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To attract the young, automakers have to speak their language

BEIJING – What do carmakers need to do to attract young Chinese consumers, especially the near 400 million people that are born in the 1980s and 1990s – the so-called Generation Y and Z – that are becoming mainstream car buyers?

The ability to speak their language will be key, according to a panel of automotive, public relations and consulting executives at the 3rd China Automotive Opinion Leader Forum and the 2nd China Automotive Journalism Award Ceremony held by Auto Business Review (Qiche Shangye Pinglun) on November 1 in Beijing.

“This is a generation that seeks creativeness, character, resonance and wants to be connected, mentally and physically,” said Liu Xu, director of PR, marketing and sales at Infiniti China, who himself is born in the 1980s. “They look at life as a journey and constantly seek new things and experiences to enrich it. We as a carmaker need to provide them this experience.”

Liu says that the Japanese luxury brand targets consumers that are “young at heart” in China and throughout the rest of the world. In China in particular, it will increasingly drive the brand’s emotional appeal and customize its marketing according to tastes and habits of its target consumers.

“We will launch a new brand slogan early next year that resonates with how young people communicate today,” said Liu.

“In order for these young people to become a fan of your brand, you have to cater to their ideologies because they are very opinionated,” said Jessica Yu, senior vice president of H+K Strategies Beijing, a PR firm that specializes in luxury brands such as Mercedes-Benz. These people grew up in an internet age and new media, where information is readily available, according to Yu. “Mercedes-Benz customers in the ‘90s used to be steel and coal mine bosses, but thanks to the development of IT and financial industries, they are replaced by much younger consumers,” said Yu.

Lin Lei, co-founder and president of Sinotrust International Information & Consulting Co., Ltd., echoes Yu’s comments, saying that “Not only do these young people like new innovative products, they often have new channels to get these things because they are living in an networked world.” While they like discounts, they can also go all out to get what they want, according to Lin.

Xiao Mingchao, an independent observer, notes that major characteristics of Generation Y and Z include being ego-centric but real, fairness and trendy.

“If your brand and products are not hotly debated publicly, especially among the young circles, they are not going to like you,” said Xiao. “The post-90s generation is very sensitive on the inside,” said Shi Shusi, another well-known and outspoken independent observer in Chinese media circles. “You have to make them really like and love you, no matter how noble and prestigious your brand is.”

One example Xiao gave about speaking the right language is the marketing of Shanghai-GM’s Buick Encore small SUV, which involved entirely language and concepts that catered to the model’s target customer group. “All of your language context, tone, and even punctuation marks have to change if you really want to communicate with your target consumers. They have to be very clear, which is exactly what Buick Encore did in all of its print, online and video marketing,” said Xiao.

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