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Facebook or Four Wheels? Cars Still Matter to Millennials

If you've been reading the same media reports that I have over the past couple of years you might believe that cars are headed for the graveyard, victims of a generation that favors walking, biking, mass transportation and ride sharing.

While tough economic times may have hindered automotive purchases among Millennials—as well as other generations—numerous studies of car-buying habits and preferences among Millennials offer clear evidence that the majority of Millennials aren't shunning their cars. However, automotive manufacturers and aftermarket suppliers do need to understand the perspectives, preferences and behaviors of Millennials and shape their marketing practices accordingly in order to capture a greater share of sales.

For starters, here are five things to remember when it comes to Millennials:

  • Cars remain extremely important to their daily life. In fact, a survey of Millennials between the ages of 18 and 341 finds that when asked to rate the importance of various products and services, 87% give their car a rating of four points or higher on a five-point scale of importance. Only high-speed Internet access rates higher at 89%, while mobile smartphone importance closely follows that of a car. Email, texting, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all rate as less important to daily life than a car.
    In a separate study by MTV Research, slightly more than three-quarters of respondents reveal that they would rather give up social media for a day than their cars, while roughly seven in 10 say that they would prefer to forego texting for a week over giving up their car.2
  • Millennials view buying a car as a necessity. It's also a perspective they believe is shared by most of their peers—80% think of a car as the most common big-ticket item being purchased by people of a similar age. They prefer to own their vehicles, with about six in 10 saying they would rather buy than lease.2 Among Millennials who did purchase a new vehicle recently, 80% of younger Millennials and 72% of older Millennials did so because they "needed one" while the remaining respondents stated they "wanted one."3
  • They consider their cars an extension of themselves. Just because most Millennials purchase cars more out of necessity than want doesn't mean they lack an emotional connection to their vehicles. They're more likely than older drivers to have named their cars. And they're more likely to say that they want a car that reflects their individuality—73% of Millennials feel this way compared to 64% of Gen Xers and 48% of Boomers.2
  • They have a need for speedy, and transparent, sales. Millennials typically feel that buying or leasing a vehicle takes more time than it should. Beyond wanting quicker sales and leasing processes, they believe that ratings and comparisons could be more helpful. Nearly three-quarters report that they find vehicle ratings and comparisons confusing. Transparency matters, too, given that 83% of Millennials say they want more details regarding how brands set vehicle prices.2
    Similar trends emerge online, where Millennials represent 28% of online automotive parts and accessories shoppers. Here, they seek both promptness and convenience, which translates into short, specified delivery times. They're more willing than other online shoppers to pay to have their items delivered faster and are more likely to purchase additional items when they go to an automotive parts and accessories store to pick up their ship-to-store purchase.4
  • They're technologically savvy DIYers. Yes, Millennials are increasingly representing a larger share of DIYers. Not surprisingly, they turn to technology to tap into DIY knowledge and expertise. Their expectations include the ability to view local parts stock by smartphone and to watch how-to videos that are optimized for tablets.5

For those who market cars and automotive products to Millennials, it's critical that you shape your efforts and customer service practices accordingly. Ensure that Millennials can quickly and easily research cars and automotive products and services via their mobile devices. Given the research cited above you should also consider the following approaches:

  • Expedite the purchasing process. Whether you sell cars or car parts or provide automotive services, help Millennials accomplish as much as they can online as quickly as possible. This includes answering their questions immediately, preferably through text, chat or email. Experience matters tremendously to Millennials, so if they're sitting around your dealership for hours or have to wait too long to receive parts purchased online, you'll lose them as customers.
  • Respect their desire for transparency. Provide clear and accurate information throughout all phases of the Millennials' shopper journey. Forget about selling them on a "great deal." Instead, offer as much detail as you can about your pricing and any related costs they need to take into consideration. This will go a long way in establishing trust and building long-term relationships with Millennial customers.
  • Respond to their need for self-expression. Give Millennials the tools and technology that let them see how different features and products can have a significant impact on their car's appearance. Encourage them to think through all of their options so that they end up with a car that truly reflects who they are.

One final note: If you have yet to tailor your marketing and communication efforts to meet the needs of Millennials, make it a priority. They are the largest generation of drivers since the 1960s. Delivering an exceptional experience that reflects their perspectives, preferences and behaviors can help you capture the brand loyalty you need for future success.

1The Future of Mobility: How We Connect to Our Cars, MRY and Whitman Insight Strategies, January 2014
2Millennials Have Drive; MTV Research; Jan. 23, 2015
3Next Generation Car Buyer Study, AutoTrader.com, August 2013
4What's Driving the Automotive Parts Online Shopper, Customer Experience Study by comScore, UPS White Paper, October 2014
5The Future of Aftermarket Automotive Retailing: Making the Most of the Do-It-Yourself Market, Teletech Holdings, 2014