Let me just start by saying that I have never related on a level so profound to anyone as I do to Marleen Stollen and Gisela Wolf, the authors of this article on xennials. Now that we’ve gotten that awkward moment out of the way…
What is a Xennial?
Xennials are a micro-generation that exists for those folks born between 1977-1985 (me - in case you hadn't already guessed), bridging the gap between millennials (we embrace technology, have positive outlooks, and care about the greater good) and Gen-Xers (we had dial up internet and didn’t get cell phones until our 20’s). Xennials grew up with an analog childhood, and matured into a digital adulthood. The best line I’ve read describing xennials so far is “As we were growing up, technology matured along side us. We had time to get used to it and were still young enough to feel right at home with it.”[i] Best of all, the existence of this peer group gives us the ultimate “I told you so” moment in emphasizing we are NOT millennials (Pro Tip #1: don’t talk to us like we are, as we really hate that).
What’s the Deal with Xennials and Vehicle Ownership?
You may have read articles about or heard rumors that millennials and their lack of car buying were going to be the end of car culture[v]. Well as it turns out, millennials just didn’t have any money to buy cars (yet). But, xennials (who have jobs and are more financially established) sure do – and they are. Just like in generations past, xennials are heading to car dealerships to purchase vehicles “in big numbers”[vi]. Somewhere between 28-39% of all vehicle purchases in the US are xennials taking home a new whip (see table below[vii]), and over 96% of Americans (78% of Canadians) own a vehicle[viii].
One interesting component to xennial vehicle ownership is that we want connected cars. It’s no longer a nice-to-have feature – it’s a must in any new vehicle purchase (which leads us to Pro Tip #2: emphasize the connectivity features and benefits if you want us to buy your vehicle). And speaking of that purchase… it starts online. People are consulting social media and reliable 3rd party websites (like cars.com) more than ever before making a vehicle purchase, and in fact see them as a more important source of information than dealership websites[ix].
Where Do Xennials Stand on Social Media?
The vast majority of xennials are on multiple social media channels – or at least they have an account (unlike gen-x). Unlike other age groups who use these platforms to post updates (millennials) or comment on others’ posts (baby boomers), xennials are often the strong, silent type. We go on there to look and see what’s happening with our old schoolmates, follow along with distant family and celebrities, conduct research, and keep up to date with news and products. But of course, many of us like to do in a silent way (or as we like to call it, creeping)[x].
The two charts below show user data for your visual feasting. In summary, 28% of xennials use Instagram[xi], 85% use YouTube, and 79% are on Facebook[xii] (although the data is skewed a bit on the low side here as the only age bracket I could find is 30-49 year olds)。
One of the main complaints that xennials have about social media is how time consuming it is. They would often be more active if it wasn’t such a time suck to participate (and do a good job of it). Another common theme is to use the sites as inspiration (for dinner, outfits, and everything else), leading to Pro Tip #3: make sure you have something visual to get their attention - quickly. Applying this learning to marketing our parking services, get out there and take some pictures of how clean your lot is, make your post aesthetically appealing, and get the message across as simply and word-free as possible.
What About Cell Phones?
According to Pew Research Center, 98% of Americans[xiii] (and logically a very similar percentage of Canadians) own a cell phone. Well of course xennials have phones. I mean, how else are we going to look for jobs, access the internet, use a dating service, or read a book?! And although the functions just listed are among the top uses, there are nearly 4 million apps on the Google Play store[xiv] to choose from. Since people only have an average of 35 apps installed on their phones at any given time[xv], we’re picky about what we download and even more picky about which ones we use. Pro Tip #4: Keep that in mind when you’re designing your parking app – it better be multi-functional and highly engaging or we aren’t coming back for more.
What Marketing Tactics will work on Xennials?
First, if you want an app to appeal to us, it has got to be more than a web portal or point of purchase. Like millennials, xennials have too many apps and too much clutter on our phones (as previously noted in the cell phone section). But we are nostalgic, so if you incorporate analog elements or references, you’re likely to win us over.
Another way you can appeal to xennials is by offering an element of risk taking and trying new things. It gives just enough of a rush to be desireable, and the feeling of empowerment that comes along with it is extremely appealing to xennials[xvi]. We’re a confident bunch and we want a way to challenge ourselves. That can also apply to new technologies – so if you have something like augmented or virtual reality you can bring to us, it could easily win you a lot of fans.
Based on my research (first hand interviews with xennials), the most common way for this micro-generation to do product research is through reviews. Got it. So you need mostly positive (but not all positive as it would seem fake) reviews of your product. How will you get these coveted trusted reviews? Here are 2 suggestions:
Run an influencer campaign: give your product or service to someone in the target market who has an established social media presence. Contact them in advance to see if they are open to trying whatever it is out, and publishing an honest (positive, negative, or anywhere in between – and be clear it’s HONEST or not at all) review on the platforms they use. The most popular options are via YouTube, Instagram, or 3rd party review website/blog. (Pro Tip #5: Make sure you and the influencer are transparent the circumstances around your agreement are.)
Gamification: Reward someone for providing feedback in the form of a discount on future services, points they can earn (or cash, of course), or giving them elevated status. If you need a refresher on what gamification is, you can always check out this post.
What other marketing techniques have merit with our favorite micro generation?
Guerilla marketing campaigns: Make a memorable experience for a xennial by using ‘old-school’ tactics they feel nostalgic about, like a spin the wheel and win or Plinko style offering (like some of the classic Price is Right games we love). Hand out coupons or samples because although price isn’t the biggest motivator, it certainly is on the list of considerations when making a purchase. These techniques are great for getting people to try out your product or service.
Giveaways: Anything that has a nostalgic flavor is likely to be a big hit. Being useful is over rated. Things like weepuls, silly putty, tangles, and mood rings are all inexpensive classics that you can brand just enough to get your image out there without ruining the item for a xennial. This technique is perfect for brand recognition and recall.
As you can tell, the technique you’re using should be based on what the goal is. In the first situation, a newly built parking lot may want to get people to try it out. Or, if a popular lot is introducing a new technology (say an app or online booking system) and want to increase the adoption rate, these ideas are the way to get xennials on board. In the second situation, if you have a parking lot or garage that has low repeat business or strong competition in the area, and you want people to plan to use your service on subsequent trips (over a competitor), that’s the way to do it.
Once a brand earns our repeat business, xennials are more often than not loyal (60% of the time, anyways[xvii]). So how does a brand (say, for example, a specific parking lot or parking management company like Impark or WestPark) get their foot in the door with xennials? The most important factors are:
A quality product[xviii]
Providing great customer service, including engaging with the customer on social media
Positive corporate reputation
Value (price is important, but the bigger the purchase, the move value matters)
These characteristics might not seem directly related to parking on first glance, but the more you think about each one, the more you’ll be able to apply it directly to your parking operation.
Xennial Advertising Tips
What channels should you advertise through? Traditional media like tv ads and direct mail can be very effective, but you have to take a multi-prong approach and use methods tech-friendly methods like online ads and email as well. Xennials are tech friendly so there’s unlikely to be a virtual channel we aren’t connected to as we’ve actually seen all these tech advancements change the way we work and live before our eyes. And although we’re not actively posting on social, we are creeping everyone we know[xix] and getting bombarded with ads in the process. Xennials are also more likely than any other generation to make a purchase via our smart phones[xx], which leads us to Pro Tip #6: optimize your ads for mobile first (Google’s new indexing algorithm encourages you to anyways).
What messages should you provide? First and foremost, whatever you say needs to be authentic[xxi]. We’re a skeptical group to anything that’s too flattering won’t work. Second, you should work to understand us a unique market. If we believe that you see us as different than millennials and gen-x (who often have negative stereotypes and we’ve never felt related to anyways), you’ve taken a big step in earning loyalty. Pro Tip #7: we’re suckers for the wistful nature of ‘old times’ and ‘remember when’ references. Serve up a big spoonful of nostalgia or analog comparisons[xxii] if you want us to give you a place at the table.
What values should you share and emphasize? Xennials are very tight with our families, love to travel, and value down time for relaxation and recharging (including a literal unplugging). Apparently our lives are pretty hectic since we all work full time, hit the gym, and keep up with peers on social media (and our friends in real life). So if you can relate to this, and show us how your product or service is going to be in line with our values, you’ve got at least a fighting chance. Pro tip #8: If you can show us a progressive thinking approach to health and wellness, within the comforts of home, that’s even better. For example, maybe your new parking app avoids the old fashioned, time-consuming, stressful struggle of circling a parking lot looking for a spot, and lets you spend more time with friends and family cooking a delicious meal at home.
Should I Apply this Information to Parking?
That’s an important question for anyone in the parking industry. Without people parking in our lots and using our services, we’re in big trouble. There’s often a lot of competition for customers in the parking business, and all of the techniques and tips in this article can help you to earn and keep the xennial market share. As we’ve seen, this micro generation is a significant portion of the population, and enticing them with efforts directed at their preferences hasn’t been done well to date. If you can entice a xennial and earn their loyalty, you’ll have a long term parking customer (which we all know cost much less to keep, compared to finding new ones). So yes, you should apply this information to parking!
So, have a look at your parking data. Find the lot or time frame with the lowest occupancy. Determine if xennials would be good candidates to increase business given your parameters. Set up a baseline usage rate and be sure to plan for tracking the results of your efforts. Then try out some of the suggestions.
Summary of the Pro Tips
Just in case you missed these little gems throughout the article, here’s a convenient summary of my Pro Tips for xennial marketing.
Differentiate from millennials and Gen-X to earn brownie points
Emphasize connectivity (both tech wise and with family and friends) when promoting products
Social media has to be aesthetically pleasing
Apps are abundant, so make sure yours is functional and well designed
Influencer campaigns will work wonders, if you’re open and honest
Optimize all advertising for mobile first
Nostalgia and analog comparisons will work wonders in marketing campaigns
Use a progressive thinking (new age) approach to products
[vi] https://apnews.com/e79c1cee3730465d95f4e133239ca14b/millennials-are-finally-arriving-car-market (I suppose we’ll forgive AP for not knowing that older millennials are called xennials back in 2016)
[x] According to first hand research and interviews with xennials completed by the author
[xviii] According to first hand research and interviews with xennials completed by the author
[xix] According to first hand research and interviews with xennials completed by the author