Millennials Continue to Shape Auto Sales in 2018 with Evolving Customer Preferences

Published in Dealer Marketing Magazine (October 2018)

By Rachel Pierson, Global Director of Strategic Accounts

The U.S. auto industry will continue to face transformative hurdles this year into next, and marketers are being tasked to quickly adapt to keep up with the evolving landscape. As we’re seeing the continued dominance of SUVs across customer engagement, site visits, and leads in North America, engaging customers at key moments in their purchase journey needs to be the central focus of automotive marketing strategies. Millennials are on the cusp of becoming the largest living adult population and surpassing baby boomers, making them a key demographic. The sheer size of this age group comes with significant buying power and influence. In the U.S. alone millennials make up $1.3 trillion in annual buying power. This generation is no doubt transforming the way auto marketers and dealers sell cars.

Get to Know Your Customer: The Millennial

Millennials came of age with the internet and are early adopters of technology. They are the most connected generation and heavily rely on their mobile devices as a point of contact. Fifty percent of millennials spend at least three hours a day on their smartphone, according to research done by B2X. This creates an opportunity for brands to build brand awareness and connect to in-market millennials. While this prospect may not be a core automotive customer for a few years to come, the connection between an individual and the automotive brand should start early. Leveraging customer intelligence tools to make more informed decisions about how to interact with a millennial audience, whether they are in market today or will be in the near future, is crucial to building an effective marketing strategy.

IgnitionOne’s Q2 Automotive Industry report showed a slight dip (-2 percent) in visits to automotive websites overall but also uncovered a steady increase in site visits, engagement, and leads on mobile devices compared to desktop. This trend can in part be attributed to the influence of a younger customer base falling within the millennial age bracket who are on their way to becoming totally reliant on smartphones for online access. In addition to an increase in mobile engagement, the report highlighted an increase in better quality site traffic overall, fueled by higher customer engagement due to a positive affinity towards 2018 launch vehicles.

J.D. Power also recently reported that 29 percent of new vehicles are bought by millennials and anticipates that by 2020, millennials will be responsible for 40 percent of new car sales overall. There are several socio-economic factors that are influencing what millennials are prioritizing as a purchase. Keep in mind that the youngest millennial in 2018 is now 22 years old, and with rent and gas prices across the United States continuing to rise, more young people are moving to the suburbs to work, live, and start families.

Personalization of the Evolving Customer Journey

If millennial buying preferences are a positive indicator of what’s to come, marketers must familiarize themselves with differentiating habits as well as interests and needs. One major differentiation is millennials are more inclined to plan and research their auto purchases over a longer time period (19.9 weeks) compared to baby boomers (15.7 weeks). Understanding why the customer journey is prolonged for millennials only emphasizes the need for marketing strategies that incorporate omnichannel personalization in order to keep this demographic engaged through the extended buying lifecycle.

The millennial customer is empowered and demands customized engagements. They expect their brand and the buying experience to be personalized. Advancements in customer intelligence and identity resolution (IDR) make it possible to personalize this journey by associating customers with their various devices. These technological advancements bridge the gap between the online buying journey and the physical dealership experience. For example, dealers can leverage technology that informs which particular make and model the customer is most interested in before that customer walks in the door – simply by leveraging IDR. Dealers who embrace technological advancements and leverage customer intelligence to connect with customers through personalized interactions will win over the millennial buyer.

Embrace Customer Intelligence and Prepare for the Future

As the industry prepares for uncertain economic headwinds and guaranteed customer evolution, the power of millennial spending should encourage automotive marketers to leverage customer intelligence in a meaningful way to help dealers craft personalized dealership experiences. Today’s digital marketplace offers automakers and dealers a window of opportunity to capture new buyers and retain customers for life. By fully leveraging customer intelligence, marketers can craft one-to-one engagements that resonate with the millennial buyer. Automakers and dealers that embrace personalization will capture market share in the second half of this year and will continue to be ahead of the ongoing transformation of the industry at large.

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