Teen Mobile Marketing 2While it\’s true that many adults use text messaging and hang out on MySpace, for the most part, evolutionary leaps in digital communications tend to be driven by the youth market. This has been backed up by recent research showing how ingrained such technology is in the personal lives of young people – underlining the importance of utilizing such technologies when marketing to these consumers. A joint study by MTV, Nickelodeon, and Microsoft found that kids, teens, and young adults around the world – ranging from age 8 to 24 – are avid users of text-messaging, email, and social sites that foster even more digital communication. And the Mobile Marketing Association says that youths have the highest rate – between 30 and 40 percent – of participation in mobile marketing campaigns.

Such research illustrates the importance of using digital marketing with this coveted demographic, but doing it successfully is another matter. It might be easy to entice youths to send texts to a short code advertised on their favorite toy\’s package or candy wrapper, but it\’s not so easy to deal with angry parents who have to foot the cell phone bill or who don\’t want their kids\’ phone numbers given out.

Digital marketing to teens is far from child\’s play. This series, \”All The Kids Are Doing It,\” tells marketers what to keep in mind if they want to reach young consumers digitally and effectively. In part 1, we talked about email campaigns courting youths. Today we will focus on mobile marketing.

Part 2: Text Messaging

Mobile phones are embedded in youth culture around the world, emphasized the MTV report. Japanese teens and young adults have little privacy in the home, so their key digital device is the cell phone, which offers privacy (texts can\’t be overheard or easily read over one\’s shoulder) and portability (unlike a computer). Meanwhile, 80% of young Danish citizens say they can’t live without their cell phones.

Of all the digital platforms used to reach teens and even younger consumers in the United States, SMS is the most important, according to a recent iMedia Connection report. That\’s because of the rampant use of SMS among this population as well as the growth in the number of youngsters with cell phones. iMedia quotes JupiterResearch as saying that half of all 12-to-13-year-olds will have their own mobiles by the end of this year. The report also says that that 73 percent of users ages 13 to 17 sent texts.

The SMS habit will stick with these users all the way into their late teens and early 20s – good news for customer retention. According to a recent eMarketer report, college students are increasingly open to permission-based marketing. It notes that 78 percent of co-eds send at least one text message a week. The report suggests embedding short codes on product packaging like soda cans as well as in physical media like magazines and billboards. \”Female college students are more likely to use text messaging, and that opens up an opportunity for marketers whose products are aimed at young women,\” said eMarketer senior analyst Debra Aho Williamson.

SMS still offers challenges to marketers. While parents worry about kids giving out their email addresses to strangers; personal phone numbers (assuming they have a cell phone to begin with) are even more closely monitored. And unlike email, sending and receiving text messages incur additional costs, which won\’t make the ‘rents happy.

The IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) in the United Kingdom has created guidelines for marketers trying to reach teens and others via text-message. Parental permission to send messages must be secured; the IPA suggests SMS, online, or offline means. (Perhaps SMS marketers should take a page from companies like imbee, mentioned in Part 1 of this series. That company verifies permission with a parent\’s credit card number, a phone number for the company to call the parent, or a signed parental permission form with ID.) Also, the IPA says, \”unnecessarily long or complex competition and prize draw rules must be avoided when communicating via SMS with minors.\” The IPA guidelines make sense for marketers in the United States, too, since they were drawn four years ago – when the SMS market in the U.K. was at the same stage as the current U.S. market.

Texters who don\’t have unlimited data plans could run up their phone bills – especially problematic when it\’s mom or dad who\’s paying them. Some service providers offer packages that allow users to send and receive thousands, even an unlimited number, of messages for one flat fee. But marketers should be proactive about this issue – perhaps by utilizing Free To End User (FTEU) messaging, wherein the marketer pays for the messages, making them free to the consumer.

Despite permission and monetary worries, marketers who take care to implement the right SMS campaign to teenagers will reap the benefits. Communications technology is getting more sophisticated, especially when it comes to text messaging, and young users will adopt it heartily. Yahoo! is now making it possible for users of its email service to send text messages from their email addresses to mobile phones. Other email service providers will likely follow suit, and that means email and SMS, PCs and mobile phones, will become interlinked. MediaPost recently called Yahoo!\’s move “a clever way to give users incentives to continue using email when many teens and young adults are increasingly turning to text messaging.”

More simply, it means that SMS messaging will be as important as ever for brands wanting to court the youth market.

Next time: Social networks.

Eydie Cubarrubia, Marketing Communications Manager