According to an estimate from the 2010 U.S. Census, there are 20 million tweens in the U.S.  And they have significant spending power, as their estimated annual personal disposable income is $43 billion1.  Plus, they influence another $150 billion of their parents’ spending2., making tween research a target you may not want to ignore.

Here are some answers to the three key questions you should ask before you start a tween research project.

1. Who should you talk to when conducting tween research?

  • Recruit by grade, not age. The most commonly accepted age range for tween research is eight to twelve years old.  This encompasses 2nd through 7th graders, which is a sizable range. Recruiting 3rd and 4th graders together and 5th and 6th graders, allows you to yield the greatest insights because tweens are talking among peers they can relate to.
  • Talk to kids and their moms… both perspectives are key. While it is important to talk to tweens themselves, you CAN NOT forget the importance of talking to moms too. While tweens are huge influencers of mom’s purchase decision, moms are ultimately the gatekeeper of what products make it into their homes.
  • Do not talk to moms and tweens together! As tweens are influenced by what their mothers think, they tend to respond based on this bias rather than speaking openly and honestly.

2. What methodology is best for tween research?

Tween Photo by Franklin Park Library

  •  Utilize in person versus on-line methods. In person discussions are critical to see and learn from tween’s visceral reactions, given their often inability to deeply articulate the why’s behind what they are thinking.  Also, tweens cannot reliably engage in the typical 2-3 day on-line bulletin board format.
  • Conduct focus groups. Tweens are more comfortable and less inhibited among a group of peers versus talking one-on-one with an adult.  Further, while friendship pairs one pair at a time can also work, we do not recommend focus groups with multiple friendship pairs, as friends stick with their friends resulting in a less open and insightful group discussion.
  • Limit group length and number of participants. Tween research groups should ideally be 60 minutes (75 max) in order to hold the tweens’ attention.  As such, the group size should be limited to 6, to ensure appropriate respondent participation. Strongly consider over-recruiting more than typical (9 for 6 versus 8 for 6), to avoid the awkward and hurtful situation of having only one tween not chosen to participate.
  • Screen hard for articulation. Add tween friendly questions to the screener such as: What is the best vacation you ever took and why?  Also, the moderator should introduce themselves to tweens and their moms before group selection as this gut check is a great way to assess articulation firsthand.

3. How to glean the best insights from tween research?

  • Make the environment comfortable and not intimidating.  The moderator should…
    • Introduce himself/herself before the groups, talk to them, tell them it is going to be fun.
    • Dress casual, wear jeans, be one of them.
    • Don’t have pads of paper and pens at their seats when they walk in… this can’t feel like school.
    • Use humor a lot! Don’t just tell them it will be fun, make it fun.
    • Don’t probe too much as this can make tweens feel as though they said something wrong. With adults, dig into the whys. With tweens, focus on the whats and their visceral reactions.
    • Have snacks, but stay clear of sugar to help maintain focus (especially the younger they are)!
  • Assign pre-work. As a lot of the insights we need from tweens are about things they do not spend much time thinking about, simple pre-work that is visual, fun and topic related, can get them to organically think about the topic ahead of time.  For example, if it is a packaging project, have them bring pictures of packages that they really like and that speaks to them. This also serves as a great warm up exercise, as they can ‘show and tell’ what they brought in which generates positive energy.
  • Include plenty of stimulus. Tweens are accustomed to having a lot of stimulation and react best to it versus hypothetical ideas!
  • Reduce group think, as tweens are strongly influenced by their peers! Before asking for their opinions, get them to commit to their own first.  Ask them to close their eyes and raise their hands if they think the idea is a thumbs up, thumbs down, or neutral. This approach is fun for them too, especially if you catch someone peaking and you call them out on it!

Every target is different.  At GLJ Research, we understand the differences so that you can talk to who you want to, in ways that yield the strongest insights.  Putting the pieces together!


1 Global Association for Marketing at Retail’s white paper from March 2013

2Lagorio, Christine. “Resources: Marketing To Kids – CBS News.” Breaking News Headlines: Business, Entertainment & World News – CBS News. Web. 27 July 2011