Marketing & Branding

Millennial Generation: How Ford Is Ahead of the Curve in Understanding Us

If you can remember watching any of these TV shows while growing up, then you, my friend, are a millennial. Welcome to the club! We should get some t-shirts made up.

Many companies have written off the millennial age group because they see us as too young or immature, but Ford Motor Company has done the opposite. They’re hoping to attract this age group (that means those of you between the ages of 16 and 32 years old) with their new car designs. More on that later, though. Let’s look over a bit of research on this age bracket to gain some insight into how Ford and other companies should better market to them.

The baby boomer generation (people between the ages of 46 and 64 years old) slowly warms up to new technology, whereas millennials rapidly latch onto it for dear life. According to Shane Steele, Twitter’s director of sales marketing, third-party research tells us that 55% of Twitter users fall into the millennial category, as compared to 40% of the rest of the internet. That’s a big chunk of a pie going to only a group that consists of a sixteen-year age range!

So why are millennials so obsessed with technology and social media? For starters, we’ve watched Mark Zuckerberg build one of the world’s most valuable and powerful companies, which just so happens to be a social network. Second of all, we have seen the influence of organized groups and individuals via social networking, and that has given us a sense of empowerment for ourselves. After all, many millennials embody the can-do spirit (if you’re a part of this group, then you know the “Little Engine That Could” story that has been crammed into our brains since kindergarten). Also, we love the sense that we’re always connected to the world around us, and both technology and social media allow us to experience that.

Millennials and cell phones
The average Millennial would rather lose a wallet than a cell phone.

However, we don’t necessarily correlate success with what kind of car we’re driving or with the jewelry or clothing we’re wearing. Instead, we feel little shame in telling our family and friends: “I rented this” or “I borrowed that.” That’s why companies like Netflix and GameStop are so wildly popular with us, since you don’t have to own a movie or game in order to enjoy it. We’re able to keep it for however long we want and then trade it back for something else when we get bored.

Even more outrageous is the startling statistic that we no longer view getting our driver’s licenses as a rite of passage into adulthood, and that many millennials are actually waiting longer to get them. That’s because we no longer need to drive somewhere in order to hang out with friends; social networking and smart phones allow us to text or chat with buddies whenever we want. According to Ford Motor Co. futurist Sheryl Connelly, “[t]he average millennial would rather lose their wallet than their cell phone because their cell phone contains much more valuable information and resources.” I agree with this statement because I rarely carry cash (always just my debit card), and I have so many contacts in my phone that it would take days to replace them.

Now, that being said, here’s how Ford Motor Company is responding to this new and evolving consumer market, according to Ad Age. There are several key points that will get millennials interested in Ford’s cars over the competition’s:

Uniqueness: It’s no secret that millennials like to stand out from their peers and make a statement, sometimes with tattoos or piercings. Taking this into consideration, Ford will allow consumers to choose the colors and patterns inside and outside of their vehicles (and yes, actual “tattooing” is also an option for cars). We don’t want to drive a car that’s just like other cars on the road; we want to view our cars as reflections of our own personalities.

Strong connection: Unlike in other age categories, millennials don’t consider cars the primary symbol of freedom and expression. What takes that spot? Our cell phones, of course. Car connectivity is so common that it’s become a standard feature. Ford knows that we’re so used to having information at our fingertips that even other data (like up-to-date weather and real-time traffic) must also be readily available in the car in order for it to get our attention.

Millennials and video games
Video game technology in cars? Millennials will love it.

Gaming up the dashboard: Millennials can’t get enough of video games; it’s in our blood. (Note: playing Sonic the Hedgehog on my friend’s SEGA Genesis is one of my earliest memories). As a result of this mentality, it’s only natural to include gaming dynamics into the way cars are designed. Before you get too excited, know that you won’t be seeing Call of Duty on dashboards anytime soon! Instead, Ford has supposedly incorporated a video-game-like smart gauge into many of their cars; the gauge shows driver efficiency via a visual display of leaves and flowers that either grow or shrink. Are you ready for the real “OMG” moment? This efficiency game can be played against one or more people to see who can grow the biggest leaves and flowers. When I was learning to drive, just being able to work the cruise control was enough excitement for me to handle!

Human responses, please: Ford has also noticed that millennials expect that human touch, now more than ever. When we mention a brand on Twitter or Facebook, we like to hear from a real person and not an automated response system. Individual responses are key, no matter the day or time. While this may seem like a headache for social media marketers, the hassle is well worth it! Millennials will reward the genuine responses with retweets or social shares to encourage their friends to also check out brands like Ford.

Sharing is caring: As briefly mentioned above, we share content that we think is cool and genuine, whether it’s a friend’s Facebook status or a brand’s new contest. Ford recognizes this trend and watches the Twitter dashboard to see exactly which content is being shared the most and which search terms and hashtags bring the greatest number of millennials to their company’s pages. They understand the technology millennials use on a daily basis and they’ve found ways to successfully track it, which is more than most brands have done. Instead of getting scared and running away, Ford has jumped right on board with us. Smart move!

Instead of ignoring the millennial age bracket like many other companies have done, Ford has taken their research and done something productive with it. They’ve actually found out many of the elements that make our group tick, and they used it to create a car for us instead of chucking the research because they didn’t agree with it. They’re pretty accurate in their assumptions so far, at least according to this particular millennial. The risk may not be worth it for other companies to undertake, but hopefully for Ford it will pay off!