Ideas and insights to take your marketing to the highest level

June 24, 2015
Amy King

Why—and How—to Turn Socially Responsible Teens Into Loyal Customers

Brands are in it for the long haul with teens. They’re looking to build loyalty during young, impressionable years as lifelong consumer decision-making habits start to form, but there’s a lot of competition for teens’ attention. Brands need to stand out by making emotional connections to win loyalty, respect and dollars.

During their long and winding transition toward becoming young adults—and independent consumers—teens explore and discover their aspirational selves as thinkers, makers and doers. In the past 12 months, more than half of them (55%) have been “altruistic doers” who’ve worked as volunteers for a range of nonprofit organizations, according to GfK MRI’s Teenmark study, which surveys 12- to 19-year-olds.

This large group differs from other teens in ways of real significance to marketers. They are more likely than typical teens to show early signs of brand loyalty, be leaders, have paying jobs and be more receptive to certain types of messaging. They also are more likely to support companies that back worthy causes.

Brands that focus their corporate giving programs on the same causes that teens support through volunteering is one way to boost brand loyalty—and to “do good” together. Companies can fuel emotional relationships with these teens by standing behind their volunteer efforts. Here, brands can send a clear message: The same things that matter to you matter to us.

Proof of Loyalty Potential

Volunteering is more than a temporary activity to teens who volunteer. More than half of them cite volunteering and “giving back” as one of their goals for the future.

The top-ranking organizations for which teens volunteer are religious (50%), youth (26%) and homeless groups (22%). Environmental, medical, cause-related and animal rights organizations follow.

Brands should pay attention to teen volunteers. They may have more change in their pockets than typical teens. Teen volunteers are 18% more likely than other teens to have a job or to have had one in the past year, and they are selective about where they spend their money: They show a greater likelihood to both buy brands that support causes that they care about and expect the brands that they buy to support social causes.

Teen volunteers also are young brand loyalists. More so than others, they already are loyal to brands across several categories, including personal care, cosmetics, and food and beverage. OTC medication and sneaker/athletic shoe brands win their loyalty, too.

Suggesting their potential to be brand advocates, teen volunteers are more likely than others to say that they are leaders.

Making Connections

In many ways, it’s easy to connect with teen volunteers, particularly—and as expected—via smartphones and social media. While they use social media at rates similar to typical teens, they are more likely to participate in a range of mobile activities, including many that are important to marketers, like redeeming mobile coupons, responding to ads via text messaging and making purchases. They also are more likely to use smartphones for activities such as getting information for purchases, looking at an ad, voting in a contest, making a choice or giving an opinion. 

Using smartphones to watch TV, video and movies online, and to listen to radio and audio services is more common among teen volunteers, as well.

Supporting Teens Who “Do Good”

How do you stand behind your teen customers as they volunteer for nonprofit organizations? Here are a few suggestions:

Align your brand: Focus a portion of your philanthropic resources on developing partnerships and sponsorships with the same organizations for which your teen customers volunteer.

Speak up: Use social and mobile media to tell teens what you’re doing to support their volunteer efforts. Incorporate that messaging throughout every point of contact with teen customers—via mobile messaging, on your website, in social media, in stores and throughout your advertising. Include information about your philanthropic activities in mobile ads on apps and websites that teens use for watching TV, videos and movies, and for listening to radio and audio services.

Tell teens’ stories: Create storytelling opportunities in which volunteers and their organizations write, show and tell about their impact. Host contests in which teens vote for the story with the greatest impact, and award the winning organization a monetary donation or in-kind gifts.

Spotlight your teenage employees who volunteer in your messaging: Bring their stories closer to home by featuring local store employees in your in-store messaging. Dedicate some of your public relations efforts to placing their stories in local media.

Reward teen do-gooders: Give them exclusive discounts on products and services, and think about hosting in-store “very important volunteer” (VIV) events. Increase employee perks for your teenage employees who volunteer. Also, consider establishing a college scholarship program for both customers and employees, and make it renewable—contingent upon continuing to “do good.”


Amy King is a vice president at New York-based consumer research firm GfK MRI. You can reach her at amy.king@gfkmri.com.

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