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If recent headlines are accurate, car makers are having a hard time connecting with Millennials. Many studies suggest that this generation is shunning cars, and most automotive companies aren’t sure how to adapt.

But with a purchasing power worth up to $135 billion, Millennials represent a big opportunity for auto makers. To survive in the next few decades, the fragile car industry needs to figure out how to talk to Millennials—and it needs to do so fast.

In an article for MediaPost, I share three ways automakers can more effectively do just that. These tips are applicable not just to the auto industry; if you’re in any industry trying to connect with young buyers, these tips likely apply.

  1.  Use their insight to drive product innovation.

While Millennials don’t appear to be in any rush to own their own cars, that doesn’t mean they won’t consider it at a later part of their lives. Companies need to start engaging Millennials now, determine what’s important to them and integrate that feedback throughout the innovation process.

This is not to say that companies aren’t taking steps to accommodate the Millennial lifestyle. Millennials are generally concerned about affordability and a car’s environmental impact, and companies are responding by introducing eco-friendly and affordable products such as the Chevy Bolt and Jeep’s line of smaller SUVs. Companies need to do this more often, however. Engaging directly and often with Millennials will help companies identify unmet needs in the space.

  1.    Get involved in the collaborative economy.

Millennials have embraced the collaborative economy of peer-to-peer sharing. A 2014 Vision Critical study found that 76 percent of Millennials have participated in the collaborative economy in the last 12 months.

Tweet this!76% of Millennials have participated in the collaborative economy in the last 12 months. (CLICK TO TWEET)

Some automotive companies are taking the lead in the collaborative economy instead of resisting change. For example, Ford started supplying vehicles to Zipcar to meet demand in college towns. BMW also has a carsharing program called DriveNow.

Because the collaborative economy is poised to double in 2015, companies need to figure out how they can participate whether that means partnering with an established tech company or launching their own program.

  1.    Adjust the way you market to Millennials.

The traditional approach of mass marketing isn’t resonating with Millennials. Offering unique experiences often works better for brands. Visibility at music festivals and spring break destinations lets companies engage with teens where they actually hang out. Chevy, for example, has sponsored SXSW, giving festival-goers complimentary rides. Companies should consider similar experiential marketing initiatives.

Endorsements and partnerships are shifting as well. Teens today are just as likely to follow bloggers and YouTube celebrities as they are to be 5 Seconds of Summer fans.

Finally, cause marketing provide brands with a meaningful way of connecting with teens. Find out which initiatives matter to your Millennial customers, and investigate how you can support those issues. Ford and Zipcar’s “Communities with Drive” social initiative demonstrates how brands could use cause marketing to build their brand among Millennials.

A deeper understanding of teens will help companies improve their products, marketing initiatives and other business activities. Companies, especially those in the auto industry, must prioritize building long-term relationships with these potential customers if they want to thrive in the decades ahead.

To learn more about the collaborative economy and how Millennials are embracing this movement, download Sharing is the New Buying, a free report from Vision Critical.

The Everything Guide to Millennials

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