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Looking to the Youth

January 2004
Web-savvy, gear-hungry and ready to buy, teens are the epitome of the digital consumer. But that's just part of the story.

By Sean Wargo

Director of Industry Analysis

Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)

We've heard a number of times in our lives that children are our future. And it seems fitting, as we buckle down for the holidays and stand on the eve of another year, to take a look at both the present and the future of the CE marketplace through the eyes of the emerging CE consumer set—teens. Herein lies a glimpse at what tomorrow's products and retail environments will be, as well as suggestions for how we can today reach this large and somewhat untapped youth market.

Whether they go by Gen Y, Gen Z, or any other label, one thing is sure: This group is the epitome of the digital consumer. As shown through their CE holiday wish lists taken from a recent CEA study, much of their world is centered on the PC and it topped the list as their most desired product this holiday season. The PC is information source, entertainment medium and communications device all rolled into one. From it, their digital lifestyles encompass desired products like cell phones, game consoles, CD headsets and portable MP3 players—all part of a connected web of product emanating out from the PC.

As significant purchasers of these devices, both for themselves and others, teens cannot be ignored. According to CEA's youth holiday survey, they have big plans for buying CE products as presents this year. And contrary to what you might expect, their parents' cash isn't necessarily on the line. The majority of teens plan to use their own money to pay for gifts. Top products on their gift lists include headset CD players, game consoles, cell phones and MP3 players. All of this leaves me wishing I was on one of these teens' "to buy for" lists this year!

But there is a lot more to this story. Focus groups conducted by CEA with sets of teenagers suggest some other important considerations for approaching the teenage consumer.

For starters, forget the idea that the teen consumer is necessarily motivated by a sincere interest in the technology itself. They are certainly heavy consumers of technology and possess a greater intuitive understanding than many of their parents, but this doesn't mean they enjoy or understand techno-babble. Acronyms like MHz and RAM are just part of the overall context for them. They understand that more is better, but don't necessarily know to what those terms truly refer. Rather, they care more about the experience of owning and using, and what one product can offer to enhance their usage experience vs. another. This comes down to a preference for features and benefits versus proven technical superiority. Suggestion: Stick to product narratives and user stories rather than product specifications.
 

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