How Teens Win Brands and Influence Trends

By Zephrin Lasker, CEO and Founder, ShopChat.

In the age of “instant,” it’s more important than ever that brands keep up with the trends – and the teens that define them – that could make or break their businesses. When teens shop online, they are looking to fill four key criteria – affordability, speed, social shareability and seamlessness from browsing to ordering – which are critical parameters to have in mind if your brand wants to remain relevant with our generation’s most influential consumers.

Harnessing the tools that teens love most – social media, emojis and texting – not only allows brands to tap into these trends, but also creates new opportunities to engage with and learn from their core teen shoppers. What brands need to understand is that Gen Z consumers – who currently hold $44B in buying power and represent 26% of the U.S. population – need ways to engage, share and purchase on-trend products in a way that’s most preferred – quickly, affordably and via text.

Messaging Apps like Facebook Messenger, Viber and WhatsApp fuel teens’ desire for rapid-fire feedback. Built to provide instant, in-chat shopping experiences, messaging apps allow teens to browse products, share favorites with friends and receive feedback – largely in the form of emojis – all without ever having to leave the chat.

What makes Messaging Apps so appealing to teens is that they create virtual worlds of validation that they need never leave – until their package arrives, that is. What teens crave more than anything is affirmation in the choices they make and in the “image” they portray – be it in-person or online. When teens rack up 100 “:)” on a single tee shirt from Forever 21, it gives them the green light and boost of confidence to buy it, wear it, own it and love it.

Brands that miss the messaging bandwagon are losing out on a huge opportunity to tap into the huge buying power of teens, and the data speaks for itself: new research from Accenture shows that Gen Z consumers (40%) are more likely than millennials (35%) to provide feedback often or very often on retailer websites, and are more likely to purchase an item due to: what their family thinks; recommendations from watching YouTube videos; what their friends think; and comments on social media.

While big brands dominate share of voice, social and messaging platforms create unique opportunities to drive word of mouth growth. Teens love to share and compare, and even smaller brands without big budgets can trend and grow if they capture teen’s interest and become part of their dialog. To do this requires a rare mix of originality, authenticity and a spark of the new. Teens break most trends and chat provides one of the best places to become part of the conversation.

Social Media is king in the minds and hearts of teens, and so should it be in the world of retail. Nearly half (47%) of consumers say they’ve purchased something because they saw it on social media, according to a survey by Sumo Heavy, and research by Clique Media shows Instagram and Pinterest are the preferred shopping-inspiration sites for Gen Z girls. Finally, top brands on Instagram are seeing a per-follower engagement rate of 4.21% which is 58 times higher than on Facebook and 120 times higher than on Twitter, according to Hootsuite.

While the implications of social influence are clear, the challenge lies in creating a well-defined social media strategy that will effectively reach and engage with teens, build exposure for your brand and products, and ultimately boost following and revenue.

Additionally, the power of celebrity icons is not to be underestimated. With teen idols like Selena Gomez, Gigi Hadid and Justin Bieber filling the news and clogging Insta feeds, it’s no wonder that 13-17 year olds are more likely to follow celebrities on social media for fashion inspiration, while 18-22 year olds are more likely to follow bloggers, brands and influencers.

Subscription boxes fulfill teens’ Veruca Salt-like tendencies when it comes to online shopping, with nearly three-quarters (73%) of Gen Z shoppers interested in curated subscription-type offering for fashion like Birchbox or Trunkclub, and 71% interested in automatic-replenishment programs. Additionally, Gen Z shoppers have a need for fast fashion deliveries – 58% say they’d be willing to pay more than $5 for one-hour deliveries.

What’s more is that subscription boxes are the answer to every misunderstood teen’s desire to be understood. By filling out one simple survey, teens across the country can quickly and regularly receive personalized packages from brands that “just get them.” In slight contrast to messaging apps that feed into teens’ unique need to feel validated by others for the choices they make, subscription boxes – called “Little Boxes of Decision Avoidance” by the New Yorker, take decision-making and the pressure of external influence out of the equation. Whether it’s makeup, clothing, accessories, shoes or snacks, these carefully curated and individualized boxes allow teens to feel special, lavished, and on-trend.

While Gen Z may seem like a mysterious, elusive group that brands and retailers are trying to understand, it’s actually quite simple to capture their attention and brand loyalty.

The secret is at your fingertips… and theirs!

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