Theres a Tween In Your Future - Are You Ready?


Within 15 minutes of coming through the door from school, she has her neck crooked around the phone. A music CD tucked into the computer's drive drowns out all but the occasional giggles of that conversation. While her fingers fly over the keyboard, you risk a quick glance and count six open "chat" boxes. She's IMing (sending instant messages with) the friends she didn't get to talk to at school.

That's just how she communicates.

Once the "he said," "she looked" minutia of the all important social event (lunch hour) of the day have been dissected, the conversations begin to move outward. Movie trivia websites are visited en masse, and the merits of a certain pair of kahkis for sale on one site versus another found the day before cause more windows to be opened, as this virtual gaggle of girls move around the web together.

Sometimes, tasks are split. Three girls visit different movie theater sites where start times for this week's chosen film are carefully matrixed against which parent might be able to drive the group to which venue.

That's just how decisions are made.

Some people call her a tween. She's between 8 and 12 and attends middle school, Sunday school, and high school football games where she and her friends pay far less attention to each other's older brother on the team than their slightly older siblings. Usually that's all an anxious parent in this group is able to watch out for. They don't know the half of what she is capable of yet.

According to brand analyst and Clickz columnist, Martin Lindstrom, 22% of these tweens have already made an online purchase on their own. Lindstrom's study excerpt didn't discuss how they were able to pay for these purchases, but it's a good bet a majority of them were done using mom or dad's credit card. That's a pretty safe assumption when you consider that tweens determine what brand is purchased 60% of the time in a typical household.

60%!
Clothes, music, accessories, gifts, games and other entertainment used to be the exclusive province of the American teenager. The 13 and over crowd used to decide where those dollars were spent. But they're passing the baton to their younger brothers and sisters while they pursue their own, more diverse, interests, also online.

That's just where the teens and tweens are spending their time these days.

Tweens are even more intensely committed to the Internet than their older teenage siblings. Teens are spending in excess of 16.7 hours per week online according to a 2002 Yahoo study. That compares to 13.6 hours spent watching television, 12 hours spent listening to music and 7.7 hours talking on the phone.

Did you catch it?
Do you see what the real difference is between these two groups? And do you understand just how large, and just how evolutionary the impact of that difference will be on your business?

That's the piece of the puzzle that I think is being overlooked. It's been buried beneath an already staggering pile of statistics.

It's not about the numbers at all.

It's about the fact that tweens have already assimilated the Internet completely. It's about the fact that tweens have already begun to filter their media differently, and process that input differently. They don't surf websites anymore, clicking their mouse to zoom in to see the pocket detail on those jeans. They "experience" a site clicking their mouse to turn 3d model images wearing those jeans, or clicking hotspots in panoramic images designed to make them feel as if they are in a room at a store.

They don't spend 16.7 hours on the Internet, then 13.6 watching TV, then 12 hours listening to music, then 7.7 hours talking on the phone. They spend 16.7 and 13.6 and 12 and 7.7 simultaneously. They move from one media to another effortlessly, automatically typing coherent messages for up to five conversations at once, laughing at a girlfriend's joke on the phone, and tapping their foot to the relentless beat of the music. At - the - same - time.

"Tween" is not just a convenient demographic catch phrase for a bundle of statistics. It's also a very apt description of where this particular generation will fall on technology timeline. The web "experience" is likely to continue unfolding long after they have grown up and become everyone's prime demographic.

I have a tween in my house. And she really is somewhere between. Her reliance on a strong social network of girlfriends is as old as the hills. But her communication methods raise the bar on the definition of multitasking. Sometimes I watch her and wonder if we haven't finally broken through another old barrier. I wonder if she's tapping into, and effectively using, more than the 10% of our brains than science claims we use.

But probably not. It's still clear that not all of her senses have been enhanced.

She still can't seem to hear me when I ask if she has homework.


Liz Micik has been an Ordinary Marketer for nearly 25 years, helping companies tell their story to the right people in the right way to sell their products and services. Visit www.ordinarymarketer.com to sign up for the Inside Edge, a free monthly multimedia newsletter, and find out how you can get extraordinary results from marketing you can live with.

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