There has been a lot written about Millennials in the past 10 years. The generation has been examined from every perspective – how they affect the workplace, how they purchase, where they live, what they think and how they communicate.
Now there’s a new generation – Generation Z – entering the workforce and becoming consumers. How do these new consumers differ from millennials and what does that mean to car wash owners as they plan their marketing strategies?
The definition of the Millennial Generation differs by a few years from source to source but is usually 1980 to 1995 with Generation Z beginning around 1996. Although the majority of Millennial news has focused on the early members of the generation, research shows there is a difference between older Millennials and the younger members of that generation – those who are 28 and younger.
When planning a marketing strategy to attract younger consumers, it is best not to think just in terms of generations. Instead, think about the commonalities of younger Millennials and older Generation Z members and design the facility, services, signage and marketing to appeal to these common traits.
One of the most obvious differences between older Millennials and the younger consumers that make up the end of the Millennial generation and Generation Z is the digital world. Unlike older Millennials and Baby Boomers, younger consumers never knew the world before there was internet. Often called “digital natives,” these consumers are more digitally-connected than any other age group. Not only is a smartphone always in hand, but they rely on the device for everyday tasks, communications, research into new products, news and directions. They are comfortable downloading apps to make their lives easier and relying on digital forms of payment and coupons.
“Today’s consumers are always connected and always watching,” said Jay Baer, president of Convince & Convert, a digital marketing strategy firm. “For decades, most of the interactions between businesses and consumers have been in private, but today, many of those interactions are public, via social media, review sites like Yelp, and other online forums.” That dynamic has changed, he said. “Today, customer interactions are a spectator sport, and that changes the entire economic equation for marketing and customer service.”
Baer described today’s customer expectations as liquid, meaning that they slosh over from category to category. Although at one time, a consumer might say, “Hey, that’s a pretty good experience … for a car wash,” times and expectations have changed, he said. “Consumers demand massive convenience, accuracy and speed in all things and at all times.”
Consumers also want an experience. This is a different approach for car washes because expectations for a good car wash used to focus on the vehicle and how well it was cleaned. Now, Millennials and Generation Z consumers prioritize the “experience” of the purchase, said Ryan Essenburg, president of Tommy Car Wash Systems. In addition to the cleanliness of the car, consumers also base their opinion of the car wash value on their experience, he explained. “If my wife goes to the car wash’s vacuum center and it is not clean or the equipment is not up to par, she says the experience was not good,” he said. “She, and many consumers, are less likely to walk around the car and check for details such as if the tires and wheels are clean but will notice if the vacuum center is clean and the staff is friendly.” If these factors are in place, the experience – therefore the car wash – is good, he said.
The appearance and aesthetics of the car wash are important to create the first impression of the experience, said Essenburg. A wash bay that is bright and modern, equipment that is clean, signage that explains what services are provided, and an easy-to-navigate vacuum area with supplies are all part of the consumer’s perspective of the quality and value of the service.
Because convenience and ease of use is important to younger consumers, Essenburg points to the digitization of payment and management of club accounts as one way to make it simple and quick for customers. “We do offer a cashier, but the club account is managed through the app, which makes it easy to add a vehicle to the plan, set up automatic payments and even cancel if they want,” he said.
Wash clubs are attractive to Millennials and Generation Z members because they are accustomed to signing up for automatic programs that they consider “life expenses,” said Essenburg. “They live in a subscription world – Netflix, Sirius XM, Apple music – and they appreciate the convenience of automatic renewals,” he said. “They understand the value of a club membership is a lower price than they would pay otherwise, so they are more likely to wash their car more often.”
When promoting the value of a wash club membership and extra services, be sure that these services do add value, said Baer. “Certainly, because consumers have access to so much information about everything they buy, it’s reasonable to assume that many will research and understand the differences in car wash technology, and ‘vote’ with their dollars accordingly,” he said. “Extra services are also desirable but only if they are perceived to save time and reduce hassles. If the extra services get in the way of ease-of-use, they do more harm than good.”
Effective Marketing Strategies For New Generations
Once an owner has the right building and services to meet the needs of younger consumers, it is important to understand how they make their decisions and how to reach them with marketing messages.
“Structure your digital advertising campaigns to capture contact information to build a list of potential customers for ongoing communications,” said Corey Berg, vice president of accounts at Suds Creative, a marketing firm that specializes in car washes. “This can be done by offering a simple discount through social media, the company’s website or digital ads that ask the consumer to provide an email address or phone number for delivery of the coupon,” he said.
These addresses, along with the email addresses of wash club members, provide the foundation for ongoing communications designed to promote new services or locations, offer discounts or provide valuable information.
“Because the younger generations rely on online information to support their purchase decisions, be sure the company website, blogs and social media platforms are all consistent in the way that the company brand is presented,” said Jason Baumgartner, CEO of Suds Creative. The website and other online platforms should be as easy to maneuver as the car wash, include current information that is updated regularly and provide value by making it simple to sign up for or manage a wash club account, learn about innovations in car wash technology that affect them and their cars, or find discounts and information about their wash location.
A more recent trend in communication with customers is texting, said Baumgartner. “Although more information can be shared with email, texts can be more immediate.” Collecting mobile phone numbers and asking for permission to text allows a car wash owner to notify customers of important, timely events, such as 50% off a wash today between certain hours or a change in hours due to weather.
Don’t forget that online reviews are also part of the research process for the newest consumers. Monitoring and responding to reviews – good and bad – is an important part of attracting new customers and retaining existing customers, said Baer. “Young consumers want to be heard, so car wash managers and owners need to answer every customer, in every channel, every time, and they need to reply quickly and with empathy,” he said. “Millennials and Gen Z have zero tolerance for being ignored, so a customer you ignore is a customer you should be prepared to lose.”
“The younger the consumer, the more important word of mouth is in their decision-making. Hearing good things from a friend is the biggest driver of purchases, followed by online searches, reviews and, of course, personal experience with the car wash itself,” said Baer. “Word of mouth is the single most common way all consumers make decisions, but it is even more critical among younger consumers, who are, of course, the future of the car wash industry customer base.”
To create a buzz among young consumers, be sure the marketing message is something that appeals to them, said Baer. “Young consumers believe each other far more than they believe companies,” he said. “The best way to build a business among young customers is to give them a memorable story to tell about that business and let them tell it through their own user-generated content, such as videos at the car wash that are posted to social media.”
The memorable story that is shared by your customers can be anything from the introduction of Apple Pay or similar technologies, participation in community events such as river cleanups or food drives, and donation of a percentage of the daily proceeds to local groups. All of these efforts create an opportunity for customers to share through their own social media channels and provide content for the car wash’s social media. As Baer said, “When you can turn your customers into volunteer marketers, your growth strategy is in very good shape.”