Kendall Galante may seem like a typical 9-year-old tween. She goes to school, likes to have fun and gets some money when she does chores around the house, like cleaning the basement.
But to In Zone Brands, Atlanta, the young girl is far from ordinary. The maker of BellyWashers interactive beverages found her to be so confident, creative and enthusiastic that it put her on its new 15-member Kids' Board, a mini-business unit within the BellyWashers marketing team.
As board member, she'll help the company develop a signature line of BellyWashers beverages and act as a brand ambassador in her hometown of Holmdel, N.J.
"We'll decide how to make [Bellywashers] better," she told Brand Marketing. Galante never even heard about BellyWashers until a few months ago. But now, she can't stop talking about it to family and friends.
"I love it," she said of the brand. Galante's involvement in BellyWashers exemplifies a key aspect to marketing to tweens -- letting them interact with the brand and have a say in the decision-making process.
Marketers who make the effort won't be disappointed, youth marketing consultants told Brand Marketing. Due to its size and economic clout, the tween market is a powerful marketing target.
The some 20 million tweens -- defined here as those between the ages of 8 and 12 -- in the United States are important not only in terms of their own expenditures, but also for the influence they have over total household expenditures. Along with spending about $10 million annually on their own, an additional $176 million is spent on them by parents, according to "The Great Tween Buying Machine," a book about marketing to tweens. The book was written by three associates at the WonderGroup, Cincinnati, a youth marketing agency.
Plus, tweens influence how an additional $74 billion is spent on other family purchases, such as vacations, restaurant visits, parental clothing and accessories, the book says.
They play a big role in how their parents shop for groceries. Of the tweens between the ages of 9 and 11, 94% said they usually or sometimes go to the supermarket with families, and 16% said they regularly shop for groceries themselves, according to the 2001 Yankelovich Youth Monitor. Seventy-six percent said they help parents pick out snack food, while 77% said they chose breakfast cereal.
Parents said tweens have even more power, with 92% reporting that kids' preference is "very" or "somewhat" important when it comes to breakfast cereal purchases.
Tweens are not only actively involved in food purchases, but also preparation. Sixty-four percent of boys and 71% of girls make their own breakfast at least once a week; 31% of boys and 42% of girls make their own lunch; and 14% of boys and 22% of girls make their own dinner, according to WonderGroup. Moreover, 11% of boys and 15% of girls actually make the family meals at least once a week.
Tweens have created a new "four-eyed, four-legged" consumer, or the blend of moms and kids making decisions together, according to WonderGroup.
Many tweens are being raised by Gen-Xer parents, who often incorporate kids into the decision-making process. At the same time, since many moms work outside the home, tweens have greater power when it comes to what brands are purchased.
"Most moms are incredibly time-stressed, so they don't want to bring food in that kids don't eat. They don't want the hassle," said Greg Livingston, WonderGroup's executive vice president, and co-author of "The Great Tween Buying Machine."
Many marketers who once lumped all boys and girls under 12 into the same "kids" market now realize the importance of separating the group from their younger counterparts.
Those that do should get tweens emotionally engaged in their brands, said Tina Imig, co-founder, KidLeo, the kid consultancy at marketing firm Leo Burnett, Chicago.
BellyWashers said it's doing just that. While it has involved kids in its marketing efforts, the creation of the Kids' Board was a way to formalize it.
"Since day one, we've been taking our cues from kids and letting their opinions and ideas guide the development of the brand," said Christina Sharkey, marketing manager, In Zone. "With this fickle demographic, it's important to go beyond statistics. It's simple: Give them a voice, and then listen to what they have to say."
The board is comprised of 15 tweens from 10 states. All were chosen from a national search/application process in the spring. Next spring, one member of the board will receive a $5,000 scholarship.
"The BellyWashers Kids' Board is designed to give kids -- the driving force behind the BellyWashers brand -- a voice in the development of the business and a fun, hands-on forum for learning how teamwork, leadership, creativity and good citizenship build successful businesses and successful people," says Jim Scott, chief executive officer, In Zone.
In Zone's approach to reaching tweens is the type of "immediacy" marketing necessary to reach the demographic. Immediacy marketing means creating a sense of immediacy where kids interact with the brand at a grassroots level, according to Imig.
"Immediacy marketing puts the brand in more meaningful places in kids lives so that they can interact with it,"
Imig told Brand Marketing. Imig pointed to other forms of immediacy marketing, including MasterFoods USA's M&M's "Global Color Vote," a promotion in which consumers got to pick a new candy color (purple was the winner).
The reason why it's so important to give kids a voice is that this is the lifestage in which kids are growing up, getting strong opinions and recognizing that they can make decisions.
But since most adults don't take them seriously, tweens feel connected to brands that make them feel important and empowered, said Imig. So rather than telling them what's cool, savvy marketers should shift the power into tweens' hand.
"Tweens will respond by getting excited about these brands and rallying around them," Imig noted.
To get such support, marketers must first understand what tweens are all about. First of all, they're vastly different from the kids' and the teen market -- both developmentally and socially.
Developmentally, the brain is experiencing a big growth spurt, allowing for more abstract thinking. Socially, they're more aware of what people think of them.
At the same time, tweens are at a lifestage in which branding begins to take effect, said Livingston of WonderGroup. They begin to want to be part of the "in" crowd, and use brands as a way to do it.
The Snack Attack
The tween-snacking occassion is an opportunity for food marketers. About 85% of tweens report making their own after-school snack at least once during the week.