Automotive marketers have underestimated millennials proficiency in using mobile devices to research purchases, and should emphasize selling points such as pricing and fuel economy rather than technology to reach the demographic, according to an Edmunds.com study.
The younger, tech-savvy generation also values the in-dealer experience and possesses a level of sophistication that belies its image as disinterested in automobiles and buying only through smartphones, according to the study. With mobile's share of the online audience growing significantly and skewing younger, automotive marketers have good reason to be in the mobile space.
Millennials are drawn to technology, there's no question about that," said Avi Steinlauf, CEO of Edmunds.com, an automotive information Web site based in Santa Monica, CA. But they also believe that technology takes a back seat to important vehicle features such as pricing, fuel economy and performance.
So it's important for marketers not to trip over themselves to push technology at the expense of all the other vehicle's selling points, he said.
Savvier than parents
Edmunds.coms study, commissioned in early 2015, found that 73 percent of millennials, who represent the 18-to-34 age group, said that they believe they are savvier car buyers than their parents.
More than half said they actively advise friends and family on the car buying process, compared to 37 percent of older Americans.
Car shopping on mobile.
Millennials especially turn to mobile for critical car shopping activities such as reading vehicle reviews, practiced by 41 percent versus 20 percent of all other adults. The group also uses mobile to locate vehicles for sale (34 percent vs 20 percent) and research vehicle pricing (33 percent vs. 21 percent).
Eighty percent of millennials use their mobile devices to help them with at least one car shopping task, compared with just 46 percent of people age 35 and over.
Debunking the myth that millennials make all their car buying decisions on phones, the study found that 64 percent prefer face-to-face interaction with dealers as opposed to remote communications, and 96 percent feel it is important to test-drive a car before they buy it.
Millennials also skew toward used cars when they buy. Used car purchases made up 78 percent of all millennial car purchases last year, compared to 68 percent of all car purchases by adults 35 and over.
Although millennials value fuel economy, pricing and other selling points than technology, four out of five believe it is important to integrate their smartphone features into their car, and 62 percent said that they would pay more money for a WiFi-connected vehicle.
Edmunds.com's study aggregated two surveys one conducted in January that polled 1,500 United States adults 18 and over who had purchased a vehicle within the last three months, and one conducted this month that included 1,000 respondents ages 18 to 34.
The results raise questions about marketing approaches being used to attract millennials given the belief they regard cars as an expensive burden.
Late last year, Ford Motor said it was focusing on marketing vehicles not just as transportation but as a technology experience to reach younger buyers desiring not to be left behind with an outdated or obsolete product.
The study implies that marketers should think of every deal as one that opens remotely through mobile devices, and closes in person at the dealership.
Caring about cars, aided by mobile.
They care about getting a vehicle that's right for them, and that they are discerning when it comes to evaluating the product, Mr. Steinlauf said.
So not only does it appear that they care about cars, but they're also considered reliable sources for car shopping advice within their social circles.
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily, New York.