When asked how the millennial generation has changed the game for automotive dealers, Michael Wyant, general sales manager at Vaughn Wyant Automotive Group, said dealers are basically playing a whole different sport.

“There are so many ways to reach out to these people. I think the biggest thing for us is whatever medium you find effective in driving traffic to our site, you must make sure that the site itself is user-friendly, it’s optimized, and it’s self-responsive, so that when somebody goes onto it they have a great experience,” said Wyant. “There are thousands of ways to drive traffic to your site, but the challenge is once they get there, do they want to stay there?”

According to research shared with Auto Remarketing Canada by Kevin Gordon, co-founder and managing partner at Convertus, by the year 2025, Generation Y is expected to account for 75 percent of all vehicles purchased.

“The question is, will they purchase from you?” asks Gordon.

Times Change, And So Do Motives

Times change, and so do shoppers’ reasons for making large purchases — including that of buying their first vehicle.

Norman Hebert, vice president of corporate development at Groupe Park Avenue, said one of the first things his dealer group noticed about millennials is they certainly may not want to buy a car the same way their parents did — or for the same reasons.

For example, the classic parent of a millennial may have been quick to get their driver’s license when they turned 16, so they could purchase a car, and in doing so, their freedom.

On the other hand, “when we think about millennials, we think of them looking at the car as perhaps more of a utility tool rather than that purely emotional, ‘I can’t wait to have a car feeling,’” Hebert said.

Since these purchases are more often logical than emotional, Herbert said price begins to come into play, as well.

“I think we see that millennials may have a budget to buy a new car, especially with interesting prices in some of the entry-level cars, like the Nissan Micra, etc. However, they may not want to allocate that much into buying cars. Therefore, the pre-owned space becomes even more important,” said Hebert.

Meeting Millennials Where They Are

There are still a variety of opinions spanning the gamut on dealership involvement in social media. That said, Wyant said there is one thing for sure: you must have a presence on social media and maintain a good reputation.

The most important thing on social media — well, being social, of course.

Wyant said the focus should be on relevant and entertaining content — not on selling cars and posting inventory — and the content you are pushing out on Facebook or Instagram has to be to people are interested in and connect with emotionally.

Dealers have the option of utilizing an emotional approach, but they also can employ their connection to their communities.

“On social media, you are going to be planting seeds in people’s minds as to why you are a good business to buy a car from, and hopefully sometime, when they get to the right phase of the purchase funnel, you are going to pop up in their brains because of something you have done in the social digital world as opposed to an ad that you put in the newspaper,” Wyant explained.

For millennials, their purchases often reflect their images, and this includes vehicles.

“Millennial buyers want to be able to relate to the person they will eventually be doing business with, and they would probably rather do business with someone who has similar values that are aligned with theirs,” Hebert said.

At Groupe Park Avenue, the dealer group uses its social media platforms not only to share relevant content about the industry or about vehicles and remodels, but also as a great avenue to share community involvement and charitable work, and as a way to get some of the more relational content in front of shoppers.

Gordon also pointed out millennial shoppers rely heavily on third-party review websites to help them make educated purchasing decisions — in other words, online reputation is key.

Do you know how many reviews your dealership has on Google? Have you taken the time to respond to each review, whether it is positive or negative?

“If you have negative reviews on any of these sites, it’s important to respond to those people and show them you not only hear them, but that you care about them,” said Gordon. “It’s also equally important for you to show the rest of the world that you stand care about your customers and are willing do what it takes to turn negative experiences into positive ones.”

Which review sites are most important? In priority order: Google, Yelp, Facebook and DealerRater, according to Gordon.

One way Wyant says his dealership grows their online reputation is through store promotions — but the dealer group enlists outside help, as well.

When VWAG does promotions that are geared toward the millennial generation, the dealer group utilizes connections with local media companies that can help get the message out to a broader audience, and this includes social media in a big way, Wyant said.

While as the dealer group may have a couple thousand likes on Facebook or a couple hundred Twitter followers, Wyant says that’s not enough to get your message out there.

“We have done promotions combined with local radio stations that have reach in our marketplace and that gets the word out there to potential customers, and to people following the promotions on your social media platforms,” said Wyant.

“Because we don’t have the cool factor that a pop radio station might have, we have had success doing promotions in partnerships with other local companies, such as radio, that would have a further reach,” Wyant concluded.

The Importance of Transparency

For millennials, the old adage, “If you always tell the truth, you never have to be afraid of getting caught in a lie,” rings particularly true.

That’s according to Wyant, who said he uses that phrase often with his staff in regards to marketing. He explained when selling a used vehicle to a millennial, “there’s no hiding anything”. And if you don’t disclose everything, such as previous accidents, they are likely to take to social media to alert their peers to dishonest business practices.

Dealerships now have to be more upfront, which means everything from sharpening internal appraisal logistics, to marketing vehicles — and above all, increasing transparency.

Wyant said. “Some problems can’t be solved, but most problems can, and we have to make sure that we immediately put forth the effort to solve the problem to get a more positive outcome and review online.”

Hebert also asserted millennials simply do not want to deal with negotiation — which ties into price transparency, as well.

“That is just something that has been easily taken out of their everyday life, just because of access to information,” he said. “And coming into a car dealership and having all this confusion around where a car could be priced at, it’s a bit confusing for them,” said Hebert.

“More transparency on the showroom floor is going to be really, really important,” Hebert said.

Hebert explained transparency on dealership websites is particularly important, and tricky calls-to-action can deter millennials.

“When a millennial clicks on check availability on your website, he or she expects not to see a form where they have to put in their name, they expect to see yes or no and how many,” said Hebert. “So, I think we need to be a bit cautious in what we are asking people to convert on.”

Remember those old contact form leads that had over 10 fields to fill out? Scrap those, or don’t make all questions required information.

And above all, don’t request information the millennial shopper hasn’t volunteered.

For example, if a millennial-age shopper submits a contact form and doesn’t give a phone number, it makes little to no sense to email them asking for their phone number.

“They have changed a lot, even in the last two or three years. It is dramatically different, and we have to accommodate people. Otherwise, they aren’t going to buy anything from us,” Wyant said.

Technology, Value Top of Mind

With the millennial generation, there are features that go far beyond racing to the bottom of the price barrel that will attract a potential sale.

Now, it’s more about why the product is better, said Wyant, and it revolves primarily around the demographic of vehicle buyers.

“The new Mercedes CLA buyer is going to respond a lot to that technological value driven proposition a lot, where for people leaning toward a Mercedes ML, it’s a different message that you put out there,” said Wyant. “You really gear your marketing tactics toward that specific vehicle’s demographics, and you look at any of the stuff that appeals to the millennial demographic.”

For example, focusing on the technology side of the value proposition, rather than a more conventional price-based approach.

“This has been particularly popular with younger shoppers,” Wyant added.

Hebert proposed dealers focus on content regarding total cost-of-ownership and sales transparency in the car-selling process for this age group.

And when it comes to vehicle features, technology is always a draw for the younger crowd.

“They are interested in whether their smartphones connect well with their vehicles,” said Hebert. “And if you touch on this on-the-go lifestyle in some of your marketing videos, you will get some good hits with that kind of content.”

And millennials’ obsession with tech doesn’t fade away when they enter the dealership.

Initiatives from manufacturers to aid in ramping up tech in-stores, such as tablets for salespeople, have grown considerably over the last few years.

And at VWAG dealerships, Wyant said all sales staff have tablets, and Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Porsche, offer applications for the customers to use.

VWAG dealerships also tout flat-screen TVs that run a similar type of application, but through what Wyant called a “customer build center.”

Millennials Shifting Dealership Marketing Strategies

Many analysts agree that these days, marketing to millennials should be focused on the tier-one manufacturer level.

According to Wyant, most Generation Y shoppers have most likely already selected the vehicle they want before leaving the house, mostly via perusing OEM websites and automaker advertising and information.

Gone are the days of running newspaper ads and slashing your prices for Saturday-only sales.

“We haven’t been in the newspaper for over a year, and our business has not been affected in a negative way whatsoever except reducing our budget,” said Wyant. “You really have to look at what consumers want today. They want value, and they want to associate with a brand that they can relate to. That’s the responsibility on a tier one level.”

According to Wyant, the responsibility on a tier-three dealer level is to make sure dealerships have the right inventory marketed online.

“When the customer gets to the dealership website in that particular part of the purchase funnel, and they find the dealership has an optimal online experience, then they will be much more likely to connect directly with the store,” Wyant said.

“A responsive, optimized website saves customers time; that’s the most important thing these days. They walk into your dealership, and they know what they want,” Wyant continued. “There is no point in putting them through your typical eight-step selling process that we might have done 10 years ago.”

Millennials expect the process to be sped up, and this shift has changed dealership marketing tactics dramatically.

“Make sure the content on the website is current and detailed and relevant so that when somebody does find you, they have a great experience online, which would then convert them into a showroom prospect and hopefully a sale,” Wyant concluded.

It goes without saying these days, the millennial shopper is searching for an optimal digital experience, which is important across all channels.

Hebert said dealerships also have to ensure the transition for shoppers from mobile to desktop must be smooth and fluid.

For example, millennial consumers expect to be able to save information and vehicles on their mobile and be able to transfer that information over to their desktop browser.

Hebert noted another important piece of the marketing puzzle for millennial shoppers is word-of-mouth.

“And word-of-mouth can come through channels like Facebook or online reviews, or simply through the traditional form of vocal communication,” said Hebert.

There is no disputing millennials are primarily searching for vehicles in the digital space. And transparency both in-store and online will continue to become more and more important as the generation continues to change the automotive buying and selling landscape.

Find this story and more content stemming from the Auto Remarketing Canada Conference in our March/April Auto Remarketing Canada Digital Magazine.