Industry veterans know the core rider population is aging, and that marketing to younger consumers is essential to the health of the industry. But those same veterans often feel like reaching that young, hip, mobile audience is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.
If industry statistics are any indication, the message is starting to trickle down to those younger consumers. For the first time since 1980, the median age for motorcyclists has dropped, from 43 to 40 years old, said Tim Buche, president and CEO of the Motorcycle Industry Council.
Now more than ever, the medium – specifically social media — is the message, brand consultants told an audience at the MIC’s annual meeting, held Thursday on the eve of Dealer Expo and the American V-Twin Dealer Show.
The future of the industry depends on engaging Millennials — the 21- to 35-year-old age group — today, through channels that they have selected. Increasingly that means through social media services such as Facebook and Twitter.
The MIC’s Discover Today’s Motorcycling is rolling out a website (www.motorcycles.org) redesign aimed at those younger, aspirational consumers who may not have started riding yet, in the hope of capturing an entirely new audience that will become the core market of tomorrow’s powersports industry.
The audience also heard from three consultants — all Millennials themselves — who helped with the redesign that targets the elusive Generation Y.
So who are they, exactly? For the most part, Gen-Y is a collection of city-dwellers who value downtown amenities in their daily lives, but seek out adventures that will help them escape on weekends. They’re urban hipsters used to sharing their lives online, and they value shared experiences over personal acquisition: it’s not the motorcycle that gives them status, it’s the ride and the opportunity to share that experience with others.
With social media, “every motorcycle ride is a shared experience,” said Sean Conroy, strategist and copywriter for Three Gallant Media, citing a 2011 study performed by the Intelligence Group. “The memory of the experience becomes the experience itself” as Gen-Yers post photos and share details of their adventures. In fact, seven of 10 Millennials would rather buy a cool experience than a product. But what’s “cool?”
“Cool is an emotional response. When people say something is cool, it’s because they are excited,” and that can inspire them to buy, said Josh Rubin, entrepreneur and founder/editor-in-chief of Coolhunting.com. “If someone is excited, inspired and happy, they want to get the thing that makes them feel that way.”
Marketers have a smaller window to grab the attention of a generation that grew up in front of computers, Rubin said, so they have to help a people who’ve been bombarded with media since birth to sift through the clutter. When they do, you want them to hear your message.
And while “Top 20 CoolBrands,” a 2011 study performed by the Centre for Brand Analysis, ranks Harley-Davidson No. 3 on a list of 20 cool brands — behind Aston-Martin and Apple —Gen-Y represents a shift in consumer mindset, preferring to be loyal to people rather than brands.
The motorcycles.org website redesign has a lofty goal: turning a generation of computer jockeys who’ve spent their lives on the Infobahn into riders. That means making the experience of riding less intimidating.
“Motorcycling is scary,” Conroy said. “Even people who want to get on a bike may not know where to turn.” The site redesign will address that with a consistent message that rests on four aspects of riding: joy, heritage, fraternity and the practical advantages of riding.
The good news, Conroy said, is that “Millennials like trying new things and acquiring new skills.” So the redesigned site will urge them to get out of their cars, off of subways and buses, and learn to ride, hitting on those four points.
An example of a marketing strategy that caters to this preference is Coca-Cola. The company recently started a Twitter account, tweeting as if from the viewpoint of its original founder. “People were identifying Coca-Cola through this account,” said Adam Stalnaker, art director of Three Gallant Media. “It’s people over brands.” They also like brands that have causes behind them, like Tom’s Shoes, a company that donates a pair of shoes to needy kids for every pair of shoes that’s bought.
Other ways to attract this group is to remove any unnecessary layers separating the consumer and the brand, said Rubin. Millennials are interested in the history behind products, so take them into your factories via videos and photos, if you can.
And when choosing between marketing to your core audience or bringing in new people, your core matters most. “They can be your ambassadors,” Rubin said. “Catering to both [audiences in one message] dilutes your message.”
And for dealers or manufacturers jumping late onto the social media bandwagon, don’t worry about tackling the dizzying number of new social media platforms cropping up. With 800 million users, “It’s Facebook and Twitter until you hear different.“ Rubin added, “People don’t want to rebuild their networks all over again.”
For more: Be sure to check out “30 Minutes with Buyers Under 30,” a Dealernews Live! panel on the Learning Curve stage that features Millennials like Mark Buche of the MIC, Derek Jones of Top 100 Dealer of the Year Iron Pony, and Nathan Reeves of RevSport!, a PG&A only store in Bloomington, Ind., and more. The panel will be held today from 3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Saturday from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.