What a Difference a Generation Makes:
Marketing Automotive Service to Generation X, Y and Beyond
By Bill Haas, AAM
Change bait if you want to catch the younger
the old ways of marketing just don’t hack it.
So, business has been good. Not great, but pretty good. You still experience weeks with more than enough to do. In fact, by Wednesday you are wondering how you will get it all done by the end of the week. And two weeks later, you are wondering what happened. The shop is slow, the phone rings only occasionally and now you wonder why the technicians bother to stay past 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
These cycles tend to drive the marketing of many businesses. When the shop is busy, the marketing stops and when the workflow slows, we step up the marketing. The reality is that the marketing activities for your business need to be planned and ongoing. Imagine marketing when the shop is busy and the possibility of avoiding those slow periods.
Rethinking Traditional Marketing
In the past, it was easy to have a long-term marketing plan. You would agree to a one-year contract to advertise in the Yellow Pages. And when you purchased advertisements in the newspaper or radio or television it was advantageous to agree to a long-term commitment with the provider to receive favorable rates.
Unfortunately, these traditional advertising streams don’t reach the groups I want to focus on today. Yes, there are plenty of people who still read the newspaper, watch television, listen to the radio or use the Yellow Pages to find providers of products and services. But ask yourself a few questions. Who are these people? Are their driving habits changing? Can I sustain my business depending on these folks as my primary customers to target my marketing to?
I believe that, as you answer those questions, it will become quickly apparent that we need to focus some or most of our marketing efforts on people who don’t read the newspaper, only occasionally watch television – and when they do, they are more likely to watch a recorded program and fast-forward through the commercial interruptions of the program.
If they listen to the radio at all, they are tuned into information or entertainment they subscribed to or you find them with earbuds in their ears connected to an iPod, listening to music they selected, not some disc jockey. In fact, when it comes to things like newspapers and phone books, they wonder why we continue to waste resources to create such things. Sometime, ask a Millennial how he or she feels about a publisher using 63,000 trees for one Sunday edition of the New York Times.
Defining Gen X, Y
The people I just described are Generations X and Y. Generation X is approximately 41 million people between the ages of 36-47. The best-educated generation in our history, more than 60 percent of them attended college and 29 percent obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher. Technological developments like personal computers, email, personal digital assistants (PDAs), cellphones, iPods and BlackBerrys all influenced this group as they were growing up.
They quickly and easily adapted these tools as part of their daily lives. They were far less resistant to change than older generations.
Generation Y is roughly 79 million people between the ages of 18-35 and did not have to adapt to these technologies as the devices have been part of their lives since they were very young. They don’t remember a time without cellphones and they will be just shy of being half the work force by 2014. And since we are discussing marketing automotive service specifically, you might be interested to know that 8,000 Millennials are eligible for a driver’s license every day in the United States. This group is looking for relevance, they are connected, they are multitaskers, and they are socially and environmentally conscious.
When we combine the two groups, they are about 120 million strong, and combined, I prefer to call them Generation Tech, as technology has had such an incredible influence on their lives. Whether they adapted it or simply grew up with it, technology has defined these two generations. A large percentage of Generation Techs own a computer, a cellphone (and more than half of those phones are smartphones), they shop and bank online, spend more time online than watching television, and watch videos online frequently. All of this is evidence they are connected, and by being connected, any information they seek is just keystrokes away. Your business has to be a destination of these keystrokes, so your marketing must include Internet and social media strategies.
I will assume everyone already has a website, but if you don’t, get one! I’m not an expert on search engine optimization (SEO) or search engine marketing (SEM) but I have some practical advice on getting your clients or potential customers to your website. Direct mail should be part of your Internet strategy. It still amazes me that over 85 percent of this group brings in the mail the day it is delivered and 75 percent of the mail received is rated as valuable. It took me awhile to realize why their mail is so valuable compared to mine. Their mail is not full of bills, since they shop and bank online. Their mail consists of things they ordered online or subscribed to and they were anticipating the arrival. Direct mail gets your company into the mix of valued mail and becomes your opportunity to direct them to your website for valuable information or savings. Your direct mail message should be the launching pad for them to visit your business online.
Engaging Gen Techs
Now, the question is: How do you engage them at your website and what is relevant? You know they are watching videos online so your site should include videos. The videos need to be quick as you will only have their attention for about two minutes, maybe three minutes if you are lucky. The video does not have to be an expensive production of the highest quality but the audio must be good quality. Generation Tech is apprehensive about just walking in your front door, not knowing what to expect once inside. Here is an excellent opportunity to use a video to create a virtual experience for them. Once you get started, you will find many uses for videos on your website.
Contests are also an excellent way to engage them on your site. The best example I have is of a meat company in Sheboygan, Wis. It has a bratwurst grilling game on its website. You have to turn the bratwurst before it burns on the grill. There are three levels to the game and as you progress in the game, there is more bratwurst on the grill and the heat is increased. Be creative and don’t overlook this opportunity to use your Generation Tech employees as a resource. Find out what they enjoy, what would make it interesting for them and implement their ideas. You will have more success with that than doing what you think will work.
Encourage clients to write reviews about their experience with your business. Consider changing your customer service follow-ups from a phone call two or three days after their visit to an email or text message you can send within hours of the client picking up their vehicle. Part of that message should ask them to write a review at your website and the message can include a link to your site for reviews. Peer reviews are very powerful. Eighty-two percent of Generation Y say online reviews and ratings influence their buying decisions.
Bill Haas will be conducting two seminars at ASRW:
• Can’t We All Just Get Along? Working with Generations X and Y (and everyone else)
Says Haas: “Do you ever find members of your team frustrated, tense, distracted, upset or unreasonable with other members of the team? Wonder why? Well, Gen Y thinks Gen X is a bunch of whiners. Gen X believes Gen Y is arrogant. And everyone thinks Boomers are self-absorbed workaholics.
“While the younger generation’s entitled attitude is clashing with the older worker’s values, Gen Y’s presence is improving workplace policy for everyone. Once we understand their differences and learn what is important for each group, we can work together effectively.”
“Meeting their expectations is the easy part,” says Haas. “Communicating a message to attract and engage them seems to be the challenge. You cannot ignore these two groups at 120 million strong — the opportunities are enormous. We will examine what makes them unique and what influences their decision-making. Understanding the obstacles of reaching them beyond their incredible filters will lead your business to connecting with an extremely loyal customer.”
• Marketing to Generations X and Y
You can offer website visitors exclusive offers or special savings. My only caution is that you not do it in the manner of traditional coupons. Remember every device connected to the Internet is not connected to a printer. Just mentioning the offer they saw at your website should be all that is necessary to take advantage of the promotion or special offer.
Valuing Their Values
It is important that you respect their time. Generation Tech already has a reputation for being multitaskers. Out of the necessity of having more things to do than the number of hours in a day would allow, they learned to function while performing more than one task at the same time. I can remember checking on my daughter in the evening. She would be in her room with the television on, her computer on her lap, headphones on, texting on her phone and when I asked what she was doing, she would reply, “my homework.” Oh, and I could not argue with her because she was getting straight As.
Saving time is as important to this group as saving money. Consider ways to include messages in your marketing that focus on saving them time or avoid inconveniences of their schedule.
Don’t Overlook Social Aspects
Be sure your website changes too. If they continually see the same thing over and over again every time they visit your site it won’t be long before they simply quit going to your site. Your website is an asset; make sure it is working for you.
Be clean and be green. As an industry we pose great risk to the environment and to our credit we do an incredible job of protecting it. Don’t assume that Generation Tech knows about your waste reduction and recycling programs. You have to tell them. A section of your website should be dedicated to that. They won’t do business with you because you are green but they will quit doing business with your company if you are not green.
The social conscience of Generation Tech wants to know how your company gives back to the local community. Use the Internet and social media marketing to promote the charities you support and the fundraising your company participates in. I realize you are doing these things because it is the right thing to do. I find that most of you are humble and you are not braggarts or looking for any special recognition of your charitable acts. There are many great untold stories of shops supporting worthwhile causes; it’s time to tell your stories.
A critical element to the success of any business is marketing and promotion. The survival and future growth of the business depends on customers. You can change many things about your business but the one thing you cannot change is the fact that your business must have customers. Now, decide how you want to attract them and how they will receive your marketing messages. Remember this, the bait determines the catch. In other words, small bait attracts small fish, and large bait attracts larger fish.
If you continue to use the traditional marketing venues of newspaper, television, radio and the Yellow Pages, don’t wonder why your business is not attracting Generation X and Y vehicle owners.
Editor’s Note: This article is one of several management articles that are being contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. AMI’s knowledgeable instructors will continue covering a variety of topics designed to educate and train today’s service and repair professional in AutoInc. To learn more about AMI, its courses – including its monthly webinars – and instructors, visit www.AMIonline.org. AMI administers the distinguished Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) program.
Bill Haas – the owner of Haas Performance Consulting LLC – offers clients business management seminar development and delivery, keynote presentations, business consulting, performance coaching and strategic planning facilitation. Haas has 40 years’ experience in the automotive service and repair industry.
Haas received the Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) designation from the Automotive Management Institute (AMI) in 1996 and has been a member of AMI’s faculty since 2002.
He can be contacted by emailing email@example.com or by calling (682) 465-4662.