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Investing in Technology to Reach Young Audiences 

At the 2005 National Scout Jamboree in Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, only the pattering of rain and the murmur of tent zippers interrupted the gentle hum of crickets in the night. Not a single ringtone broke the silence. After all, smartphones barely existed in 2005. And even if they had, the Boy Scouts of America would never dream of letting scouts use them at the Jamboree.

Fast forward to 2013. Not only are mobile devices allowed at the National Scout Jamboree, but leaders encourage scouts to use them. Charging stations are strategically placed throughout the grounds, and some Jamboree activities actually depend on scouts toting smartphones alongside their sleeping bags and merit badge sashes.

Why the big change?

Evolving the brand

For the Boy Scouts, turning a blind eye to kids’ preferred communication platforms simply wasn’t an option. A teched-out Jamboree was necessary to enhance brand identity and stay relevant.

According to Todd Walter, Scout Executive for the Central North Carolina Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the organization is always experimenting with new ways to reach kids.

“Just a few years ago, electronics were forbidden on camping trips,” Walter explained. “Now we know we have to reach kids where they are today. We’ve got to keep up with them technologically.”

Of course, the Boy Scouts of America isn’t the only organization that bends over backward to connect with young people. Many storefront businesses are leveraging the power of technology to do precisely the same thing, and their efforts often go beyond bolstering brand perception—they’re using technology to generate sales leads, too.

Distraction or opportunity?

We’ve all seen kids as young as 10 glued to their smartphone screens. But while this habit fosters disapproving paternalism in some observers, a growing number of businesses see the trend as an opportunity.

Social media, in particular, seems to hold promise for businesses that need to attract young customers (or convince parents to reach for their wallets).

Just ask the Asheville Music School in Asheville, North Carolina. The school posts videos of student performances on its Facebook page and lets teachers add original content that shows off the faculty’s musical smarts.

“Being active on Facebook encourages kids to check us out,” said Gabrielle Tee of the Asheville Music School. “When 13 and 14-year-olds see all the great things we do here, they tell their friends. Social media has definitely helped us grow.”

Making interactions… interactive

Businesses can also invest in technology to fulfill an organizational mission or brand promise. For businesses seeking to connect with young people, those investments frequently take the form of device-driven, interactive experiences.

Remember how the 2013 Scout Jamboree offered activities that required the use of smart devices? One of those activities was a “virus tracker” game in which scouts “infected” one another by scanning a unique barcode that appeared on each scout’s name badge. To play, scouts had to download the game’s mobile app, which was created by researchers at Virginia Tech.

The game was kind of like tag, but with a technological—and educational—twist. By spreading the make-believe virus among peers, scouts learned how diseases spread among populations and become pandemics.

Thanks to technology, the Boy Scouts of America was making good on its mission of informing and educating boys. And the activity was a hit with Jamboree attendees.

“Over the last few years, we realized mobile technology was becoming one of the most common ways for kids and parents to communicate,” said Walter, noting that the Boy Scouts were looking for a way to join the conversation. “We needed to update our technology so we wouldn’t fall behind.”

Falling behind would have meant failing to fulfill its brand promise. It was a bold move for organizations like the Boy Scouts and the Asheville Music School to embrace technology they way they have, but the outcome is compelling: a stronger, more age-relevant brand and a more engaged, motivated customer pool.

It’s hard to argue with results.

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