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Auto brands must leverage mobile to reach millennials: study

The United States is shifting to a society defined by smartphones from one defined by cars, raising pressure on marketers to deliver experiences that reflect millennials? fundamental connection to their smartphones, according to a new MRY study on the future of connected cars.

While adults over age 35 still prefer cars for interacting with friends and family and providing an escape from a hectic day, millennials love smartphones even more for those purposes, according to the study, called ?The Future of Mobility: How We Connect to Our Cars.? The findings underscore the challenge automakers face in reaching younger buyers who have a decreasing interest in cars and resist traditional advertising.

?Automakers are investing a lot in technological makeovers for cars, but consumers are most comfortable with the mobile devices in their pockets,? said David Berkowitz, MRY?s chief marketing officer. ?Tech companies are positioned to move much faster in innovating the digital experience. 

?Expect consumers to love their cars even more when the cars seamlessly connect to their iPhones and Galaxy?s,? he said. ?In time, cars may just be giant mobile docking stations with wheels.?
Connectivity?s impact
MRY, a New York-based digital marketing and technology agency, sought to understand the impact of connectivity in cars amid behavioral shifts driven by consumers? ability to be connected through smartphones, tablets and other devices at all times.

For the study, the first in a series, researchers surveyed 1,000 smartphone owners, including 500 millennials and 500 over age 35.

The investigation included a particular focus on millennials, the first U.S. generation with decreasing interest in car ownership.

In a finding with implications for the U.S. economy, the study said at least 40 percent of surveyed individuals would likely use mobile car-sharing services if they were offered in their communities.

Based on an estimated annual new vehicle sales of 16 million, with a sticker price averaging above $30,000, even a 1 percent drop would have a $5 billion impact, according to the study. 

Although car ownership remains a fundamental aspect of life, the nation is at the cusp of phones mattering more to people than cars.

Among adults 35 and over, 94 percent say their cars are important, versus 82 percent who put phones in that category, according to the study.  For millennials, 87 percent called cars important and 86 percent described phones in that regard.

SMS was ranked important by 72 percent, high-definition TV by 55 percent, Facebook by 47 percent, a newspaper subscription by 32 percent, and Twitter and Instagram by 20 percent.
Across ages, access to a car (90 percent) trumped helping others (77 percent), raising a family (73 percent), voting (68 percent), and being wealthy (43 percent).

Attaining wealth was far more important to millennials (53 percent) versus adults 35 and over (33 percent), in one of the study?s biggest value gaps.

The study?s results indicate that car ownership will be valued highly for years to come.

Ninety-six percent of surveyed individuals own or lease a vehicle, and 91 percent think that owning a car is still an important part of their day-to-day life.

Even 87 percent of the millennial population, which is more aware of car-sharing services and other transportation options, agrees that owning a car is essential, according to the study. 

The implication is that automakers need to find ways to satisfy buyers, because at least 40 percent of surveyed individuals are likely to use car-sharing services if offered in their communities.

Honda music-festival sponsorship.

Even though ride-sharing company Uber ranks above all of the major auto brands when measured against the intersection of innovation and personal connection, it is still a relatively unknown entity. Only 22 percent of surveyed individuals were familiar with Uber, falling behind Zip Car (33 percent  familiar) and just ahead of Lyft (18 percent familiar).

Tying in music
The report?s findings come as car brands leverage mobile to attract younger buyers.

Some are building tie-ins with music offerings coupled with mobile and social platforms. Toyota, Mazda, Ford and Honda have all announced mobile and social-driven music tie-ins to reach buyers who lack their Baby Boomer parents? interest in cars or traditional ad spots. 

Toyota recently promoted its Sienna minivan through its socially driven ?Swagger Wagon Wagon 2.0" campaign, featuring hip-hop artist Busta Rhymes, and paired up with Mexican singer-songwriter Ximena Sarinana in a social media experience.

Honda announced in early June that it would invest millions of dollars in a YouTube video and live concert channel. Ford has a new mobile promotion for the Ford Focus that engages customers with an offer of free music downloads.

?I?m surprised by how much white space there is for auto brands to be known as innovators,? Mr. Berkowitz said. ?Instead, consumers are far more likely to think of tech stalwarts such as Apple and Google as the real pioneers, with automakers lagging. 

?That?s an open challenge to auto brands, and it?s why there?s room for a brand like [luxury electric-vehicle maker] Tesla to say, ?It?s a new century, and it?s time to build a totally new kind of vehicle from the ground up.??
Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter with Mobile Marketer, New York.