Last month we discussed marketing to millennials. As you recall, we found that millennials are a huge population segment that is moving to become our major source of business in short order. And, as you may remember, it was my conclusion that you ignore this group, and their different buying traits, at your own peril.
 
This month we’ll be talking about the generation many, if not most of us, belong to, the “boomers.” Boomers are the population segment born between 1946 and 1964. Here’s a quick comparison with the millennials we looked at last month:

 
As a general rule, the buying habits and ability to buy are markedly different between boomers and millennials. The tough part is that we have become somewhat complacent in business because of these traits. Marketing to boomers was relatively simple given their general loyalty, higher disposable income and propensity to do pretty much whatever was recommended. As we go forward, it is mission critical to market to the boomers while at the same time reaching out to millennials. Hopefully we’ll be able to unpack this issue for you in a few short minutes.
 
And, the population numbers for both groups are pretty staggering. Here is information from the PEW Research Center:

Well fellow boomers, though the millennials and boomers started 2015 with about 75 million people each, by the time you read this article, the millennial group will have surpassed the boomers in total count. Let’s face it, with the oldest amongst is 71 this year, and even though medicine extends life for many, our numbers are beginning to fall.
 
Incidentally, the Silent Generation, born between 1925 and 1946, was quite a bit smaller than either the boomers or millennials. Many have discontinued driving much and many are physically unable to drive. Vehicle ownership in this group is minimal. However, these folks are out there – 80 is the new 60 – and just because they’re older than 71 doesn’t mean they just sit at home. These folks are very concerned about the safety and reliability of their vehicles and thus make great customers.
 
One rumor to dispel is that boomers are not tech savvy and don’t use social media. In fact, depending on the survey, about 80% use one of the various social linking sites. According to one survey, Facebook use is significant, though virtually every provider is represented. After making a quick, unscientific survey of my own, I find the biggest reason boomers at least start to use social media is simply because it is the only way they can reach their kids and grandkids! Worthy of note is that many boomers have purchased something as a result of their social media time.
 
Back to marketing directed at the boomers. Fortunately, there are marketing techniques that work for both the millennials and boomers. Here are some examples:
 
• Newsletters, electronic and in print: As a rule, boomers tend to like a piece of paper in their hands, though don’t forget that social media works too, while the millennials are all about electronic media. The good news is that one newsletter, once written, can be tweaked for both media types.
 
• Clinics: While boomers are probably more likely to show up to a clinic than a millennial, like the saying goes, getting invited to the wedding is more important than going. One shop offers the clinics and has a professional videographer tape the event and puts it out as a YouTube video for millennials to watch on their various apps. At the clinic, he offers a page of special offer coupons, and then makes the same offers on the YouTube video asking the customers to mention a “special code” so he knows that the video reached them.
 
• Special Offers: There are differences here, but both groups like special offers. Popular with both will be maintenance repairs such as oil changes, brake jobs and the like. However, the motivation is different. While a boomer may be OK waiting for their oil change, or just leaving the vehicle with you, millennials have been raised in the era of the advertised 15-minute oil changes (I know, these really don’t exist). Drive in, sit in the vehicle, drive out and get a free or inexpensive car wash on the way out. As a result, it is important to realize oil-change specials are popular with both groups, but operationally need to be addressed quite differently. Moreover, it will be important to stress the quick turnaround, WiFi and all of the rest available at the shop.
 
• Coupons: Like the offers, these need to go via social media to millennials and either social media or print for boomers.
There are some major differences between the millennials and the boomers. These are important to consider when marketing to boomers. Please keep in mind that these are generalities. Like any generalities, they may not apply to all boomers or apply to varying levels. Moreover, these are not either more positive or negative than the millennial traits. They are just different. With that, let’s take a look:
 
• Loyalty: The Silent Generation excelled in this trait. Not too far behind are the boomers. In many cases the millennials are well down the loyalty scale.
 
Recognizing this generational trait is absolutely critical when marketing to this segment.
 
Consider the airlines. For years the ticket pricing was much higher than today. The loyalty programs such as miles, gifts and additional amenities or upgrades were well regarded and greatly appreciated. As the airlines saw the millennial traits, loyalty programs have devolved into simple lower ticket prices, which may come with many restrictions in addition to lower ticket pricing.
 
How about our shops? For the boomer group, which likely makes up a significant part of our business, providing loyalty programs, such as one free after 10, every dollar spent equals points toward services, etc.
 
Another option would be to network with non-competitive nearby businesses. One shop includes a coupon for a free ice cream cone at a nearby cone shop. In return, the cone shop provided space on the counter to display the shop’s newsletters and offer a special brake-repair service with free inspection. The shop has similar arrangements with a number of other businesses including a hair-care business, a butcher and others. You are limited only by your creativity and desire.
 
I mentioned a few years ago one approach used by a number of shops that has proven very successful with boomers. Simply, exploit your shop and customer management system. For example, when you see a vehicle coming into the parking, lot look up the license plate in your system and greet the person by name. As I learned long ago in Dale Carnegie training, one thing people love and appreciate is hearing their own name.
 
One final thought (though you no doubt could easily come up with many more) is something I learned from Tom Hopkins, Zig Ziglar, Dale Carnegie and others. Simply put, if you want to really stand out not only as an automotive shop, but among other businesses as well, every morning mail a short, handwritten thank-you note to customers from the prior day. I remember learning this years ago. I often wondered if this was really as big a deal as everyone said. Well, I wrote a thank-you note to a customer once. A while later I was in his office. There, on a cork board, hung my card from months prior. Right there where others saw it and saw our name. I asked why he kept it, and he told me it was the first handwritten card he had received in years. Ask yourself, when was the last time you received a hand written thank you? How did it make you feel?
 
The bottom line is that loyalty is a positive boomer trait that should be recognized. Furthermore, your customers will really appreciate the attention.
 
• Greater discretionary income to spend as compared to the millennials. The result is that, assuming you have the data to review this, you typically have a higher dollar R.O. with a stronger margin.
 
Moreover, the boomers will typically be much better about ongoing maintenance repair. The motivation tends to be very simple. The boomers more highly value a vehicle that remains reliable and safe even if their overall annual miles driven have fallen.
 
The lesson learned with boomers is to emphasize safety and reliability, offer a value and don’t undersell a job assuming your customer isn’t willing to spend the adequate dollars to do the job right. If you stress price over value, your customer may begin to see you more as a quick lube or similar business dealing only in price.
 
There are other traits to consider, but those presented will give you a lot to begin with, and provide fodder for additional thought. Wrapping up this “mini-series,” recognize there are general traits both in common and not between generations. Take a few minutes and jump back a month a reread the market to millennial’s information.
 
The key takeaway is to not wait, but begin planning and implementation now. Take a few moments to go online and gather some training resources in order to share what you have learned with key operational staff.