Consumer Buying Behavior of Teenagers & How to Market to Them

By Ian Johnston

Teenagers often share content online, influencing their friends.
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Collectively, teenagers command an immense amount of buying power. How much money do they have? According to MasterCard’s “Payments Perspective” blog, $819 billion worldwide. Writing there, Christina Sommer says that in North America 33 million teens have almost $118 billion in spending money. More importantly, teens are trendsetters and early adopters of technology. Their purchase decisions have a huge impact on what becomes popular, and they influence how families spend money. Marketing to the teenage demographic can be a powerful part of your business strategy.


The U.S. Census Bureau indicates that in 2010 there were more than 40 million people aged 10 to 19. Nielsen's reports that the racial breakdown of teens aged 12 to 17 remains almost exactly as it does for the 18-34 demographic. African, Asian or Hispanic ancestry is claimed by 42 percent of teens. At least 10 percent of adolescents were not born in the U.S., and 23 percent are first or second-generation immigrants. Diversity continues to grow in America and immigrants are commanding more and more wealth.

Buying Trends

In April 2013, Piper Jaffray released its annual report on the buying habits of teens. The company found teens spend about 40 percent of their budget on fashion. More girls than boys shop at discount and outlet stores. The majority of teens shop online, but spend only about 18 percent of their budget there. Teens are streaming more movies on a pay-per-view basis and music through free streaming radio. Predictably, teenager's purchases are influenced mostly by their friends. The Internet and social media are also important, having more and more impact on teen purchasing. They love smartphones, with 91 percent intending to purchase one for their next phone, with 60 percent preferring Apple phones. According to Neilsen, 27 percent of households with teens own a tablet and 61 percent own a smartphone. This device ownership helps explain teens' increased viewing of video on mobile devices. They are also showing more preference for organic foods.

Marketing to Teens

Because teens are influenced by trends, and listen to their friend's recommendations, getting popular with teens can spread word like wildfire. Direct advertising isn't that effective at generating buzz. Instead, Jonathan Prezant writes in “Direct Marketing News” that teens should be targeted with sharable content. He says if you give teens information, rather than a hard sell, you will build brand loyalty and have people sharing your content, doing your marketing for you. Regular content updates give your audience a reason to come back to your site, YouTube channel or Facebook page. Posting a funny picture might not seem very relevant to your brand, but if it gets shared by teens, more people get exposure to your content channel and brand.

Driving Traffic To Your Brand

Valuable content will grow your online audience slowly, unless you happen to create something that goes viral. Don't bank on that. Instead, give people a reason to “like” your Facebook page, or follow you on Twitter. Offer prizes, discounts or advance information to subscribers. Have contests that require entrants to share the contest. Once people are using your brand, you can get followers to submit content by soliciting photos of them wearing or using your brand. Finally, find blogs, news sites and YouTube channels that already cater to your brand and create content for them, and announce your contests through those channels as well as your own.