Call them the hot new “in” b’tweens: Boys ages 8 to 12, an often overlooked retail segment, yet has developed enough spending muscle to build a cottage industry.
Tween boys have long been overshadowed by their female counterparts, but their purchase influence could very soon escalate — thanks in part to the effect tween girls have on their behaviors. And tween girls wield a lot of power in retail: Target in July introduced an exclusive line designed for girls aged 8 to 12, called “More Than Magic.” Its nearly 500 items are the direct result of interviews with girls and their parents.
Which raises the question: Where’s the boys’ voice in the tween market? There are as many boys in this age group as girls (boys represent half the population, based on government figures), yet few retail brands seem to invest in this market segment in big ways.
It isn’t entirely for lack of trying. Some efforts have been abandoned after underperforming (Justice’s Brother Brand, for example) and certain categories, namely video gaming, are quite good at reaching their target audiences. Some brands, such as Target’s Cat & Jack kids’ line and Amazon’s “A For Awesome” and “Kid Nation,” cater to both tween boys and girls.
Is there a missed opportunity in not talking directly to tween boys right now, given the escalation of image-based social media platforms, as well as the broad acceptance of individual expression? Well, kids grow up fast — faster every year, thanks to the changes that technology displays to them daily.
13 Million Question Marks
One reason so few retailers and brands offer lines expressly for tween boys may be that there is little market segmentation research into the demographic’s size and spending capacity.
There are nearly 13 million tween boys in the United States, based on population figures by ChildStats.gov, which lists 24.5 million children ages 6 to 11 in the United States, of which 51% are boys. (Figures are broken down in age groups 6 to 11 then 12 to 17, of which there are 25 million.)
These boys represent a lot of unanswered potential for retailers and brands — if they can connect. Many boys in this age range are still trying to figure out who they are, what they like and who they want to be.
What is clear is their identities are shaped by the heavy influence of social media, gaming and other digital communities — all of which leave data tracks we will soon explore. Retailers and brands may not find a lot of public research on tween boys as a market, but they do have their own insights gathered through loyalty programs and other sources.
4 Steps To Tween Coolness
Retailers must understand their customers to communicate with them, after all. When it comes to tween boys, however, the customer isn’t always the end user. Here are four considerations in determining what will hit the mark.
1. Use loyalty insights.
Through their loyalty programs, retailers could identify and assess when tween-boy purchases begin — larger clothing sizes and sharply higher grocery bills, for example. This purchase information can trigger and inform communications and promotions for other products that will appeal to this demographic. Hint: keep it fun. Shoppers with kids are more likely to want a fun shopping experience, and that begins with offers sent directly to their smart phones, according to retail analytics firm Precima.
2. Partner with moms.
Tween boys may influence purchases, but their moms make the final call. Retailers that show they understand the peer pressure boys feel — about how they look, smell and compete — have a better chance of capturing moms’ ears. If brands can further prove themselves as trustworthy and authoritative on tween boy issues (such as through research), they can gain generational loyalty. A good example is the brand Janie & Jack, which specializes in a laid-back preppy look that says “I’m so in control” (for the boys) and “He’s going to be so successful” (for the moms).
3. Reach them through girls.
Moms make the purchase decisions, but they have competition in terms of influence by one of the most persuasive market groups — tween girls. More than 40% of boys ages 8 to 18 said one of their best friends was a girl, according to NPD Research (cited in The New York Times). These girls — who mature faster — are guiding boys in fashion and fads, often through social media. Sporting brands like Nike and Under Armour have been effective at tapping into this susceptible age period by taking the market seriously and offering boys the same styles as men.
4. Don’t assume their interests.
Generally, tween boys are losing interest in toys, gaining interest in girls, and definitely interested in being cool. Enter products such as SpongeBob SquarePants Eau de Toilette Spray for Boys. The trick is remembering that thinking like boys also means seeing what they see. Technology makes a lot of new interests accessible, such as photography (Instagram and Snapchat), entrepreneurialism (apps like Street Food Tycoon), and a range of activities addressed in video games – Lego hit the mark with its Dimensions series.
Lastly, retailers and brands would benefit from being sensitive to the vulnerabilities of tween-aged boys. This period between childhood and teens is filled with expectations that earlier generations did not experience. If these boys feel cared for, above all else, they will likely remember it as men.
Bryan Pearson a Featured Contributor to The Wise Marketer and is the President of LoyaltyOne, where he has been leveraging the knowledge of 120 million customer relationships over 20 years to create relevant communications and enhanced shopper experiences.
This article originally appeared in Forbes. Be sure to follow Bryan on Facebook and Twitter for more on retail, loyalty and the customer experience.