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We are, thankfully, past the era of “Millennials are killing industry X” headlines popping up everywhere you look. The main reason for that is “millennials,” those people born between the early ’80s to mid-’90s, now represent the country’s largest demographic, and marketers in every industry have gotten better at targeting them with messaging that works.

One stereotype that has held true about millennials, however, is that their spending habits look nothing like those of preceding generations’. As they came of age during the Great Recession and continue to be saddled with historic levels of debt in the form of student loans, millennials are more cautious with their money, more focused on saving than acquiring new “things,” and always looking for a bargain.

These tendencies pose a unique challenge for many motorcycle and power sports dealers. The vehicles on your lot are not widely viewed as a necessity in the same sense that a car or truck is. They’re for recreation, or a tool to supplement a related hobby like hunting or outdoor sports, or even a way to make a statement about oneself.

For a financially crippled generation not inclined toward excess spending, that means your approach to getting potential buyers in the door will have to look quite different from the strategies that worked on the baby boomers and Gen Xers who came before them.

The Real Cost of a Motorcycle

Millennials are known for doing their research ahead of any major purchase, so keep in mind that they’ll be well aware that the price tag listed on a motorcycle on your lot is not reflective of the true cost they’ll be taking on.

A $7,500 motorcycle might not seem like an outrageous buy, but they’ll be factoring in the cost of required safety gear, more frequent maintenance costs (when compared to a car or truck), insurance, riding courses (if they’re a beginning rider), fuel, and more. Add it all together and the total cost easily balloons over $10,000 for even the cheapest models, making the motorcycle purchase comparable to the price tag you’d expect to see on a used car.

Now, you probably have good answers for many of these concerns, but the problem is if a prospective buyer is doing the math before ever reaching out to you and ultimately deciding against buying, you never get that chance to respond. Don’t underestimate how often millennials talk themselves out of big purchases. Remember, this is an intensely risk averse demographic when it comes to financial decisions.

So, what can you do? Above all, emphasize what your dealership can do for them that no one else is offering. That means financial incentives, deals, and discounts – not just in the off-season, but year round. Consider bundling riding gear with certain purchases, or hooking them up with free riding lessons somewhere local.

In service, hammer the importance of proactive maintenance. If buyers stay up to date with service department appointments, oil changes, and so on, they’ll reduce the need to replace parts down the road.

If you frame this as ways the buyer can reduce the overall cost of buying a motorcycle, you could go a long way in easing their overall financial concerns when it comes to finally making that purchasing decision.

Messaging Matters

Just as millennials’ attitudes about money were shaped by their experiences growing up, so too do their values differ significantly from the generations that came before.

When baby boomers were the up-and-coming generation, a motorcycle was a symbol of freedom and rebellion, a way to “break free” from a consumerist society and “stick it to the man.” The emphasis was on the individual.

With millennials, however, that kind of messaging is liable to land with a thud. Today’s dominant generation is more concerned with the collective good, activism for causes they’re passionate about, and careful stewardship of the world they’ve inherited for the benefit of future generations. Growing up in the midst of multiple ongoing crises, they view too much focus on the individual with suspicion or even as downright selfish.

How do you adapt to this drastic shift in messaging while still selling motorcycles? Consider the ways in which motorcycles can appeal to a concern for environmental impact:

  • They have fewer parts than cars or trucks, meaning fewer items to manufacture (meaning less consumption of resources and less pollution overall).
  • They place less strain on our roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure, contributing less to environmentally damaging repair work.
  • Unlike their four-wheeled counterparts, electric motorcycles are quite affordable and are a much greener transportation alternative in terms of carbon emissions.

Another key difference between millennials and previous generations: Millennials say they value memorable and rewarding life experiences over owning material goods or possessions. This perspective is a natural fit for motorcycles and power sports, which can deliver exciting and unique experiences in a way no other vehicle class can.

These are just a handful of ideas, but you get it: Messaging matters. Don’t try to sell motorcycles to millennials as if it’s still the 1970s.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that financial adversity has crippled an entire generation of prospective motorcycle buyers. From being saddled with historic levels of debt to dealing with the lingering effects of a damaged economy, millennials simply don’t have the same spending ability that their parents enjoyed at their age.

But, that doesn’t mean you can’t still win their business with a modified approach. Focus on meeting their needs, easing their fears, and playing to their values, and you’ll soon find yourself winning over a new generation of loyal customers.