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Why Your Next New Car Could Be a Smartphone


David Berkowitz

David Berkowitz

Chief Marketing Officer at agency MRY, international speaker, columnist

Why Your Next New Car Could be a Smartphone

What do cars and smartphones have in common? Fairly little, on the surface. Yet new research by MRY in conjunction with Whitman Insight Strategies shows how millennials in particular are valuing their smartphones for many of the same reasons people have valued their cars. Marketers who understand these shifts can unearth new ways to reach audiences through mobile media.

The research, from the study, “The Future of Mobility: How We Connect to Our Cars,” shows a gap between the values of millennials (here defined as consumers 18-34) and people 35 and older. This is true for a range of topics surveyed. For example, 74% of consumers 35 and older say voting is very important, compared with 62% of millennials. Meanwhile, one-third of the 35+ demographic say being wealthy is very important, compared to 53% of millennials. The research showed a number of such value gaps between millennials and older consumers, with some of them especially pronounced.


There are three shifts in particular that could have long-lasting implications for marketers and how they reach people through mobile devices. The survey asked people to what extent a statement applies to cars or smartphones, and these categories demonstrate how people are starting to value smartphones in the same way they have valued their cars.

1) Makes my life easier


Adults 35+ lean more on cars for convenience, with 90% saying this applies to cars and 83% saying it applies to smartphones. For millennials, this was an even split at 89% apiece, with that parity hinting that younger consumers’ tastes are changing.

Marketers have ample opportunities to create experiences that make people’s lives easier. Consider 3M, for example, which just rolled out its Post-It Plus app to collect and sort the sticky notes that people pepper all over their war room walls. Meanwhile, BNY Mellon released a web app (accessible from any kind of device) called Sumday, which simplifies investing and lets people add funds to their investment account by posting photos with the #sumday hashtag. Adding value to existing products and saving people’s time is one way to build the kinds of deeper connections that millennials in particular appreciate.

2) Provides an escape from a hectic day


“It was a beautiful day. The sun beat down. I had the radio on. I was drivin.’” How can smartphones compete with those Tom Petty lyrics? While 72% of people 35+ said cars provide an escape compared with 63% saying smartphones deliver there, millennials opt for zoning out playing Clash of Clans instead of cruising down the highway to the Clash. For younger consumers, smartphones edged out the car 77% to 76%.

Gaming is the most obvious way for brands to provide that escape, but branded games rarely perform well and require a tremendous investment to develop and maintain. Integration and sponsorship are more viable options for most brands. Hyundai, for instance, lets gamers mod its cars in the Walking Dead Chop Shop app for iOS and Android. While the research study at hand does not delve into which automotive brand is best known for mowing down zombies, Hyundai undoubtedly outpaces its competition in that attribute.

3) Helps me interact with friends and family


The shift to millennials is even more striking here. Among older consumers, 84% say cars deliver on this premise compared to 64% saying smartphones do. Millennials, however, appreciate that the whole point of phones is supposedly to serve as communication devices, with 82% saying cars fuel social interactions and 90% saying smartphones do.

Brands can try some creative approaches here. Jagermeister this year released a mobile social utility app called Jagerbonds that invites friends to connect for a few hours and pool together the photos and videos they shoot while they’re out. Campaigns tapping communication apps such as Snapchat and Line further serve this purpose.

None of this means that cars are going anywhere. Whether the future is fairly similar to the present, or people gravitate toward ride-sharing services and self-driving cars, cars will still be a major part of life for most people for decades to come. Yet when a $500 smartphone is providing a lot of the value of a $25,000 car, people will keep having higher expectations for the experiences that smartphones unlock.

Check out the full article here on LinkedIn.