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The Teenage Girl as Consumer and Communicator


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Euro RSCG Worldwide PR’s white paper analyzes data from a survey the agency commissioned of 100 girls between the ages of 13 and 18 about their spending and communications habits. The research reveals that the teenage girl contradicts almost all cultural stereotypes in those areas. But the core finding of the white paper is more sociological than statistical. Tearing down another false platitude about teenage girls, the paper proves that a sense of intimacy with a select group of friends and family drives almost all their social interaction—including shopping, which the study characterizes as a core social activity for teenage girls. The findings are helping to launch a new Euro PR initiative. Eventually focusing on teen boys and girls, the first phase is called The Sisterhood.

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The Teenage Girl as Consumer and Communicator

  1. 1. SPRING 2010
  2. 2. o RSCG municate, Eur spend, soci alize and com entative how teen girls om and repres tt er unders tand ialo gue to a rand entsSeeking to be ey by MicroD hite paper pres commis sioned a surv ng Novembe r 2009. This w ss worldsWorldwide PR 13 to 18 duri ns and busine teen age girls aged of today’s communicatiosample of 100 in the context The objective is to y st udy’s findings and other digital media. d socialize the proprietar ated by social ume media an easingly domin d money, cons as they are in cr age girls spen American teen present a pi cture of how sights from d family. is data and in with friends an ter 2010 analysis of th ide With the Win RSCG Worldw in hand, Euro ss the country . This agency within teen girls acro ood this spring The Sisterh tools and a de dicated PR will launch and marketing l offer PR agers, or an agency wil influence teen help bran ds sell to and s and blog that will anges of idea m ulti-way exch e trialogue— which matter now at least join th s and brands, g consumer opinions amon ayers. as authentic pl mor e than ever—
  3. 3. INTRODUCTIONAs the Great Recession grinds on, marketers and retailers Euro RSCG Worldwide PR’s focus on teen girls, includingare pressed to find markets populated with willing-to-spend the November study and this white paper, endeavors toconsumers. American teenage girls have emerged as one answer such questions by better understanding thesuch market, a demographic heavily motivated by trends1 American teenage girl consumer.that wields almost totally discretionary income. The U.S.Census Bureau reports that the average teen has $2,634 of In addition to their purchasing power, this demographic isannual income from allowance, part-time work and gifts. also a crucial one because of their engagement with socialThat’s in addition to the $5,496 of parental money an media. Teenage girls have been shaped by social media and,average teen spends each year. All that amounts to more in turn, are shaping its development, particularly at thethan $216.3 billion in yearly purchasing power for teen synapse points where social media interfaces with shopping.girls and boys combined.2 Since their generation is arguably the first fully wired one, their habits will determine how relevant markets develop.These numbers are eye-opening. Teens’ ability to affect abrand’s bottom line is considerable. But among teens, the Euro RSCG Worldwide’s November 2009 study of socialspending habits of girls are drastically different from those media revealed that people have come to accept social mediaof boys, with girls a more dynamic consumer demographic. as not just a part of social life but also an enhancement of it. Tools such as smartphones, SMS, instant messaging,A 2008 market study found, for example, Twitter and Facebook are no longer usedthat both year-over-year (2007 to 2008) simply as stand-alone services or devices butand sequential spending by boys dropped form a social web that is changing howby 3 percent, whereas spending by girls people think, behave, socialize,was up 6 percent from 2007 but communicate and—of course—spend.down 7 percent sequentially.3 Thisdiscrepancy indicates that when it Today’s teenagers, part of the firstcomes to spending, girls’ peaks generation of people who have neverare higher and their troughs experienced communication in alower; they are inclined to ride world without the Internet, arethe high tide and mellow in the self-taught masters of socialebb of the changing economy. technology and can seamlessly weave this social media web intoDoes this reflect sensitivity to the their lives. They include what theymarket? An ability to restrain and want and need, and ignore, blockmoderate spending when times or disable what they don’ for it? A social equilibrium Teenage girls are among themore given to reaching a tipping most widely affected and involvedpoint than that of boys? of today’s social media users.
  4. 4. TEEN GIRLS SEARCH AND SPEND TOPICALLYThe conventional wisdom is that teens spend countless hours lost online, trollinghaphazardly through fields of digital content, often of potentially dubious moral oreducational value. This image of teen media consumption coincides with the popularnotion of trend-addicted teen girls flocking to the latest fad, on or in themall, and snapping up goods in a frenzy.The sober reality is that while teens certainly consume a lot of digital media, they do so ina purposeful and targeted way, spending a relatively modest amount of their time online.In fact, according to Nielsen, teens spend an average of 11 hours and 32 minutes permonth online, well below the average for U.S. adults of 29 hours and 15 minutes.4 The widespread ownership of mobile platforms such as iPods and iPhones allows teens to dip in and out of media repeatedly through the day, including while they’re on the move. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study of 8- to 18-year-olds released in January 2010, 20 percent of their media consumption occurs on mobile devices, such as cell phones, iPods or hand-held video game players.5 Our data shows that teenage girls do not indiscriminately consume media and shop. A full 71 percent of respondents to the Euro RSCG Worldwide PR survey report that when they go online, they know what they’re looking for. And what is that? Friendship and a space to conduct their social relationships. 4
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  6. 6. AVERAGE NUMBER OF MONTHLY PHONE CALLS AND TEXTSU.S. MOBILE TEENS 13-173,500 28993,0002,500 2272 19592,000 1742 15141,500 1051 857 9041,000 435 500 286 280 240 238 231 239 203 191 0 255 Qtr 1 Qtr 2 Qtr 3 Qtr 4 Qtr 1 Qtr 2 Qtr 3 Qtr 4 Qtr 1 2007 2007 2007 2007 2008 2008 2008 2008 2009 Number of Calls Sent/Received Number of Billed SMS Sent/Received SOURCE: The Nielsen Co. For teenage girls, social media and social relationships reinforce each other—almost 8 in 10 use social media to keep in touch with friends. Three-quarters say they are in “constant contact” with friends via text (Nielsen reports that teens send a daily average of 96 text messages), Facebook, iChat, AIM or other social media sites or services. The goings-on at school or among their friends dominate these communications. More than half (51 percent) say they use social networking sites to keep up with school gossip, while 54 percent fear missing out on important gossip or social events if they are not in “constant communication” with friends. “Constant communication,” however, does not mean teenage girls are permanently online; they dip in and out. They surf the Web and use social media with a high degree of focus, making quick checks of Facebook, sending lightning-fast IM chats and posting short messages across online social media platforms. They search rather than browse and actively communicate rather than passively consume. For teenage girls, social media enables social relationships, which are conducted, to a significant extent, through the tools of social media. 6
  7. 7. TEEN GIRLS HUNT FOR WHAT THEY WANT The shopping behavior of teenage girls can be compared with the hunting strategies of birds of prey, which soar high above the land to spot exactly what they want. They’re keen-eyed and patient, willing to wait until they see the right item at the right price. Then they swoop. They know the parameters of what they want: brand and price. With their budgets limited to the takings of part-time jobs and allowances, teenage girls look for sales, with 61 percent saying they tend to wait for items to go on sale before buying them. In addition, 77 percent say they are more likely to buy on sale than at full price. But, importantly, low price alone is not the primary consideration. Almost two-thirds say that if they can find a good brand at a fair price, they tend to justify costly purchases. And catching a preferred brand—they are very loyal to their favorites—at a discount retailer provides a sense of enjoyment to 7 out of 10 teen girls.7
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  9. 9. When it comes to interfacing with a brand about sales and special offers, teen girls prefer to be the active seeker rather than passive recipient. They show a clear preference for approaching a brand to find out about sales and special promotions versus having the brand approach them. Thirty-seven percent say they sign up for e-mail incentives and discounts from their favorite brands, while 28 percent “browse the Web and subscribe to newsletters” for coupons and sale updates. Only 19 percent like to become fans of their favorite brands on Facebook; about three times as many (56 percent) don’t do so. Teen girl shoppers have clear ideas about what they want and what it feels like in their hands. They know how to find what they want and prefer to actively seek it out by approaching brands, not the other way around. And they’re willing to seek out their preferences at the right price.9
  10. 10. TEEN GIRLS SOCIALIZE IN GROUPS, NOT FLOCKSWhen they find a good deal, teen girls want to share it—butthey’re more interested in tipping off a friend than inbroadcasting the information. Almost two-thirds of girls (65percent) say that when their favorite brand or store has a sale,they tell their best friend or sister; 57 percent say that when theyfind out about a new brand or trend, they share it with a bestfriend or sister. The means by which girls tend to share this information is key. Just 5 percent use Facebook and 5 percent use IM; factoring in e-mail and Twitter, only a quarter of teen girls turn to social or online media to spread the word about shopping and sales. The overwhelming majority relies on a much more traditional method of communication: word-of-mouth. 10
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  12. 12. Nearly half the girls we surveyed pass along this information by text message, and 28 percent do so by phone, which means that close to 8 out of 10 use a one-on-one form of communication to spread news about shopping and discounts. With girls using SMS, phone and social media to roughly the same extent when it comes to telling their friends or sisters about other important topics—fashion and style, entertainment and even social events—it’s clear that teen girls operate in segmented social networks.TEEN CELL-PHONE OWNERSHIP 100 90 80 75% 71% 71% 70 63% 60 45% 50 40 30 20 10 0 Nov. Nov. Nov. Feb. Sep. 2004 2006 2007 2008 2009 % of teens 12-17 who own cell phones SOURCE: The Pew Foundation While the average teen girl might have more than 100 friends on Facebook, she focuses on sharing key information with the one or two people closest to her. 12
  13. 13. INTIMACY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR This approach to communication and sharing bespeaks a culture of intimacy in which important things are communicated only to important people. When it comes to topics that play a role in their daily life, teen girls prefer to talk to a select few rather than to a mass of people, and they would rather be in on a conversation than be part of a big group of onlookers. They don’t broadcast information on Twitter or even Facebook. They almost adamantly prefer to both receive and disseminate information by conversing with very close friends. Thinking of a teen girl’s intimate circle as exclusionary, however, misses the point. Rather, the small group formed by two or three girls who think of each other as sisters allows each to have her say and ensures that each will be heard. Individual identity is not lost, as it can be in larger groups; on the contrary, it gets highlighted. This intimate group interaction, key to all aspects of a teenage girl’s life, is better known as sisterhood. The parallel between how teen girls communicate and how they shop again emerges. Just as teen girls prefer texting or calling their best friend or sister about sales, trends and brands rather than broadcasting the information, they also greatly prefer an intimate dynamic when they shop.13
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  15. 15. Shopping with just her best friend or sister, a teen girl will spend 23 percent more than when shopping with two or more friends. Shopping with a boy, she will spend less than half (43 percent) of what she spends with her close friend or sister. And shopping with her mother, who provides access to a larger budget and is also a key member of her intimate circle, she will spend triple the amount she spends with a group of friends. This connection is about comfort, as well as trust and credibility: When it comes to getting an honest opinion, teen girls have the same level of trust with their best friends/sisters as they do with their mothers. And when it comes to shopping, being able to rely on an honest opinion is what matters to a teen girl. For the teenage girl, the inner circle is the inner sanctum. Important interactions, shopping and communication happen within this circle, where a sense of sisterhood can influence decisions.15
  16. 16. THE INDIVIDUAL MEIt’s no secret that teens are me-focused. Researchers from University College Londonhave even found that the brains of teen girls react differently from the brains of adultwomen when presented with questions and situations involving other people. “We thinkthat a teenager’s judgment of what they would do in a given situation is driven by thesimple question: ‘What would I do?’” says UCL brain researcher Sarah-JayneBlakemore. “Adults, on the other hand, ask: ‘What would I do, given how I would feeland given how the people around me would feel as a result of my actions?’” 6Teens today live in a world structured for such self-centeredness. This has reached a newlevel with the advent of cheap mobile communications and social media. Just about everyteen girl has a cell phone, many of which are Web-connected. The MySpace page is hers,the Facebook profile is hers. So are the cell phone number, the details on her profile pageand the intimate group of friends who get to learn her secrets. 16
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  18. 18. Today’s world has been remade for the female teenager—or so it must seem to the teengirl. That her approach to personal style agrees with this worldview is only natural.Almost 6 out of 10 teen girls we surveyed said that maintaining a unique personal styleis important to her—that’s roughly double the number of girls who said they like tofollow the same trends and adopt the same styles as their friends.For fashion inspiration and to keep up with trends, teen girls look to their own rolemodels, with 42 percent saying their style is influenced by their favorite movie and TVstars; just 26 percent are influenced by the style of the popular and “cool” girls at school.The teen girl sees herself as uniquely defined by her tastes andpreferences, and wants to feel that uniqueness as she spendsand shops. 18
  19. 19. ME FOCUS BRINGS GIRLS TO PHYSICAL STORES The Euro RSCG Worldwide social media study found that this narrowing focus on “me” and “mine” reflects another important trend: hyperlocalism. The refocusing of digital media on local communities, local shopping and geography-specific microtrends is returning the consumer to his or her own world. Whereas in its earlier years the Internet was an amorphous mass of content with little local specificity, today’s Web is becoming segmented and focused on local communities. Teen girls in one sense have primarily encountered the Main Street of their home cities or towns and in another sense have only known the incredible power and specialized reach of social media. They want access to both the local-specific and the me-focused. Our survey found that more than half of teen girls (52 percent) say they typically shop at places near home. And, contrary to any notions that teens are super-wired cyber-zombies who point and click for everything, three-quarters of teen girls say they prefer to shop in stores so they can touch and feel the items to determine quality, rather than online.19
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  21. 21. This need to touch and feel is woven into the wider social experience of shopping. As a social experience that’s focused on the girl herself, the presentation of brand and store is important. Nearly half of girls (47 percent) say the music and atmosphere of a store are important factors in their shopping experience. There is also a pragmatic barrier to online shopping: 67 percent of teen girls we surveyed don’t buy online simply because they don’t have a credit card. And 49 percent say that if they had their own credit card, they would shop more online. Teen girls like what’s theirs, which means they want to shop in the places they know best. This focus on what they know brings them into the physical stores in their local communities.21
  22. 22. THE BRAND APPROACHTeen girls live in a world where they are empowered by a sense of possessing. They ownmedia and have control over it—a notion that not long ago was unimaginable. They have anunprecedented ability to acquire their own products and services. Possession structures theirlives: no longer the family-shared land line but the personal cell phone, the Facebook pageand the WiFi-enabled iPod. By virtue of this all-encompassing sense of possession, they are annoyed by intrusions into spaces they feel are theirs. After configuring her Facebook profile, posting the right photos and moderating responses to messages, the sight of an irrelevant ad is a blight. Even the right brand advertising in the wrong place provokes annoyance. And as one brand manager once observed of teen girls’ response to brands, “Once they’ve been turned off to it, it’s hard to turn around.”7News of a bad experience travels, with 72 percent of girls from our survey saying that anawful experience (like a good experience) with a brand, product or service is worth telling“lots of people” about.Teen girls show a clear preference for making the first move in approaching brands—signingup for specific e-mail alerts rather than receiving newsletters to browse, searching forfavorite brands at a reduced price rather than browsing for alternate brands or acceptingfull-price offerings. 22
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  24. 24. All this means brands face the challenge of how to meet the teen girl. One key is that as thevanguard of fully acclimated social media users, teen girls are an important part of anotherfeature of today’s new consumer world: the centrality of marketing-as-discussion. Teen girls, likeother social media-oriented groups, want to talk about the brands that are important to them—and they want to talk with the brand as they talk about the brand among themselves.This notion of a three-way conversation, the trialogue, is important. And with teen girls, it mustbe translated into a marketing language that suits their tendency to share and discuss withtheir intimate circle. The conversation, which often occurs on social media sites like Facebook,needs to be tailored to fit within the parameters of text messaging, the social/digitalcommunication of choice for teen girls.The rise of social cause marketing online also presents an inroad to the teenage girl market.While few teen girls give money to social causes, 31 percent use online resources to find outabout ways to volunteer for a cause, and about a quarter use these resources to organize peoplein benefit of a cause. While the participation numbers are not exceedingly high, a brand’sassociation with a social cause is one way to help develop a relationship with teen girls and theirmothers. Teen girls triple their spending when they shop with mom, so a positive brand imageheld by both mother and daughter can result in significant benefits for brands.Teen girls are empowered by owning their own media and communicationdevices, and they don’t like any intrusions from brands into that space.They like to make the first move and be involved in a social-media-basedconversation with their favorite brands. Social causes are one inroad. 24
  25. 25. THE INTENSE MID-TEENS O n many scores, the mid-teen years (15-16) appear to be the most intense—many of the distinctive female teen attributes are at their most widespread. Girls are no longer kids but not yet fully young women. In the midst of a massive life transition, these girls are more likely than other ages to be casting around for connection and assurance. For example, while 77 percent of the overall teen sample communicate by text with their sister(s)/best friend daily or several times a day, 84 percent of the 15-year-olds do so. Mid-teens are the most frequent and avid users of many technologies. We found that 58 percent overall phone their sister(s)/best friend daily or several times a day, versus 74 percent of 15-year-olds. The same applies to e-mail (24 percent overall versus 47 percent of 15-year-olds). It also applies to usage of less popular tools: Just 4 percent overall use Flickr often or always for photo sharing versus 11 percent of 15-year-olds; 9 percent overall use video chat often or always versus 16 percent of 15-year-olds. With Facebook, 42 percent overall communicate daily or several times a day, versus 63 percent of 15-year-olds. And where a huge 78 percent overall use social networking sites to keep in touch with25
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  27. 27. friends, virtually all 15-year-olds do so (95 percent). One big factor driving this intense usage is fear of missing out on important gossip or social events if they’re not in constant communication with friends (54 percent overall, 69 percent of 15-year-olds and 70 percent of 16-year-olds). Both setting and following trends is especially important to this cohort. While around a third (35 percent) of the overall sample aspire to be a trendsetter whom other girls will admire and copy, just under half of 15-year-olds (47 percent) feel this way. A very substantial 84 percent of 15-year-olds wish they could customize/personalize more of their clothing and accessories versus 59 percent overall. At the same time, 15-year-olds are more likely to say they like to wear the same styles and trends as their friends (53 percent versus 32 percent overall). And 74 percent of the 15-year-olds consider themselves stylish/trendy/cool compared with 58 percent overall. Expensive brands help give them the confidence they seek; more than half of 15-year-olds (53 percent) feel more important and substantial on a day when they’re wearing brands that are known to be more expensive versus 37 percent overall. Sisterhood—by blood or friendship—provides a crucial sense of connection for teen girls, but especially for those in their mid-teens. While 49 percent of the overall sample thinks no bond is stronger than that of sisterhood, as many as 69 percent of 15-year-olds believe this. When they seek brutally honest feedback, two-thirds overall first turn to a sister or best friend versus 84 percent of 15-year-olds. And 72 percent overall say their sister/best friend knows them better than anyone else, compared with 84 percent of 15-year-olds and 87 percent of 16-year-olds. Across the sample, 64 percent believe a sister/best friend is the most important relationship in life, while 74 percent of 15-year-olds believe so. Correspondingly, a high proportion of 75 percent overall tell their sister/best friend secrets and personal information that they don’t share with anyone else, but the proportion is even higher among 15-year-olds (84 percent) and 16-year-olds (87 percent). When they get exciting news, 71 percent overall share it with their sister/best friend first versus 79 percent of 15-year-olds. Not surprisingly, while 63 percent trust their sister/best friend more than anyone in the world, an even higher 79 percent of 15-year-olds feel this way. Among teen girls, 15 is the pivotal age when teen-ness goes into high gear, when energy meets confidence and a growing sense of possibilities.27
  28. 28. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONSFOR BRANDS AND MARKETERSBoys Want Thrills, Girls Want RelationshipsWhile teen boys seek thrills and spills, teen girls have a more complex agenda in whichrelationships play a crucial role. Many activities are driven or supported by theirdeveloping relationships. They use social media to manage and maintain theserelationships in a highly purposeful way. Brands and marketers must ensure they don’timpinge; to the extent that they’re present, they should be available to facilitate theinteractions.Customization and ContestsBrands have an opportunity to bring teen girls into their stores (both online andphysical) by coupling contests and customization. Girls are attracted by the ability tomodify and personalize goods. And to do so as part of a team—with her best friendand/or sister—provides a social motivation for girls to get involved with brands andcampaigns.Brand-and-Price NexusTeen girls buy when they find the correct nexus of brand, price and environment. Theywill not compromise on brand. With more time than money, however, they will wait untilthey find their brand at their price. To maximize unit sales, stores must offer the rightbrands at the right prices—and those must be presented in the right ambience, where agirl can feel comfortable enough to engage in the social experience of shopping.Knowing Who Each Teen Girl Is and What She PrefersKnowing teen girls is about knowing each teen girl. An accurate profile of a teen girl—her pop culture role models, her favorite bands and her shopping history—makes all thedifference in marketing to her successfully. Social media provides unique opportunitiesfor girls to compile this information for brands in exchange for access (or alerts) tospecial offers. 28
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  30. 30. CREDITSCover: Page 10: Page Sherbet (clockwise from top) Yourdan Page 21:Inside front: (from left)Euro RSCG Worldwide PR Page 11: Getty Images/Rolf BrudererPage 3: delong Page 22: Page 12: (from top)Page 4: // ou gee(from top) tew Page 13: Page 23: Page 14: 5: BellamkondaGetty Images/Ron Levine Page 15: Page 24:Page 7: Yvonne(insets, from top) Page 16: Page’vision (from top) Getty Images/Jon’s pics Page 17: 8: Page Page 18: Marie Getty Images/David Buffington PhotographyPage 9:(from left) Page 19: Page flying (from top) MC Getty Images/Ryan Keller 30