Last month as I sat on Woodward Avenue in Detroit watching 30,000 examples of Detroit’s (and the world’s) four-wheeled finest roll by, I was struck by something – the drivers of these cars were mostly … okay, I’ll just say it … old. My sister said, “these cars are so cool, but who’s gonna care about ‘em when these guys die?” It definitely made me think. My son, The Big E, is a fourth generation car nut, but his teenaged sister and cousins aren’t. For my Gen X peers and several generations before that, getting a drivers’ license and having a car was the rite of passage.
It occurred to me that the rite of passage for my daughter’s generation is getting that first smartphone. Just as driving symbolized freedom for us, having their own digital device fulfills those same desires in the Gen Ys and Zs.
Of course, this generational challenge is not unfamiliar to the broadcasting industry.
Our partners at Ford invited me to their first developers’ conference at the CTIA Super Mobility event in Las Vegas. The panel I moderated was called “The Car as the Ultimate Mobile Device.” And in the context of last week’s report from Lochbridge (formerly Compuware) on the intersection of cars and mobile, it became clear: If we want the next generation to think about our legacy industries as something other than a legacy, we can’t expect them to come to us – we need to go to them. And where they are is on their mobile device. For hours. Every day. Rather than worrying about getting them to “tune in” we need to tune in to them. That means giving them access to our products, where, when and how they want them (because that’s what they’re used to).
The discussion at the conference was almost exclusively around how to bring the mobile device into the car. It was abundantly clear in the room that the mobile device had won. And the reasons it had won were clear: portability and personalization. For radio (or the automotive industry) to capture these up-and-coming consumers, the way in is through their mobile device.
These Millennial Mohammads are not coming to our mountain. We have to bring our product to them where they live (almost literally!) and offer it in a way that they can make it their own; that means on-demand content, and the social media tools they’re obsessed with. We must facilitate a two-way interaction with them. They don’t want to be merely consumers, they want to be contributors, critics and curators.
The good news is that these generations are curious and open to sampling. If we put our content where they are, and add value to it beyond peddling the commodity of music, they will discover and value it. But if we want to avoid sounding like Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino” (a car!) shouting, “Get off my lawn,” we need to think more like they do. (FRED: I will let you put in the DASH plug).