The generations differ in the way they go about the car buying experience. You probably knew that. Do you know exactly how? Or what each difference means for your marketing and advertising efforts? We’ve laid out the details on these experiences, what it means for your generation-specific car dealership marketing, and the universal aspect of car buying that you can use to reach all generations.
Let’s get started:
AKA: The iGeneration, Post-Millennials, Plurals
Generation Years: 1995 – 2015(ish — consensus on ending years hasn’t been reached)
Age Range: 3-23
Defining Characteristics of Gen Z:
Up and Coming:
Generation Z is still a largely untapped market. Though most haven’t reached independent car-buying age yet, this doesn’t mean they should be ignored until they grow up — in fact, that would likely be disastrous. Gen Z might not be buying cars for themselves yet, but they have influence.
- Gen Z direct spending power lies between $22 billion and $149 billion
- 93% of parents today say their Gen Z children influence family and household purchases.
- 29% of moms feel their Gen Z child is influential when purchasing a family car.
Natives of the Digital World:
Gen Z is growing up steeped in tech. It defines their present and will rule their future. They know that. They like it that way. If your dealership isn’t aligned with their technological expectations when it comes time to buy a car, they probably won’t pay attention.
- About three-quarters of people from 13 to 17 use their smartphones daily, more than they watch TV.
- Gen Z also use computers for three hours a day (excluding homework and work).
- In 2015, 77% of this generation owned a smartphone. We’ll bet anything that number has gotten even higher.
Short Attention Span (Impatience for Disinterest):
Though their short attention span has gotten them raked over the coals for being less attentive than a goldfish, it’s more a product of the technology and availability of information that they grew up with. They can Google almost anything and get the answer (or something close enough) in about a second, so they don’t really see the point in spending more time than they have to (or want to) on any given task. The takeaway: speed matters.
- Gen Z has been found to have an average attention span of 8 seconds
- For comparison, Millennials have average attention spans of 12 seconds.
The Best Automotive Marketing Channels and Strategies for Gen Z:
UGC — User Generated Content
This generation gathers much of their purchasing information by crowdsourcing experience.
In addition to relying on content created by their peers, Gen Z also likes being the creators — for example, 44% of Gen Z are interested in contributing ideas to products and designs for their favorite brands. While you probably don’t have a following of teenage fans, this is still an important insight. Reach Gen Z by offering meaningful interactions and the opportunity to take a more participatory role in your marketing. Give them every opportunity to create user-generated content, and they will.
Go Nuts With Video Content
Youtube influences 32% of Gen Z when they make purchases. Video content is far and away how they prefer to receive and consume information. This takeaway isn’t too hidden: maximize video content (and streamline the means of producing it) to begin gearing your dealership for a Gen Z customer.
Be Selective With Social Media
These young people might have the reputation of being glued to their devices and consuming social information in every imaginable format, but they’re actually rather selective. A shotgun approach to social media isn’t going to appeal to them. The right messaging will, however
After all, more than 80% of Gen Z are influenced by social media in the course of their shopping, and they are a full 2-3x more likely to be influenced by social media than sales or discounts — making them the only generation that cares more about social media than price. The most influential social media platforms for Gen Z were Instagram, Snapchat, and Youtube. Effective automotive marketing will bring engaging marketing content to them on these platforms. Instagram alone influenced 44% of Gen Z during a purchase.
Mobile is a Must
If your dealership isn’t mobile-first by now, you might have a problem, but once Gen Z gains even more economic power, it’ll be the end. Generation Z’s greatest tool are their mobile devices, and they use them constantly. Losing their phone is one of their greatest stresses, as being disconnected from it means unplugging from their whole digital world. Your dealership website should function flawlessly on mobile, and your marketing should begin to lean more heavily upon mobile channels into the future.
AKA: Generation Y, Generation Why
Generation Years: 1980 – 1994
Age Range: 38-24
Defining Characteristics of Millennials:
The First Tech Generation
Millennials were the first generation to grow up in the Internet age. They might not be the digital natives that Gen Z are (at least maybe not older Millennials), but they’re dependent on their technology, and learned to use it to their advantage early. They are truly multi-device and can juggle their experiences between devices without any trouble — often switching between them multiple times in the course of a task.
- 48% of mobile-first auto consumers are Millennials.
- Millennials switch between an average of three screens a day.
- Less than 2% of Millennials watching TV changed the channel during commercials — they don’t even bother, just pick up their phone.
Late Start, Now Dominating
Millennials have been disrupting industries right and left, and after a bit of a late start to car buying, the auto industry is no exception. Not only that, but they have recently overtaken Baby Boomers as the most populous generation. It’s the turning point in a generational shift. This makes Millennials a particularly important segment of the population to focus your automotive marketing on.
- Despite Uber and other disruptive ride-sharing services, Millennials drive 72% more than Baby Boomers and 18% more than Gen X.
- 29% of new vehicles are bought by Millennials.
- By 2020, Millennials are expected to be responsible for 40% of new car sales.
Consumers, ages 21 through 34, are taking out new auto loans at a 21 percent higher rate than Gen X borrowers did when they were that age, according to a study released Wednesday by TransUnion.
Creatures of Convenience
Millennials When it comes to car shopping, you can be absolutely certain the millennial preference for convenience is incredibly powerful.They’ve grown up with sites like Amazon and companies like Apple defining their user experiences, both online and off. In fact, this trait is powering some of the greatest dissatisfactions that Millennials have about car buying — particularly when it comes to the time it takes to accomplish tasks (many of which could be done faster or better online).
- 80% of Millennials said that buying or leasing a new car should take less time.
- 23% of Millennials won’t wait longer than 10 minutes for a test drive
- 22% said that 20 minutes is too long to complete paperwork in the finance office.
The Best Automotive Marketing Channels and Strategies for Millennials:
Trust, Transparency, Authenticity
84% of Millennials do not trust traditional advertising methods. They are searching for information during their buying decisions and meaning from the companies they do business with. Use your automotive marketing as an opportunity to stand out by delivering that. Your advertising to Millennials should be clever and worth their time, and your marketing should directly support their car-shopping goals, which you can do by offering them tools, information, and assistance. Some millennial-beloved platforms that support authenticity:
- YouTube (video content in general)
- Google My Business and review sites
Indulge Their Information Obsession
Millennials are experts in online research, and they’d rather take their time learning about their vehicles. Your successful automotive marketing depends on not just allowing them to do that, but facilitating that information-gathering.
According to research from Autotrader, Millennials spend over 17 hours researching their vehicle before purchase. Their hunger for information spurs this impressively lengthy research phase. Millennials are distinctive for their desire to get all the details before they make a decision. 71% of Millennials say they need to be aware of all possible vehicle choices — more than Gen Xers or Baby Boomers.
Orient your website towards helping customers do their research. Deliver all the details and information you possibly can on the vehicle. Other than how it feels when they drive it and the new car smell, someone visiting your site should be able to learn as much about the car as if they were there in person checking it out. The key: Deliver this information well. Shoppers are used to product specifications and details laid out in highly-intuitive and professional design.
Perfect Your Online and In-Store Experiences
Millennials are called entitled, but the reality is that they just came of age in an era with higher standards for customer experiences. They move effortlessly online between devices and channels, and then expect that experience to translate to their in-store or real-life experience. Much of the time, their most common online spaces are designed that way. Millennials are won over by online experiences that show dedication to their priorities, not the dealerships, and when they enter your establishment, they’ll expect that to carry over. When it comes to on-the-lot experience, pay particular attention to the areas they’ve expressed frustration with:
- Test drives (don’t make them wait)
- F&I (don’t take hours on paperwork)
- Sales Staff (curate, don’t push)
Extra Millennial Marketing Tip:
Take a little extra care when marketing to Millennials. The oldest Millennials are now rapidly approaching 40, but the youngest are still in their early 20s. This is an age-range that typically has an immense variation in experience and lifestyle. Some have just left college and started their careers and may have more in common with Gen Z, while others have been married for years with full families, jobs, homes, and all the responsibilities and concerns that come with these. This generation is the first that expects personalized marketing — if you target a young millennial and older one with the same growing-family themed marketing, you might win one over, but you’ll likely turn off the other.
AKA: Post-Boomers, Baby Busters, MTV Generation, Latch-key Kids
Generation Years: 1965 – 1979
Age Range: 39-53
Defining Characteristics of Gen X:
Neglected, but Powerful
Smaller than Baby Boomers, Millennials, and Gen Z, this generation has been somewhat ignored by marketing. After all, the Baby Boomers are an economic powerhouse, and Millennials are disruption champions. But this small generation is mighty, and may be some of the best car buyers you have in the future. Investing in this audience is a great idea.
- Gen X only makes up about 20% of the population
- $2.4 trillion in spending power.
- Gen X has 14% of the nation’s wealth. By 2030, they’ll have 30%, twice the projected share for Millennials.
Skeptical and Tech Savvy
Gen X may not be as intense about new technology as Millennials, but they still recognize it as something that sets their generation apart. They’re a generation given to natural skepticism and criticism of authority, and they leverage technology to do their own evaluating.
- Gen X are skeptical and unlikely to trust companies or brands without first developing a relationship and doing their homework. They want to be confident with their choices of business.
- Gen X considers technology the top defining trait of its generation (close runner-up was work ethic)
- Gen X loves video, they account for 1.5 billion views per day on Youtube.
Committed to Good Experiences
Though they grew up daydreaming about Breakfast Club-style rebellion and saw the emergence of punk and grunge, Gen Xers aren’t commitment-averse. In fact, they’re the most loyal when it comes to brand. They develop tastes, know what they like, and stick to it more than other generations — but only if that brand is delivering the experience they want, and acknowledging them for their dedication.
- Almost 50% of Gen Xers surveyed say they are extremely or quite loyal to brands once they buy-in to products.
- However, more than 63% say that they’ll abandon loyalty programs if the rewards aren’t relevant or valuable.
- Gen X is the most brand loyal of any living generation (70%)
The Best Automotive Marketing Channels and Strategies for Gen X:
Blend Nostalgia with New Media
Want to make Gen X pay attention? Nostalgia is a great tool for this generation, and from their hours watching Saturday morning cartoons (and all the requisite commercials) as children, they already have a lot of sentimentalities connected with brands and products.
That being said, they don’t want to just wallow in the past — automotive marketing that pays tribute to their childhood while still presented on the channels and in the mediums they most enjoy can be incredibly effective. Youtube is exceptionally effective for this — in fact, on Youtube nostalgic videos are the #1 type of content consumed by Gen X.
Source: Think With Google
Remember, in the next 12 years, as Gen X ages into new lifestyles and roles, their control over wealth is projected to double — their prime nostalgia-marketing years coinciding perfectly with their fattening wallets.
Loyalty Programs and Customer Appreciation Pay Off
Gen X is the most brand-loyal generation — reward them for it. This generation may be small but it is powerful, and they will be phenomenal long-term customers if your dealership can manage to both win them over and retain them once you do.
Implement referral, loyalty, and customer retention programs to show Gen X car shoppers how much they are appreciated. You can also appeal to their desire for a better experience and try to win over their loyalty from a competitor. Gen X might be loyal, but they’re also pragmatic. They’ll shift their loyalties if you make a good case, particularly when what you’re offering also has financial benefits (over 85% of Gen Xers day discounts or coupons are the most important benefit of a loyalty program).
Tried and True Channels
Gen X is loyal, and that applies to the channels they prefer. Facebook is one of these. For Gen X, Facebook was originally a great way to reconnect with old friends. Now, it’s their favorite social media platform, and connects them not only to their friends and relatives, but also to their favorite brands and personalities. When considering your Facebook marketing, take into account the fact that the life situations and stages of this small but powerful generation.
Keep in mind this doesn’t mean Gen X are inflexible. Gen X didn’t grow up with Facebook, but they adopted it quickly. They didn’t come of age in the era of the smartphone, but they became some of the first to jump on board. Their loyalty is entirely earned — none of it is given freely, and they aren’t tethered to old mediums — don’t let that happen to your dealership marketing.
AKA: Boomers (or one of many subsets within this huge generation)
Generation Years: 1946 – 1964
Age Range: 54-74
Defining Characteristics of Baby Boomers:
Still Buying Strong
Someday Baby Boomers will no longer be a reliable source of profit for car dealers — but today is not that day. Peaking in 1999, Baby Boomers were the world’s largest living adult population. They are buying longer than the generation before them, and their impressive economic power is making that very easy.
- Boomers buy the most new vehicles (although in California, Millennials have just eclipsed them).
- In 2016, the average 65-year-old had 29% more automotive debt than a 65-year-old from 2003.
- Control up to 70% of the nation’s wealth.
Put Emphasis on Values, Respect, Straightforwardness
Baby Boomers are the most traditional of the generations you likely do business with on a daily basis. Though this certainly means Boomers lean conservative in their values, the much more important aspect to their traditional outlook is the kind of interaction they expect from who they do business with. They want business dealings to be respectful and uncomplicated.
- Fast and direct communication is the #1 driver of loyalty among Baby Boomers
- Online, they like articles of just 300 words or fewer
Looking for Mobility Solutions in the Future
Dealers know how to sell to Baby Boomers now, but that may be shifting, and quickly. Baby Boomers face challenges to their independence as they get older. Technological and medical advances mean that this generation will be able to stay active, engaged, independent, and mobile for significantly longer than their parents. Their car purchasing will continue for a long while, but what they need and how they get it will change.
- For Baby Boomers, 70 is the new 55.
- Almost 93% of Americans between 60 and 64 had driver’s licenses in 2011, up from only 84% in 1983.
- However, 80% of people in their 70s have Arthritis or inflammation that makes moving less easy.
The Best Automotive Marketing Channels and Strategies for Baby Boomers:
What’s Been Working So Far — With a Twit
Your dealership likely has a solid understanding of these customers and have been selling to them for years. Baby Boomers are still and incredibly lucrative market, and they won’t be fading from the car-buying map as quickly as the generation before them. Use the same channels and methods you’ve always
Refocus on this excellent customer base and show them the true convenience and ease of a modern car shopping experience. You want them to experience you automotive marketing and think “Wow. This is awesome. It wasn’t like this last time I bought a car.”
Traditional Media Plays Well
Baby Boomers like their traditional media. They still enjoy getting information from newspapers and the radio. They even still pay attention to direct mail marketing campaigns. Television remains one of their favorite pastimes, and they spend about as much time watching TV as they do online.
This traditional take to things extends online. They are particularly likely to check their email and pay attention to the content they are sent — though they are wary of spam. Email marketing to Baby Boomers that builds on your dealership reputation and forms a connection with the customer can be incredibly effective.
This being said, the alternatives to these traditional mediums (like podcasts) become more popular among this older generation, consider shifting your marketing over.
Search is Significant
Among top activities for Baby Boomer online, search is a surprisingly fantastic marketing channel. In fact, the report that search engines drive most of their online activities — meaning that search links these across their various touch points — an excellent opportunity for automotive search engine marketing.
If your rival dealerships seem to be out-competing you on traditional media for the Baby Boomer market, concentrating on this Baby Boomer affinity for search engines may be a great avenue to explore. To make use of this for your automotive marketing, identify the types of vehicles and the syntax of searches that Baby Boomers use, and tailor some of your SEO and PPC to this generation.
The Universal Car-Marketing Strategy: Customer Experience
Gen Z can’t imagine engaging in a shopping experience that isn’t also pleasant and fun.
Millennials expect an exceptional customer experience from every business they do business with.
Gen X are won over from their usual skepticism with an engaging and trustworthy customer experience.
Baby Boomers appreciate the forthright commitment to customers and respect a business that delivers it.
A standout customer experience makes an impact regardless of generation. It’s not a revolutionary statement — or at least, it shouldn’t be. That’s something you have probably experienced for yourself as you’ve sold car after car to young and old alike. Prioritize CX in all things online and offline. Look for hangups, roadblocks, or frustrations in your shopping process and remove them.
How do your customers experience your dealership, from the moment they find you online to when they drive off the lot? What is the full map of their experience of you? Go through it yourself, answer that question, and you should have a small list of places to start.
There are car buyers in every generation – but that might not mean they are incredibly productive in your area. Remember to tailor these insights and recommendations to your own region and local situation.