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Can we reach millennials?

In the current issue of Soundings Trade Only, editor-in-chief Bill Sisson is spot-on when he cites things such as lack of time, student loans, less income and troubles finding good-paying jobs as major hurdles for millennials who we want to be buying our boats.

But it might be what he didn’t say about this enormous generation — larger even than the 72 million baby boomers — that could be keeping millennials out of our showrooms. For example, millennials have been seriously hurt by the country's weak economy. Sadly, last month ended the fifth consecutive year of weak recovery from the declared recession — witness the first quarter of 2014 seeing negative economic growth.

More than 40 percent of recent college graduates are unemployed or in jobs below a college degree. Of those that graduated two years ago, 71 percent are carrying student loans averaging $29,400. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau pegs student loans to be at $1.2 trillion. Meanwhile, 44 percent of the job growth that we have seen has been in food services, retail clerking and other generally low-wage occupations for millennials. There’s more.

Fully one-third of millennials (18-to-34-year-olds) are living at home with their parents. A five-year study at the University of Arizona, for example, revealed 50 percent of graduates were still relying on families for financial support two years after graduation. The result is millennials are postponing key life goals, like getting married, having children and buying a home, all of which will likely delay the time when they would be prospects for boat sales.

Indeed, 90 percent of renters under the age of 39 say they want to buy a home eventually, according to a survey published by Fannie Mae. It would seem, then, with all the current circumstances facing millennials, boat buying is far into the future.

Add one more hurdle: A recent Gallup poll finds that 59 percent of Americans are worried that they will not have enough money for retirement, according to a report in the Fiscal Times. More specifically, a Pew poll confirmed 51 percent of millennials believe they won’t even get a dime from Social Security by the time they hit retirement.

It’s the first generation to view things this way, so will they be pressured to increase savings and avoid purchasing things by debt as they navigate the future? Not likely.

Logic says millennials’ current financial struggles will not be long-term. In the next few years, millennials will come into the housing market in a big way as first-time buyers. They’re packing credentials as the most highly educated generation in our history. All of those degrees are certain to pay off going forward . . . and they’ll buy homes . . . and boats.

We also recognize there’s never been a more diverse generation than the millennials. And they’re all tech-savvy and always media-connected. They are the first generation born knowing nothing but digital. It obviously lends support to our industry’s diversity efforts in our Discover Boating campaign or the national Hispanic outreach by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. And, although millennials are often described as not a trusting group, they remain overwhelmingly optimistic about their financial future.

Not surprising, millennials reportedly spend up to 18 hours a day consuming media on laptops, tablets and smartphones. If you want to reach them, it’s not going to be through newspapers and magazines. Moreover, because they’ve grown up in a society far more diverse and embrace that diversity more than preceding generations, we must expect to market differently to them than we do to our traditional boomers or Gen-Xers.

For example, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t make it. Because of their diversity, they respond best to customized products. They want to be treated as individuals. After all, they’re purveyors of the “selfie,” aren’t they?

It’s why we’re now seeing ads targeting millennials by many consumer-products companies that don’t just feature racial diversity, but show common body types, people with physical disabilities and non-traditional families.

Can we expect to sell boats to millennials now and going forward? Yes, if we study what they’re all about and we “speak” to them in their language. For those who want to know more about millennials, I recommend reading the Pew Research Center report "Millennials in Adulthood.”



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