Hitting the Sweet Spot With Tweens
Pamela Brill -- Gifts and Dec, 1/1/2013 2:00:00 AM
If there's one demographic that's especially enticing to toy and gift makers and retailers alike, it's the tween customer. Straddling the line between child and adult, this marketing sector commands its fair share of attention at the cash register. According to the 2013 "Tween Sensibility, Spending and Influence" marketing newsletter, tweens spend $30 billion annually and influence $150 billion of their parents' spending. And as staggering as these figures are, the tween customer profile is an extremely particular one.
"Tweens are discerning and want finished products that not only reflect their own unique personality and style, but also look trendy and current," says Janet Simon, vice president of marketing, Alex Toys. "The actual form and function of the products themselves also have to fit their lifestyle."
Christi Sterling, co-founder of LockerLookz, seconds this notion. "Tweens appear to be very brand-conscious, coming into that age where they really care what others think," she says. "It is very important for them to feel something is cool, and they often attach their self image to those products."
Designing tween-focused product that's age-appropriate is just as important as age-appealing. "If you brand the product too young, you risk offending the tween-ager," says Lori Okin, cofounder, Book Blingz. "If you brand the product too old, tweens won't relate to it or simply won't ‘get it.'" But trying to reach this niche buying group isn't just about tapping into flash-in-the-pan fashions or of-the- moment designs. Manufacturers must strike a balance with tween products that are mature enough and have mom-approval. "Parents are generally the gatekeepers, but there's also enough peer pressure at the tween level that could drive significant sales," adds Okin. "So the challenge is finding that sweet spot that perfectly resonates with both tweens and tween parents."
Speaking Their Language
It goes without saying that tweens and technology go hand in hand. Toy manufacturers find that connecting with this tech-savvy customer base through social media is an effective business tool.
The Maya Group, makers and distributors of the Orbeez, use Facebook and YouTube extensively, and has also established a presence within the blogging community. "We send out hundreds of product samples to mom bloggers and other online reviewers who promote them on social media outlets," says brand manager Sharon Cohen. "Most ask for review samples and giveaway prizes," she adds, both of which foster first-hand testing.
Alex has been able to fine-tune its e-marketing plan by culling data from various social media platforms. "We know that 16 percent of our Facebook likes are fans ages 13-17, and we use the Facebook age targeting capability on wall posts to reach fans with specific targeted content," notes Simon.
The company has also located potential tween customers on Twitter and Instagram. While Instagram is a relatively new platform, Simon says it's growing fast and has a plentiful tween crafter segment. "Use of relevant hashtags gets our posts to a wider audience and also cultivates followers," she adds.
Moose Toys USA, makers of Blingles gem stickers, also utilizes Facebook to inform parents of new products and post photos of ‘blinged' accessories. Tamara Stewart, vice president of marketing and strategy, Moose Toys, says these digital pictures are "a hit among our teenage fans and result in many ‘likes' and ‘shares.'" The company also connects with tweens via YouTube by working with top fashion bloggers to drive awareness of the Blingles brand.
Looking ahead, other companies like Ann Williams Group, makers of specialty retailer favorite Loopdedoo, and Book Blingz, which produces decorative book covers, plan to increase their social reach on Facebook and Pinterest throughout 2013.
Expanding Their Reach
Aside from cyberspace, tween product suppliers are finding that their products have a place in retail channels other than traditional toy and gift outlets. For Book Blingz, the company is looking outside brick-and-mortar stores to broaden its customer base. "We realize that our target demographic spends a substantial amount of time on the Internet, so having a strong online retail presence is also a top priority for us," says co-founder Lori Okin.
Ann Williams counts tween clothing stores, upscale department stores craft stores and QVC among its retail customers, while Alex has a strong presence in Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's, as well as Dylan's Candy Bar and the Metropolitan Museum of Art Shops. Justice stores, a national tween clothing store chain, carries products from Alex and the Maya Group's Orbeez line.
Because product presentation is key in the tween business, manufacturers offer their retail customers a variety of merchandising and marketing tools to maximize brand exposure.
Ann Williams supplies its retail partners with finished product, along with videos and demo materials of Loopdedoo. "We've found that once people see the beautiful things you can make, and how fast and easy it is to make them, they're sold," says company president Sheila Wright.
Alex equips stores with everything from point-of-sale signage and finished displays, to customized Alex boutiques. The company also works with retailers on in-store events by providing sponsored public relations and free gift-with-purchase offers for their consumers.
For retailers placing large orders, Book Blingz offers price breaks and shipping discounts on volume-size purchases. An introductory display package includes a product sample cover that customers can touch and feel for themselves, creating a true hands-on shopping experience. "We want every customer to experience the unique fabrics, textures and embellishments that adorn our covers," says Okin.
Also putting this sales philosophy into practice is LockerLookz, which sends actual metal lockers for its retail customers to display, complete with product samples and full signage. Participating stores receive credit for this display program with a minimum purchase. "Seeing Locker- Lookz in an actual locker is so helpful... and has been very impactful in stores," notes Sterling.
Loopdedoo. $35. Ann Williams Group. 248.731.8588. www.annwilliamsgroup.com
Orbeez Peace Sign, $10; Maya Group. 800.843.6292. www.mayagroup.com
Book Blingz. $13. Book Blingz. 800.909.0993. www.bookblingz.com
Earphone Couture. $14. Alex. 800.666.2539. www.alextoys.com
Gelarti Rainbow Magic, $20; Blingles Jewelry Pack, $15; Moose Toys. 011.61.3.9579.7377. www.mooseworld.com.au
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