Market Like Teenagers: Lessons from the Industry’s Next Generation

Last month I had the privilege of judging the Georgia DECA Career Development Conference, a competition of high school marketing students. For two days, I and dozens of other volunteer marketing professionals, reviewed, critiqued and measured over 2,000 marketing competition entries of more than 1,300 high school students from all around the state. We were looking at the future marketers, co-workers or even competitors, and we were impressed! The event also inspired us to bring renewed enthusiasm to our own jobs.

teenage b2b marketersThe energy was electric as these lively teens took over the Omni Hotel in Atlanta–huddled in corners practicing their presentations, adjusting their uniforms, and giggling with nervous anticipation. Vying for bragging rights, national competition advancement and scholarship winnings, the state DECA competition had all the characteristics of a major high school athletic event. DECA has a two-fold mission, each of which were on grand display: (1) Focusing on leadership development and (2) Increasing and/or enhancing skill development through very comprehensive, competitive events.

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I was most awed with the kids who entered the pressure-packed individual role-play events. In the Marketing Management event, where I judged 32 competitors, the entrants were challenged by assuming the role of marketing director presenting to the CEO. They each had only 10 minutes to review a marketing scenario and prepare a presentation with only paper and pencil. Then they each had 10 minutes to present with strict performance indicators. While most were nervous the first couple minutes, they all presented as resourcefully and enthusiastically as some veteran marketers I know. And some even better. Clearly, they had all learned thoroughly the fundamentals with clever explanations of effective communications, positioning factors, identifying competitive advantage and communicating core values. The high scores were presented to the most thorough, creative and enthusiastic with genuine zeal overshadowing any slips. The attributes we admired most were an upbeat tone-of-voice and a constant smile with a dose of personality.

It was an honor to rate the winners who would advance to represent their high schools at the DECA National Competition in Utah. The event was transformative for so many of these young marketers, but also for us judges: We returned to our jobs with renewed vigor and belief in our educational system. We agreed to recall these youngsters’ zeal when we are challenged to work through our own marketing projects. We will market like teenagers! Yay!

Founded in 1946, DECA chapters operate in over 4,500 high schools across the U.S., Puerto Rico, Guam and Canada with over 172,000 members. DECA is a co-curricular student organization that is perfectly aligned with national marketing education curriculum standards.

Marketers: Consider volunteering with your local high school’’s DECA program. How can you contribute to the next generation of marketers?