11 May 2006

The 'third place'

Teens today no longer think of brands as a sign of quality. Rather, they take quality for granted, something that is built into the product. If the brand fails in quality, or underperforms in any way, don’t even expect that brand to survive in the teen domain. The bad news will spread like wildfire through the peer-to-peer channels and kill the brand instantly.

That’s because teens thrive on interpersonal communications. It’s what they trust. Much of their information gathering and dissemination is done through interpersonal communications. They are on the phone (an hour a day, some researchers say more); they are on the Internet (e-mailing, messaging, chatting, blogging); they are hanging out at cybercafes, coffeehouses and malls. Networking all the time. Their information flows back and forth – and gets enriched in the process.

I find this ‘syndrome’ quite fascinating. For teenagers today, the information space has changed radically. They no longer rely on the traditional media for news and information, thereby killing all opportunities for newspapers, magazines, TV and radio to reach them. They congregate and thrive on this ‘third place’ – a virtual world of information and friendships – exchanging information, images, music, video clips... and opinion.

In a way, the social behaviour of teenagers today is not all that different from what we – the oldies – used to do, say, 25 years ago. We also looked for the ‘third place’ – a place other than home or college – to kill time. It’s just that we had no options then as teens do today. So, we used to hang around in our colleges – perhaps in the college canteens – till it was time to go home. Of course, we’d catch a film now and then, but so do teens today.

The universal fact is, teenagers have free time – lots of free time – and they look for appealing options to hangout in to spend this time. The Internet does offer a virtual place to do this, but there’s no taking away the need for a physical place. Hence, the obvious options of coffeehouses and malls. What teens typically look for are people of their own age, music, films, fast food, video games, and clothing and fashion accessories stores. But most important of all, they look for a place where they can sit and relax for a while.

When we were teens, didn’t we oldies want exactly that?

No comments: