Generation Next

July 30, 2010
What’s important to Generation Y customers? Yes, technology of course, but there’s more to it than that.

Demanding. Inscrutable. Unreachable. These are some of the terms used to describe customers in Generation Y, which includes people born from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. Collision repairers aren’t the only ones scratching their heads at this up-and-coming customer class; the subject of how to market to millennials—another name for this generation—is a favorite of bloggers and marketing gurus around the world.

Mike Cooperman, senior director of marketing for J.D. Power Web Intelligence, studies this generation’s priorities through their social media and Internet use. He recently spoke to a group of collision repairers at the Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium, and the title of his talk was “Is the love affair between young people and cars starting to cool?” We talked to Cooperman to get some of his best insights on what millennial customers care about—and how you can leverage their priorities into sales for your shop.

• Understand who you’re dealing with.

“Business owners try to paint Generation Yers with a broad brush: They’re the ones with ripped jeans and Mohawks,” Cooperman says. In fact, Generation Y is growing up. The oldest of them are in their 30s, and they’re having kids and buying houses just like 30-somethings always have. But this generation has to contend with a darker side, too: “They’re getting divorced, losing jobs, moving back in with their parents,” Cooperman says. “It’s certainly crazier than when I graduated from college and there was this path: you got married, you had kids, you bought a house. Life isn’t that simple given the economic realities for Generation Y.”

For customers under 35, their buying decisions are going to be impacted by the recession we’re going through right now—likely for the rest of their lives. It’s important for businesses to be sensitive to that when marketing to young people, Cooperman says.

• Use the Internet to market to this generation.

“One question I always get is, ‘How do we reach them?’ You hear things like, ‘Generation Y doesn’t watch TV.’ Well, it’s not that they don’t watch TV, it’s that there are so many options to choose from,” Cooperman explains. Businesses can’t expect to market to Generation Y in the same consolidated way they did in the past, when, for example, there were just a few TV stations to choose from, and everyone watched them. “They’re still consuming media and entertainment, it’s just through different channels.”

Almost every type of media young people are consuming now comes through the Internet, so it’s important for your marketing to come through those channels as well, Cooperman says.

• Be transparent about your eco-savvy.

“The younger groups of Generation Y have a different attitude around green,” Cooperman says. “Part of that might be age and experience—when you’re young you can afford to be altruistic.” It’s not that Generation Y expects you to be completely green, Cooperman says. They understand that there are different levels to greenness, and they just want you to be upfront about the efforts you are making to be green, even if they’re relatively small ones. “They don’t expect you to fix cars with tofu. But hey, if you’re doing some recycling and you’re using some fluids that are less toxic, that’s a nice hook with Gen Y.”

Being green or not being green isn’t what’s going to make it or break it with this generation. But being honest and transparent about your environmental efforts will.

• Leverage the Internet to put yourself on par with the big players.

For a mom-and-pop shop in a consolidating industry, the Internet can be your best friend when competing against the big guys for Generation Y customers, Cooperman says. “The Internet is a great opportunity for a mom-and-pop shop to scale just as well as a big corporation,” Cooperman says. When people do a local search for a body shop and a nice-looking Web page pops up, isn’t doesn’t matter to the customer if that page belongs to a regional multi-shop operator or a one-location shop.

Generation Y cares about buying local, so emphasizing your community ties goes over well with people under 35, Cooperman says. “Locally owned businesses understand what’s going on in their backyard, and the Internet is a great opportunity to talk about that.”

• Understand that Generation Y cares more about technology than they do cars.

Young people have a completely different relationship to their vehicles than older people do, Cooperman says. For them, cars are transportation, not works of art. “They just don’t have that same enthusiasm,” Cooperman says. “For the older generation, the car was the central hub of the social life. When they first got a new car, they’d go drive it around and take their friends for rides. They’d spend Saturday afternoon waxing their cars. For younger people, their lives revolve around technology. That’s what they’re passionate about. They just don’t have the same passion for maintaining their cars in the same way the older generation did.”

Repairers should focus on utilitarian, technological—rather than aesthetic reasons—for making repairs, and they should market themselves over the technology young people are so passionate about.

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