marketing to millennials

The Generation Gap in Car Dealership Customer Retention Part 1: Marketing To Millennials

Ah, millennials! The generation that brought us avocado toast, a near-obsessive interest in craft beer, and a focus on acquiring experiences instead of things. For years, headlines have pointed fingers at millennials for negatively impacting everything from home sales to the auto industry as they opt for renting and ride-sharing over ownership. And, marketing to millennials can seem like an impossible task.

All of this has left older generations shaking their heads — in particular, over the millennial view on car ownership. “In my day, I couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license and own my first car!” Generation Xers and Baby Boomers proclaim. “To my generation, a car meant freedom!”

To a millennial generation largely focused on saving money, owning a car has traditionally meant extra expense. Statistically, millennials also tend to wait longer to get married and have children. However, recent studies show that as the millennial generation ages — meaning that they’re now beginning to start families and enjoy a bit more expendable income — they’re demonstrating more of an interest in purchasing cars.

This means that auto dealerships shouldn’t count millennials out of the marketing equation. Including this important demographic (which makes up at least a quarter of the U.S. population) in marketing efforts involves taking a step back to consider what millennials want in a car-buying experience.

Marketing to Millennials — Making the Most of Complimentary Maintenance

Even as the millennial generation becomes willing to spend a bit more to have the flexibility and convenience of owning their own vehicles, they still tend to be more frugal than older generations. This makes them more likely to take advantage of programs such as complimentary maintenance offered by their auto dealership. 

If your dealership isn’t employing complimentary maintenance as a service-based lead generation strategy, you’re missing the opportunity to build valuable relationships with your millennial customers. Unlike Gen Xers and Boomers, millennials have demonstrated the willingness to return and even wait longer (if need be) for a service like an oil change or tire rotation if it’s free — an excellent chance to create customer loyalty.

Millennials and Length of Car Ownership

Another factor that separates millennials from previous generations is their tendency to hold on to vehicles for longer. Many auto dealerships have grown accustomed to customers who are eager to trade in their current vehicle to get into something newer, shinier, and with the latest bells and whistles. Frugal-minded millennials may be more likely to have a “drive-it-til-the-wheels-fall-off” mentality, seeking to get the most out of a vehicle both to maximize their budget and to minimize the environmental impact of buying new things. 

Auto dealerships can work with millennial customers on this front in two ways. First: building a connection based on complimentary maintenance will keep younger customers coming back for paid repairs and maintenance long after the free maintenance and warranty period are over. Second: when tech-savvy millennials do return to your dealership for a new vehicle, they will typically have done quite a bit of online car shopping and research, so it’s important for sales staff to really listen to what the customer wants — something we’ll discuss in more detail next.

More Miles in Smaller Cars

With an age demographic that tends to wait longer and be more cautious about making large purchases, it’s more important than ever that auto dealerships really go the extra mile to please their millennial customers. Often, this is as simple as taking a customer-centric approach and just listening to their wants and needs.

What do millennial auto buyers want? Studies show that millennials tend to drive more miles per year than previous generations, but these buyers are choosing to go smaller in terms of vehicle size. As a cost-saving measure, many millennials are opting for sedans over the gas-guzzling (and more expensive to maintain) SUVs often preferred by Gen Xers and Boomers.

What this all boils down to is the need for auto dealerships to take a more patient and open-minded approach to the millennial generation. The numbers show that while this customer demographic is more cautious about car purchases than older customers, millennials are purchasing a surprisingly large amount of vehicles, especially given generational stereotypes that would suggest otherwise. By working to build loyalty and truly listen to millennial customers’ needs, you’ll ensure that your dealership is first on their minds when it’s time for a repair, a new set of tires … or a shiny new vehicle.