Communication Strategies for Bridging the Generation Gap

Communicating with customers is a constantly changing endeavor for car dealerships. Every few years, more generations are added to your potential car-buyer pool, and your team is tasked with coming up with ways to effectively communicate to a multi-generational market. Keeping up with the younger generations while remembering to acknowledge the older, wiser generations is a balance every business struggles with. By focusing on the buying habits and preferences of different car-buying generations, your dealership will be better able to understand their needs and communicate what you can offer in a way that resonates with each individual generation.

To gain a better understanding of what each demographic is looking for from your dealership, you need a general knowledge base of the currently existing generations and important qualities that distinguish them. Currently there are four generations that exist in the car-buying market.

Communication Styles by Demographic

Millennials: Born from 1981-1995

Today, there are more than 80 million millennials. This generation has grown up on constantly evolving technology, which contributes to their adaptable spirit. Millennials are more educated, with many more of them going to college than their parents, and have more choices than any other generation before them. Their buying habits are less predictable because of their open-mindedness and willingness to try new products and activities. Because of this, they are also not always brand loyal, and they are just as comfortable buying online as they are buying off the lot.

When car dealerships are trying to grab the attention of millennials, a strong online presence is a must. This includes blogs, social media pages with regular and relevant posts, and a bounty of information regarding prices, ratings, and inventory. Millennials also expect car dealerships to adopt the latest technology trends, especially the ones that make car buying and shopping easier. According to, millennials use mobile phones during the car shopping process two-and-a-half times more frequently than non-millennials. They use mobile phones to get pricing, find classified listings, locate dealerships, and read reviews. Dealerships need to ensure their promotional materials and websites are compatible for mobile viewing or risk losing some of their millennial market.

Generation X: Born from 1965-1980

The Gen X demographic covers about 65 million Americans. Unlike their parents, Generation X grew up without the safety net of a flourishing economy. As a result, they are more focused on earning a living and getting the most out of their money. Campaigns directed at this generation should stress the value of your dealership’s cars and the services you offer.

Targeting this specific market is important because they are at the peak of their earning and spending years, the optimum time for car-buying. Even though they weren’t born during the same technology-driven society as millennials, they are also learning to use mobile devices and regularly access social media. Unlike millennials, this generation isn’t interested in following the latest trends and they are not as convinced about new products or services. Known as the “Show Me” generation, Xers believe actions speak louder than words. They are mostly concerned with customer testimonials and research, but because of their up-and-coming technology skills, combining traditional marketing efforts with digital and mobile promotional tools is a good way to reach them.

Baby Boomers: Born from 1946-1964

Comprising 76 million consumers, this demographic represents individuals who grew up in a time of economic prosperity and social upheaval. They are focused on hard work, individualism, and social activism. They mostly have experience with traditional media but actually enjoy investigating online so they can make their own decisions.

Since many Baby Boomers are retired or will be retiring soon, many times, their income is limited. Discounts and bargain deals will appeal more to this demographic than any other.

Even though they want to be smart in how they choose to spend their money, of the four generations, Boomers have the most disposable income. Therefore, they will spare no expense when it comes to buying cars that can improve certain aspects of their life. Highlighting features of a car such as GPS or gas mileage is sure to appeal to their desire for products that will make their life easier.

The Silent Generation: Born from 1927-1945

The Silent Generation has about 50 million consumers. Nicknamed “Traditionalists,” they like to be acknowledged for service to their country and respond positively to messages that convey respect and appreciation. This generation has lived through four major wars, as well as the Great Depression, which has led them to have a profound pull to patriotism and spending wisely. Because of this, they are the least likely of any generation to make an impulsive purchase.

Although they are becoming more tech savvy, they are less responsive to web and mobile marketing than other generations. Traditionalists are most often persuaded by flyers, newsletters, and postcards. When your dealership is trying to reach traditionalists, be sure to use promotional material that is in larger font for ease of reading, utilize grammar and language they will understand and appreciate, and take a more simple approach such as using a single image instead of a collage.

Communication Success Begins with Knowing Your Audience

Knowing the four major generations will help dealerships know who they are and what type of marketing they respond to best. Each generation of the US population has unique wants and needs that your dealership should address accordingly. By learning more about each major generation’s characteristics, wants, and needs, your dealership will be better positioned to accommodate and reach specific market segments.

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