At Harvard we work with a very diverse set of tech clients – from global brands to cutting-edge startups – which means they all have different and tightly defined audiences they want to reach. As part of Harvard’s planning and insights team, my job is to investigate and understand those audiences, whoever that might be, so we can develop ideas that will resonate with them and achieve our clients’ objectives.

Over the last few months we’ve noticed more and more clients coming to us with an eye on the youth market. Whether the brief is about encouraging new talent into the workplace or convincing them to buy the latest must-have gadget or app, this young audience is increasingly the target of brands’ marketing efforts.

Of course, there’s a raft of research out there on the youth audience, whether you call them Millennials, Generation Y, Generation Z or even “Generation Me”. But that research tends to be behavioural, rather than attitudinal, categorising people mostly by age group (which is never particularly helpful). In other words, this consumer research tells us what young people do, but not what they think and feel – yet the latter emotions are much more important in helping us plan effective communication campaigns to consumers.

So we went looking for new data about the youth audience in unexpected places – the worlds of psychology and politics. Straightaway we started finding interesting insights.

We learned from a neuroscience paper that teenagers outsource their decision-making functions to the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with emotions, aggression and instinct. Did this account for their inherent brand-sensitivity, we wondered?

They also take more risks when another teenager is watching – explaining the social appeal of high-risk activities like parkour.

We learned from a psychosocial paper that young people who play more video games actually have better social skills, so they’re not as “geeky” as parts of the media like to portray. Were these our future clients, we thought to ourselves?

We came across a study by IPSOS MORI that discusses how young people are more likely than their older counterparts to consider social problems the responsibility of individuals and are less trusting of public institutions. We also found that, contrary to popular belief, teenagers tend to limit the size of their closest social circle, implying that friendship is a decision rather than a default.

Next, we used TGI Youth data to do some correspondence analysis of people who typified these attitudes and behaviours. From this we created pen portraits of six common personas found among young people in Britain today:

  • TechnoTykes – digital natives working towards business fame
  • New Libertarians – freedom-seekers who make up their own minds
  • Experience Junkies – social adventurers and risk-takers
  • Conscientious Consumers – family-oriented doers of good
  • New Perfectionists – brand-aware and status-conscious
  • Comfort Zoners – loyal creatures of habit

Over the next few weeks, I’ll introduce you to each of these youth audience types and look at how brands can more effectively communicate to them, through a greater understanding of what they’re thinking, not just what they’re doing and where!

Picture credit: ciokka via Flickr

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