Reaching Today’s Digital Natives

The Key is Being Where They Are

Yes, it’s true. Your perception of teenagers being on mobile devices all the time is pretty much reality. Recent research provided by eMarketer revealed that among teens in 9th through 12th grade, 89 percent have personal access to a smartphone, 66 percent to a laptop and 50 percent to a tablet. And the time they spend on these devices is astonishing. More than 65 percent of teens ages 16-18 spend ten or more hours per week on the Internet alone – this excludes texting, apps and email. So it’s no surprise that you need to be where these teens are in order to capture their attention.

People routinely refer to today’s kids as digital natives. This is true, but it’s only part of the story. Equally important is the fact most kids live in households that already are digital. (eMarketer estimates 94.8 percent of moms will be Internet users this year.) Growing up with parents who are veteran users of the Internet and connected devices, kids are encountering digital activity as a normal part of family life.

When millennials were children, digital usage was often a dividing line between them and their parents. Now it’s common ground. “We see kids as young as 18 months really connecting with their parents using tablets or going online or sharing games or video,” said Donna Sabino, senior vice president of Kids & Family Insights at Ipsos MediaCT. “It’s just a part of their ecosystem.”

The balance of non-digital and digital activity is in flux, though, with the latter on the upswing. Digital games such as Candy Crush provide a slew of opportunities for parents and kids to play together (or separately) and gaming networks provide a great opportunity for marketers to connect with this coveted audience.

And the use of social network usage by teens has also given marketers the opportunity to engage with teens on their terms. But content has to be authentic and transparent in order to make an impact with this often skeptical group.

Teen television viewing habits are changing, too. Five years ago, the top places for kids to get programming were the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. YouTube and Netflix were way down the list.  Today, Netflix is number one with YouTube a close second…Disney Channel and Nickelodeon are now down the list.  Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime are growing rapidly and developing original content that isn’t found on broadcast and cable networks so teens are flocking to these sites.

Another way marketers are engaging with teens is with online radio. While traditional AM/FM radio is still quite popular, Pandora, Spotify and other free subscription-based Internet radio services are quickly gaining steam, especially among younger listeners.

“Driven by mobility and connectivity, music-streaming services are rapidly growing their share of the music listening experience for teens and young adults, at the expense of traditional music listening methods,” Russ Crupnick, senior vice president of industry analysis at NPD.

Lastly, in today’s age of 140 characters and Instagram pictures, kids and teens have extremely short attention spans. Long sentences, lengthy explanations and blocks of copy will not communicate your message in a way that’s easily processed. Pictures, graphic examples and short sentences are essential to get their interest.

With the speed of technology changing, it’s more important than ever for brands to stay in touch with how teens are engaging online. Just observe teens wherever you are and ask them what’s important online. I’m sure they’ll gladly share their opinions.


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