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Millennial Madness versus Baby Boomers: Auto Dealer Marketing

The eternal infatuation with marketing to the young is driving many dealers down the wrong marketing highway. I counted nearly 35 articles related to Millennial Marketing in my inbox this past week. Only one article regarding today’s highest potential profit age segment, the BABY BOOMER!

Yes of course you have to ‘think young’ and prepare for the future. Yes, it’s great to build brand relevance with the 18-29s to perpetuate a lifelong transportation relationship. But spending a disproportionate share of your ad budget on texting, social media, green marketing, etc. is not going to put the bread on this weekend’s dinner table if you don’t spend an equitable portion of your budget on the folks who can, and will buy the cars you have to sell today, allowing you a reasonable profit in the process.

First, let me lay some ‘heavy’ news on Millennial Marketing Mayhem. According to Jack Neff, in an article for the May 31st Advertising Age titled: ‘Is Digital Revolution Driving Decline in U.S. Car Culture?’, Jeff shares data that suggests substantially FEWER 18-30 year olds are kicked on driving than their counterparts of just 10 years ago. The article, riddled with various surveys and data from the US Department of Transportation, says young folks just aren’t that excited about driving a car as the folks in my age group were in our younger days. In fact, in the past 10 years, the Millennials have not only shown less passion for automobiles, they are driving many fewer miles.

Now of course all the various gurus want to jump in with their explanations. “Hey, these young folks are totally virtual! They’re wired! They don’t have to drive all over the place for their kicks like us young folks did back in the days of sock hops, car hops and hula hoops. Besides, driving is just so ‘uncool’…like it’s destroying the environment you know!” My take on this: Young people are driving less because the entry cars are uglier, slower and smaller. Gas is expensive. So is car insurance…and you can’t text while driving.

Okay, so here is another nifty article by Nick Zulovich, titled: “Millennials Apprehensive of Dealers!” In this review, Nick explains that in the survey conducted by Wakefield Research for Microsoft, young folks just don’t think most car dealers are very cool. I mean, after all, they don’t show you everything they have on their computer terminals. You don’t make them part of the conversation between the salesperson and the sales manager. And for goodness sakes, you don’t have online terminals where they can shop other dealers and search inventory all over the country while in your showroom. Very uncool. Hey man, the majority of these young responders preferred a visit to have their teeth checked rather than talk with a dealer about a vehicle purchase. That makes you feel good about your job, doesn’t it? The survey indicated Millennials are looking to establish a “real relationship with the dealer.” A vast majority of participants — 84 percent, in fact — believe this task can be accomplished by Internet access being readily available at all times throughout the buying process. And of course, the ability to buy a vehicle for $1400 less than you pay the factory for it helps too.

Oh, by the way, the majority of MILLENNIALs say they want vehicles to be equipped with technological features such as a GPS system, a port to plug in a digital music player, software to track fuel consumption and Bluetooth capability. AND, they’ll be happy to return to a dealership often to have the software and hardware associated with these technologies UPGRADED FOR FREE…IF the perks are in the vehicles at the time of purchase. They don’t want much…do they?

Don’t get me wrong. We have to figure out a way to sell vehicles to young folks that they want, in a way they want to buy them, with the perks and features and freebies they want. But we’ve got to make money while we figure out that process and the easiest way to do that is… ‘TA DAH!’ …sell vehicles to the folks in my age group (and older) who actually still like a lot of the vehicles we still have on the lot, are reasonable about product and service expectations and can actually afford to pay for the vehicle!

This brings me to the question posed by Chad White in his article of May 25th, titled “The Boomer Generation is a Critical Audience For Marketers!” (Thank you, Chad.)

Mr. White points out that by 2015, those 50 and older will represent 45% of the US population. Currently the Boomers control over 80% of personal financial assets and more than 50% of discretionary spending power. So why is it we don’t get no respect? WHY…WHY…WHY…do you allow 8-point type on your website, in your emails and other marketing materials? When I have to pull out the magnifiers to read those tiny letters I wonder aloud why the marketing folks created unnecessary legibility issues for their most valuable customers. When a financial executive recently spoke to a Forrester’s Marketing forum, he asked how his company’s website could be improved. The #1 response: BIGGER FONT! The fact is, you small font guys irritate the hell out of us squinters. Wise up…will you!

I have a personal gripe with the Star Ledger…a paper read by a lot of older folks in northern New Jersey. The paper’s 800-number is just one digit away from my own. And because they print it in such tiny font, I get numerous calls asking why the paper wasn’t delivered this morning. And don’t they just love to call around 7:00am! Please Star Ledger…just a font or two larger! I’m tired of telling your callers that you’ve gone out of business.

Jitterbug has the right idea. That’s a cell phone designed for the ‘oldest’ of us boomers (and beyond.) Great big numbers. Great big letters. Want to call? Just press the big YES button. Want to hang up? Just press the big NO button.

In his article on Boomer Marketing Abuse, Mr. White also points out that us boomers don’t like reverse type or low contrast text or text over background images with lots of bright and dark areas. We don’t like full caps either. (Hard to read…and its impolite…sort of like shouting in print.)

How about radio and television? Yes, we boomers still use those. Speak clearly. Annunciate. Don’t drown the voices out with sound effects and music. By the way, if you’re marketing a vehicle specifically for the boomer crowd, how about a great big 800-number on the screen for the entire 30 seconds with key selling points bullet-pointed on screen to match the audio.

One very successful term life insurance company discovered a dramatic 30% increase in calls when the announcer spoke as if he were talking to someone hard of hearing with a full-face video so you could even a novice could read his lips. Less copy. More emphasis. No quick cuts. No music. 30% increase in calls to the great big 800-number on the bottom of the screen. Amazing, huh?

Oh, by the way, us boomers don’t like a lot of junk mail…but we still do read well-written letters, especially those addressed personally to us and printed in font of at least 12 points or larger. And we like follow-up calls for both sales and service if the caller is sincere and the message is relevant.

One dealer has really got us figured out. Seems his staff is calling to remind owners when their vehicle is due for service, for annual inspection, and even 30 days before the registration expires.

Could it be someone actually wants our business??

Do you have questions or comments about this or past AdTalk articles? Feel free to email them to CBC.

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