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How do carmakers engage the digital-savvy generations?

By Professor Jim Saker

"I am not young enough to know everything.” So wrote J.M. Barrie, referring to the arrogance of youth. How many of us thought we knew it all when we were young, but over the years our views have been shaped by experience?


Professor Jim Saker is director of the Centre for Automotive Management at Loughborough University’s Business School. He has been involved in the automotive industry for more than 20 years.


In most areas of business, I believe that experience counts for a lot. If we are sensible, we learn as much from our mistakes as from our successes. In many sporting teams, the blend of experience and youth is critical and managers deliberately set out to get that combination.

There is, however, one area in which I am increasingly convinced the tables have been turned and the agenda is being set by the young. In the world of digital and social media, it is the grey heads struggling to follow.

From a personal perspective, this realisation started when my daughter, who is spending a year studying at the University of Michigan, called requesting a ‘Skype interview’ as part of an assignment. She needed to interview a ‘baby boomer’ i.e. someone born in the aftermath of the Second World War, and then compare their views and attitudes with her own peer group, ‘the millennials’.

I did my best to talk about the ideals that baby boomers held, the protests, the Sorbonne riots, the swinging sixties and the idealism of the counter-culture. One of the problems with Skype is that you soon become aware when the person on the other end is getting bored.

However, it was when the topic turned to describing the ‘millennials’ that the real differences started to emerge. This group are digital natives, brought up being able to type on a keyboard. Their use of the web, for both communication and identity, is very different to how someone my age uses it. They document their lives online and expect communication to be fast and relevant. The agenda for the use of social media is being set by the under-30s and I believe many of us are struggling to keep up.


The search for a sophisticated way to market cars to millennials

The challenge is that these young people are part of our marketplace and some of our attempts at the use of social media to communicate with them lack both sophistication and credibility.

The Guardian in a recent article used the example of video bloggers. They quoted the example of Alfie Deyes, a 21-year-old ‘vlogger’ from Brighton who films his thoughts and views and puts them on a range of social media platforms.

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