Romero’s Christmas Eve feat of climbing to the top of the seven highest peaks in the world (ending his journey in Antarctica!). Too ambitious for your ten-year old? Fret not. There is something to learn from Jordan’s story…Jordan Romero

While psychologists and educators note the importance of teaching youth to set goals (with interventions among at-risk youth often incorporating planning and goal-setting as part of a holistic “recovery” program), and both sets of experts acknowledge that this might be a practice that requires support from adults (i.e., it’s not instinctive), Jordan’s story suggests that a healthy New Year’s Resolution might be focused more on what youth are passionate about than what youth “should” do. In the early days of any new year, blog entries abound that suggest helping kids set health-oriented New Year’s resolutions…Encourage your preschoolers to put away a toy every time they play…Challenge your tween to try a veggie at every meal…Ask your teen to research one potential college once a week. And while all of these goals might be noble, and clearly worthy of mom’s and dad’s encouragement, maybe these self-help ideas are more about parental hopes than about connecting kids with great goals. It’s not just that these “to-dos” feel more flat than fun (we know that teaching kids, tweens and teens that sometimes meeting their obligations isn’t all about entertainment), but it may be demonstrating that planning is unpleasant.

As an extreme, but telling case in point, look at Jordan’s journey…He set a difficult goal, but one that he (and his family) was personally invested in. He not only thought that fulfilling his goal would be a feat, but he described a sense of passion and fulfillment that he got from the view at the top. Climbing, for him, is a lifestyle he embraces – not a chore he’s charged with. Jordan and his family have founded the “Find Your Own Everest” movement to encourage youth to set meaningful goals, but more importantly, to find that goal that matters to them.

So if you want the youth in your life to stick to a promise this year, start by sussing out their interests, not their shortcomings, and focus on helping them find what they love, not fix what’s wrong with them. Perhaps this should be the New Year’s resolution that every parent and organization embraces for 2012.  

Tags: research, Social Issues, play, outside, Youth, Teens, tweens

The Anatomy of a Youth Trend

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Sep 06, 2011 @ 01:59 PM

It’s officially September and that means youth all across the country are either settling into a school year or are just about to head to class. The back-to-school moment often marks the beginning of trend-spotting season – for youth and marketers.

 At YouthBeat, with a grounding in a syndicated study among kids, tweens, teens and parents, we’re often asked about the latest youth and family trends. But the work of trend spotting is complicated when it comes to youth, so we thought we would both explore some of the central questions surrounding this issue, and, of course, offer some answers.

What’s the timeframe for a trend? Futurists, cool hunters, business strategists and scholars often debate this issue…Many contend that a trend represents a happening that occurs over a long stretch of time – 10 years. Some see trends as obsolete after just a few months (or weeks!). For youth, the matter is more complex because trends are often cyclical. We recently reported on a resurgence of interest in pirates among youth of all ages…Is this a “trend,” or is it an evergreen with a contemporary makeover? We’ve often heard that by the time kids are talking about a trend, it’s on its way out. But if this is true, than who tells us about youth trends? Playing on our YouthBeat thematic, we have coined our own version of trends as “vibes.” We focus on the big shifts in culture, the underlying drivers of behavior across many aspects of youth’s lives and the meaning behind what they buy in a variety of categories. But through this lens, some of the most interesting and inspiring “fads” (another term that adds to the semantics surrounding trends) get lost in the shuffle. Bieber Fever isn’t a “vibe,” but it’s telling…the question is “what is it saying?”Youth Trends

Who determines youth trends? This question might apply to adults as well…Can we really look at early adopters to help us predict the future habits of the majority? Are the phenomenon that have taken hold in other cultures really good gauges for the next big thing in the States? For youth trends, the question of authority is even more issue-laden. Do we rely on informed adults to tell us about the trends? Afterall, much of the “stuff” of youth trends, including products, music, fashion, etc. are at least financed if not created by adults. Youth may determine which adult ideas to seize, but they don’t always think about what’s next. In our own YouthBeat Time Capsule qualitative exercise (an ongoing initiative that results in Time Capsule TV videos available to YouthBeat subscribers), we often see that youth identify familiar properties like Harry Potter or ubiquitous brands like Apple as “new.” If we rely on them to tell us what’s next, we’re not likely to get very far. At the same time, adults tends to focus more on what might be right for the market, or where an undiscovered technology could take a category. We think, to truly predict a trend, you have to marry the sensibilities of youth with stimulus from forward-looking adults. 

And what evidence do we need to name a trend? The answer to this certainly varies depending on your need for trends, but also on how you use them. Do trends require quantitative support or can something that feels “sticky” constitute a trend-in-the-making? Can ten teens in New York City really have their thumb on the pulse of the zeitgeist enough to predict what will catch on in Kansas? And if we ask parents or kids what movements or shifts they’re experiencing, will we really get answers that underline trends, or will we just get a catalog of current behaviors and truths? Furthermore, can a trend be proven by citing an article in the Journal or the New York Times, by referencing buzz on a blog or on Facebook, or by noting a playground practice seen or heard in your local community?

With all of these questions, it may seem that identifying youth trends isn’t worth the trouble. But we know that understanding what’s next matters to anyone who is trying to keep up with the youngest audiences and users of programs and products. So here are a few simple rules we use – and will use in a series of upcoming blogs that will attempt to cut through the fog around fads!

  1. It’s always about the “why.” Trends can be a trap for many marketers and makers of experiences who focus more on the content than on the drivers of content appeal. The happening or the product or the song that signals a trend is over once it happens, but the forces that made it rise to the top of youth’s mind or to its own category are probably not. This means that finding the newest thing isn’t nearly as relevant as knowing the new reasons why something has come back.
  2. Getting “big” usually means getting more than one thing right. It’s easy to look at a trend or a craze and point to one factor that made it pop. But most tap into numerous themes – timeless and timely – all at one time. Kids might be younger, but their relationship to the culture they care about is not. Just because Silly Bandz worked for kids doesn’t mean that a knock-off will work just as well. Twilight might be popular, but vampires aren’t a surefire formula to attract tween girls. Analyzing trends and fads requires a deep look at all of the aspects of a thing, and importantly, how they all fit together.
  3. Finally, finding trends requires flexibility. If there was a formulaic approach to identifying the new dish, someone would have revealed it by now. It’s easy to claim that there’s a transparent approach to finding trends, or that it’s just a matter of hard work. But the truth is that trends can reveal themselves in multiple ways…It may be a matter of noticing that many different kinds of people are talking about the same thing…That a number of popular products or items pull on a common thread…That something from somewhere else (another market, a niche group) looks to be the missing puzzle piece that the mainstream is seeking… In any case, trendspotting is more art than science and that means committing to openness more than a pre-determined process.

Stay tuned for our next post on one “trend” we’ve caught cropping up in a few places, “Posh Play Spaces.”

Tags: research, kids, Twilight, Youth, Teens, culture, research methods, tweens, Silly Bandz

The debate over learning – and teaching – for today’s youth

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Aug 09, 2011 @ 10:55 AM

Don Tapscott, a self-described “digital revolution expert,” writer, educator and business consultant has spent more than a little bit of time and money exploring how this generation learns, and importantly, how they should be taught. While his research has focused on higher education, his claims and his studies hold implications for kids, tweens, and teens and how they receive and process information across multiple contexts.

In his latest book, Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World (2010), he suggests that the way we teach today’s youth is misaligned with how their brains are wired. Specifically, he describes the classic university lecture model (and let’s face it – the oft used research presentation model) as applying 17th century technology and philosophy to a 21st century student-base. Expanding on an idea that served as the centerpiece of his 2006 work, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, (which along with his latest work, was co-authored by Anthony D. Williams), he describes today’s students as being cognitively oriented towards collaborative learning versus “being broadcast to” based on their life-long experience “making, changing and learning from digital communities” (listen to an interview in which he describes this shift, in depth, on the website for NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.”

Tapscott has investigated this theory in numerous studies (one which he priced at $4.5 million and included a sample of 11,000 youth!)…But perhaps what was more interesting about his theory, which seems to hold some water, is the strong reactions it garnered from callers into the above-mentioned radio show on which he was a guest.

First, a professor (who revealed his age to be a young 31) vehemently disagreed with Tapscott’s assertion that we need to change classroom approaches to adapt to today’s students’ learning styles. Using his own college students as evidence, he claimed that this generation was more entitled, more self-absorbed and more isolated and isolating than they should be. He described students who protested assignments that involved reading over 30 pages, and cited numerous examples of students bypassing class, only to search a topic on Wikipedia, where they can find questionable but convenient information in sound-byte chunks. Rather than catering to these tendencies, this professor asked educators to continue to push and challenge students to engage in “real learning,” even if it meant sitting and listening or reading a book.Teen at computer

Tapscott has heard this rebuttal before. He countered with a compelling story of one student who he met who claimed that he didn’t “read books.” Upon getting to know him better, Tapscott found that the student had a 4.0 GPA. He had friends and was president of his school’s student body. His girlfriend was from New Orleans, and when Katrina hit, they went to her home and set up a health clinic (based on information and know-how they gained from networking – virtually and with people they met through social networks. They became immersed in understanding how to provide affordable healthcare to a population in need. The clinic continues to serve 9,000 patients per year. 

But can you get a job without reading books? Well, it might be too soon to know. This guy followed up his college experience at Oxford, where he went for free. He received something called a Rhodes scholarship.

To be fair, we have straddled this issue. Anyone who reads our blog, or knows us, knows that we see few youth trends as signs of a doomed generation. We explore – and are fascinated by – change as part of our trade. But some of us (this former English-major writer included) still revel in reading the old-fashioned way, and really hopes our children find reading to be one of life’s great joys. While I’m confessing, I also like lectures – which makes me an overly eager and enthusiastic Ph.D. student – I apologize to my peers. But I think Tapscott’s point is not to suggest that paper is going away or that listening to an expert isn’t important. He champions dialogue and connection. He pushes for experiences that engage students in hands-on learning, not passive receiving (giving an interesting example of how Boomers grew up being broadcast to by the television, in contrast with this generation who expects to log-on and customize and even co-create content to make it work for them). Finally, he promotes the idea that today’s youth have ideas to give, not just information to learn. This makes sense to us (and it’s in line with the 21st Century learning initiative, which most educators have embraced as the new way students should be learning today).

This debate might have started with questioning the college classroom, but we think it has implications for anyone creating programs and sending messages to today’s youth. First, make sure you’re bringing them into a dialogue – not merely dictating to them. Second, recognize that they relate to authority different than in the past. It’s not about rejection, but it might mean that you need to partner more than posture, and allow for multiple ways of being right. Finally, don’t underestimate their desire to connect. This is far from an isolated generation – this is a group eager to build and engage in community, and to make a difference in the places where they live and play.

Tags: research, Social Issues, kids, parents, Youth, school

Teen Shopping: Insights from the Shopper Insights Conference

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Jul 19, 2011 @ 12:21 PM

Last week C+R’s Mary McIlrath and Darren Breese took our shopper insights on the road at the Shopper Insights in Action conference to bring the latest on teens and shopping to an audience of marketers, retail experts and researchers. For C+R, this was the perfect opportunity to showcase, and to bring together, two of our areas of expertise: deep youth understanding and insights into the shopping habits of today’s consumers.

This presentation showcased a research method that has received much talk in the industry – using apps to get in-the-moment information and insight from respondents. In partnership with Revelations, our team conducted a Digital Shopping Immersion, in which we were able to accompany 30 teens, armed with smartphones, while they shopped. Without a researcher infringing on their space, we were able to see what they bought, what they considered, and what made this retailer the right choice for the item. In addition, we brought YouthBeat data on teen shopping habits and teen technology usage to the table, allowing us to validate our qualitative findings among a much larger sample.  And finally, we tapped into our YouthBeat qualitative panel, comprised of families from across the country, to gain additional documentary footage of teens’ favorite sites for shopping, their prized purchases and their ideal retail experiences.

In case you missed it, we thought we would share our top five insights on teens and shopping:

  1. Today’s teens spend but don’t splurge. At YouthBeat, we estimate teens’ collective net worth at just over $8 billion – so it’s no surprise that this group spends! But economic concerns have not escaped their radar. In fact, the issue that teens express most concern over right now (and for the past two years) is the economy, followed closely by “joblessness.” It makes sense that this cohort has grown up with more sensitivity towards sales, and more common sense when it comes to how they spend. When we asked their parents how the economy has affected their teens, we see that teens continue to shop, but they’re more cautious with their cash than in previous years:Teen SHopping
  2. Shopping is more social than ever. For teens, buying has always been just a part of the shopping puzzle. From mall crawls to vintage store scavenger hunts, teens have always approached shopping as a social scene. Today’s teens continue to see shopping as social – noting that their friends influence their purchases more than most other sources. But today’s teens have other ways to make shopping social. They can share potential picks via Facebook, and they can text their friends with advice on what to try-on. But one word of caution – social networks play a more limited role in shopping than we might think, even among today’s networked teens. They rarely “like” brands, and while they may look for deals on social networks, they’re unlikely to put products ahead of gossip when prioritizing their online time.
  3. Online shopping helps teens browse, then buy.  Many retailers measure the success of their ecommerce sites buy the amount of items in the shopping cart. This might be a bad move if your customer is a 14 to 18 year old! While our YouthBeat data shows that over half have shopped online in the past month, they’re more likely to be browsing than buying. Between not having the means (i.e., an accessible credit card or gift card) and preferring the experiential aspects of shopping, teens are more likely to use retailer websites to comparison shop, and to pre-select items from among their favorite stores. They also look for customer reviews to help them sort through what really fits, what works, and what’s worth a dip into their savings. If they can find the right product, without spending a lot on shipping, they may be willing to ask mom or dad for their account number. But for the most part, retailers should focus on making websites fun and functional for teen browsing. As a bonus, build in sharing features that let them turn virtual  “window” shopping into a chance to spread the word to their friends.
  4. The ideal shopping experience entertains and informs. Because shopping is often a form of entertainment for teens, make sure your retail environments are up to snuff. Provide well-stocked shelves that allow for a constant refreshing of inventory. Teens love to visit stores to see what’s new – and if you’re not offering them something new, they’re less likely to stop by for a visit. Teens’ ultimate shopping experiences let them touch and feel the merchandise without feeling like they’re being watched. Walmart learned this lesson, letting teens play games in store, making them an likely favorite among teens’ list of top shops. Finally, great shopping environments give teens a chance to participate, so provide low-cost items that allow everyone to walk away with something when they’re shopping en masse.
  5. Fast fashion and instant gratification trumps the need for luxury. From Forever 21 to Target, today’s teens are willing to sacrifice a luxury brand for fashion that they can afford. Cheaper fashion items not only get them in the game, but they make them feel less guilty when they’re ready to update their looks (which even less trend-savvy teens do on a regular basis). In contrast to a few years ago, when teens were carrying expensive purses and donning pricey athletic shoes, today’s teens are willing to go a bit lower if it means making their money stretch further. And this applies to technology as well – teens sometimes get overwhelmed by too many features, so make sure you make the shopping process simple. When teens feel smart, they extend that halo to your brand (i.e., if they feel smart, you look smart).

    So what’s a teen retailer to do?

    1. Give them options as a range of price points – and always help them feel like they got a great price.
    2. Focus on making the shopping experience social, but only use social networks when it makes sense.
    3. Use websites as tools for research, but also as ways to tempt teens into your store, where the sale will really happen.
    4. Put the goods in their hands…Let them touch and feel and always make them comfortable when they’re browsing.
    Give them items that don’t require intense investment, and provide them with opportunities to experiment with their look and their style when they’re in store.

    Tags: research, Youth, Teens, shopping

    The State of Youth Summer Reading

    Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jul 06, 2011 @ 10:16 AM

    For many youth, summer is synonymous with swimming, summer camp and slacking off. But summer has also traditionally been a time when kids lounge around with a good book.

    Many may ask, does this generation still care about reading?Youth Summer Reading

    While youth may be more likely to fulfill their daily word count on a screen, today’s kids, tweens and teens acknowledge that reading matters. Not all kids have been bitten by the bookworm, but many still revel in getting the latest edition of their favorite series, and some of the most recent pop culture icons of the last decade have come, first, from books that the 6-18 set learned to love. Harry Potter and Twilight’s latest movie installments may have temporarily taken youth’s focus off of these properties’ pages, but there’s no questions that youth have made these tomes their generation’s own.

    So what’s the state of summer reading right now?

    First, we know that storefronts (virtual and actual) have replaced the local library in many communities when it comes to curating the tastes of summer readers. Moms and dads are as likely, if not more, to look to Amazon.com for ideas on what the young readers (enthusiastic and reluctant alike) might absorb on the beach or in the late summer light of their bedrooms this season. Book clubs have become commercial, with the reward of reading a set number yielding a free book at Barnes and Noble – not the potential to win a trophy for reading the most books in your town, or more modestly, a sticker and the approving smile of your librarian for meeting a literary quota.

    Second, we know that more and more youth have hefty homework assignments over the summer. Teens take home Spanish primers, history assignments and math packets, along with reading lists that require reports and other forms of comprehension proof. Younger and younger, youth find that their summer selections are not their own, and teachers’ picks might not provide youth with the energizing effects they desire.


    Finally, we know that more and more youth are taking hold of Kindles over crinkled pages, and Nooks over traditional novels. But it’s unlikely that paper will fade away for a while. The numbers are worth considering, but they’re still small. And with more youth titles being made available as downloads, we expect that more adults will buy these digital books to promote a love of reading in their homes.

    It might be easy to assume that reading today is more commercial, obligatory and digitally disconnected from the past. And it might lead us to ask, is that such a bad thing? We can wax on poetic about the way summer reading used to look, but reading today looks like many other aspects of youth’s lives…It’s on demand. It’s an act of leisure that has been loaded with educational expectations (remember when TV was just entertainment?). And it’s in formats that are native to this cohort of kids, tweens and teens. We can continue to look for signs from the past that our kids and the kids in our lives are learning to love books, but to truly give them the credit they deserve, we may need to look (and listen) a bit differently than in the past.

    Tags: research, book, Youth, school

    Teens take off for the summer– whether they like it or not…

    Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jun 22, 2011 @ 12:53 PM

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, teens are in trouble if they’re hoping to work this summer. Compared to the unemployment rate of 9.1% for adults (as of May, 2011), the unemployment rate for 16-19 year olds was 24.2%. African-American/Black youth face even higher hurdles, with their unemployment rate outpacing that of their peers by a rate of 2 to 1 (40.7%). 

    Although our own YouthBeat numbers showed slight declines in summer employment for teens in 2009 and 2010, these numbers seem to haveTeen Job Market Research been propped up by stimulus funding focused on subsidizing jobs at non-profits and government organizations that were geared towards teens (in part). With that funding expiring, more teens are facing the heat this summer without the relief of a job to call their own.

    With workers age 55 and over remaining in the workforce, coupled with a shortage of manufacturing jobs, service jobs have become more competitive contributing to a tough tow for teens who want to work.

    And what does this mean? For the many youth in the U.S. who aren’t working only for weekend spending money, but who are expected to contribute to household expenses, teen unemployment is not to be taken lightly. Their inability to secure summer income can mean adding insult to injury for families who are already suffering from adult employment setbacks. For other youth, academic enrichment programs or camps will fill the time that would otherwise be spent at work, but even for these youth, foregoing a summer job might have long-lasting effects. It takes away youth’s opportunity to gain the kind of basic professional skills that they’ll need when they become full-time employees. It means, for many, taking out additional loans for college to cover those incidental expenses that summer funds might have previously taken care of. And for others, it means a long stretch of time without much planned productivity.     

    One possible positive? Many youth claim to be returning to the non-profits where they were previously paid to simply volunteer. With volunteer numbers – especially for boys – starting to decline, this might remind youth that worthwhile experiences don’t always come at a cost. And sometimes paybacks come in forms other than funds.

    Tags: research, Teens, jobs