Marketing to teenagers

Did you know that there are 32 million teens in the U.S. who spend an average of $100 per week?

That means teens have a weekly buying power of 3.2 billion dollars. A report on NBC4.com says teen spending has increased 60 percent in the past five years. You can see how it is necessary for the retail and restaurant markets to take this demographic segment seriously.

In an article published on rprogress.org, James McNeal, the nation's leading researcher on marketing that targets children, reported that children ages two to 14 directly influenced parental spending of $188 billion in 1997 and indirectly influenced $300 billion more. If you have kids, how many times have they persuaded you to go to McDonald's for a Happy Meal when you really wanted to go somewhere else?

Michael Wood, vice president of Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU), says the number one thing teens (ages 12 to 19) spend their money on is clothes, but food follows right behind that and pizza is at the top of their list. He says that price is a factor and they want to get the most for the cheapest price. "Restaurants & Institutions Magazine" (R&I) quoted a representative for an independently owned Discovery Zone in Niles, Illinois, as saying that, "(kids') overall average check is about $5 for an entire meal, but teens on a Friday night spend more on drinks than they do on food."

How to market to teens

So how can you turn this information into pizza sales? In the R&I article, "Tackling Teens" by Susie Stephenson, Susie states that those who have studied teen spending habits note some basic principals critical to the success of marketing to this group. They include: 1) Talking to them, 2) Giving them a stake and 3) Creating programs specifically for them.

Talk to them.

Trying to incorporate teen lingo into marketing can be like tap dancing in a minefield. Michael with TRU says the bottom line is not to do it. "We have ALWAYS advised clients to stay away from using teen language for a number of reasons," Michael says. "First of all, it's very regional and certain words mean different things depending on what teens are using those words and where they live. Also, language moves "in and out" very quickly, so by the time you incorporate a "cool" word in your marketing or advertising, chances are it's completely out and will have a negative impact on your image. And finally, teens see right through a company's attempts to speak their language."

Julie Hildebrand, spokeswoman with Pizza Hut, says that to create a product that works with teens, Pizza Hut gets them involved at the creative level. They use teens in study groups, which they refer to as a "sauce panel", to help create pizzas that teens will buy. Their group consists of teens and some in their early twenties. They have an open dialog about products and what's going on in their lives. The latest result of this method is the P'zone.

"The P'zone was a direct result of our sauce panel," Julie says. "They didn't like the ricotta cheese, but preferred mozzarella. They didn't like the crust of the calzone either. We created a calzone-like product using mozzarella and a softer crust and what we got was the P'zone. Our soft group even came up with the name. We also found that price matters, but so does the way you present the product."

Give them a stake.

One of the things teens like most is having something to call their own. They like to be recognized and offered special treatment. Who doesn't like to be a VIP or ride First Class? As mentioned, talk to them, ask what they want and for their advice and use this feedback to create discount cards, teen clubs or special frequent buyer clubs specifically for them. Be sure your marketing doesn't alienate one particular group of teens. Teens who are 19 are struggling to identify themselves as young adults and don't want to be identified and thrown in the same group with those who are 13.

Create programs specifically for them.

Create a teen time. During the school year, teens have several 'social events' in which they can attend. There are sporting events, school dances and other occasions where they can gather, but in the summer teens start 'hanging out.' Michael with TRU says that one thing that can be very effective in marketing to teens is to give them a place to go.

Dedicate a specific night and time when they can come in to your restaurant. Play their music and offer a special buffet for them. Pick a night when business is normally slow or maybe after normal dine in hours. Here's a suggestion: If you normally close the dine in section at 10 on a Friday night, offer a buffet for teens at a special rate from 10 p.m. until midnight and play their music and maybe move a few tables to give them a place to dance. It would be a safe place for teens to gather and give them something to do. This can be especially appealing in small towns where the biggest complaint from teens is, "There's nothing to do in this town."

Mike Garibaldi, owner of three Garibaldi's Pizza locations in Memphis, Tennessee, says you may not want to be a hangout, but you do want to be on teens' lists of places to go. Mike says that people aged 12 to 22 make up over 50 percent of his customer base. "We try to have a nice place and one that is geared towards them," Mike says. "You have to reach out to them in the places where they normally gather – churches, schools, athletic and social events. Our store managers must be in tune with the teens and in their area and establish a presence in the places they already go. We strive to hire a popular teen from each of the nearby high schools. Like everything associated with teens, marketing can be very simple or very complicated. You must not think like a businessman, but a cool, impulsive, trendy, in-crowd teenager. We try to get our managers to work with their concessions and we have found that the best time to make contact is at the beginning of the school year. It's also good timing for the athletic events."

Teens like to win.

Michael Wood with TRU suggests that another way to attract teens is through promotions where they can win stuff. "Teens like the idea of winning, but they are skeptical of big prizes because they don't think they can win. Scratch and win cards work well with them because teens like instant gratification. Taco Bell and McDonald's have been very successful with these types of promotions, but teens don't like to collect pieces, such as with the Monopoly promotion McDonald's did."

Michael says that prizes of pizza and drinks are great, but there are other prizes you can offer, too. These prizes should be things they are in to. Some of these are clothes, music and video games. Michael says kids are in to clothing trends and some that are hot right now are the smaller niche brands and skater brands. One thing may be to offer a $10 or $20 shopping spree at a local trendy clothing store. He also says that kids are big in to video games such as the XBOX, Playstation 2 and Nintendo games. Free games and attachments would be good prizes as well as popular music CDs. "Don't be afraid to take a risk to capture this segment," Michael says. "Partner with other businesses who cater to teen trends and get involved with the schools."

Become a destination.

Like Mike Garibaldi said, you may not want to be a hangout, but you do want to be on the list of places kids like to go. Chet and Matt Leser, owners of Chet and Matt's Pizza in Sandusky, Ohio, have found a way to become a destination. Their pizzeria is geared towards families, sports and kids. It all started by placing a few pieces of local high school sports memorabilia around the restaurant. The project got out of hand and now high school sports buffs and athletes come flocking to the restaurant.

"We have football helmets that come in from all across the state," Chet says. "We have state championship pennants, flags, helmets – there's no school that feels they aren't represented here. I do a lot of table hopping and run across a lot of high school athletes. I razz them and challenge them to basketball games on a court we have behind our restaurant. It's gotten to the point where kids come in here looking for me. They must think it's a good thing to say on their resume that they beat Chet. We have staged some things where good athletes come in and have photos taken with me out there. All of these kids come in here to see if they have something representing their school here. If not, they usually bring something in later."

College students.

Much like younger teens, college teens, those between 18 and 20, are usually on a budget that is allotted to them by their parents. Most haven't learned too much about the culinary arts and live off of fast food. Domino's Pizza franchisee Freddie Wehbe is located in Gainesville, Florida, home of the University of Florida. His store does about $40,000 a week, much of which he credits to the students there. Here are some of the dos and don'ts he has about marketing to this group.

The dos and don'ts.

Freddie has learned in his seven years in Gainesville that it is best to market to freshmen and sophomores. He says in Florida, for about $75, he can get a mailing list from the university for all new freshmen and he mails them gift certificates. He says that he has noticed that new college students order a lot of small pizzas for one person. He also recommends getting involved with student activities to establish your business with the new students as well as those who have been there a couple of years.

" I am on campus about three times a week on behalf of student organizations," Freddie says. "I give away between 60 and 100 pizzas. This helps the organization and they remember that. The organizations also promote the event and it gets my name out there. I sponsor about 87 organizations."

Freddie says that he has also noticed that college students don't use a lot of coupons, but they do use the gift certificates. They normally order just one topping and don't purchase a lot of soda or order as many large pies. When it comes to marketing to this group, Freddie says, "Learn their habits before you spend money on advertising to them."

Teens grow up to be the boomers of tomorrow. Pepsi has branded itself "The Choice of a New Generation" and uses pop stars that kids relate to. If people are creatures of habit and stick with one brand for most of their lives, you can see why Pepsi wants this segment of soda drinkers. Brand yourself with kids now and it could make customers for life.