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Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Comment by Editor-in-Chief, Robin Bradley

“Useful is the new cool”

Well, that was quite a relief. The reaction to my comment last month (“Hey, Harley – leave Ducati alone”) has, I am pleased to say, been both larger than usual and universally positive.
I haven’t had any single person (so far) call me out over any aspect of it. Which is reassuring, since by the end of it I wasn’t so much going out on a limb as tip-toeing on twigs!
Since I wrote that piece there has been radio silence about the Ducati issue, but meanwhile, the issues of change within our own industry, like time, are waiting for no man or woman. The motorcycle industry was forced to rise to Black Belt standard where prudence is concerned and that, hopefully, will see us through whatever does lie ahead – Harley take note – why risk throwing it all away?
The change that does, of course, simultaneously threaten to draw time on the business opportunities of the past as well as raise the curtain on sunlit uplands anew. At its heart is the change we are seeing in terms of “New Gen” attitudes to the ownership and riding experience.
The foundation for optimism is that, unlike their predecessors, the ‘Millennials’ appear to be born with one foot on a footpeg in terms of how the characteristics of riding fit with their stated life-experience ambitions.
If you buy into the theory that ‘Millennials’ place a premium on opportunities to express their individuality in a social setting, and I do, then I found some interesting demographic statistics the other day that I find kind of reassuring – for the time being at least!
Like all generalizations, what follows can’t be taken to the bank, but one theory of social change doing the rounds currently is that demographics are not in fact exactly generational in nature. They may well have been the case in the past, but with technology driving ever greater diversification and ever faster change, and with self-images becoming ever more complex and fluid, the piece I read started by describing those born before 1945 as the “Silent Generation”.
Well, while they might be now, they certainly weren’t “back in their day”, but nonetheless, their life experiences and expectations were as different to those of the 21st century as it is possible for them to be.

“fastest base of meaningful consumer growth”

The theory then goes on to suggest that the Boomers can be described as those born between 1946 and 1964 – well, give or take a couple of years either way, that sounds about right to me.
However, “we” Boomers begat trouble – Generation X, a relatively short-lived group said to have been born between 1965 and 1976. As most “generations” do, they were quick to eschew the characteristics of their parents and grandparents (well, maybe a little less so where the grandparents are concerned) and, famously, whether right or not, ‘Gen Exers’ garnered a reputation for being sultry, sullen, anti-social and apathetic – which left motorcycling and a myriad of leisure pursuits well out in the cold.
Well, if this theory has any validity at all, at least we can be grateful that they were followed by the ‘Xennials’ – a shortest of all groups (a “micro-generation”, if they exist at all!), being those born between 1977 and 1983, and who demonstrate a tough to pin down combination between the pessimism of the ‘Gen Exers’ and the optimism of the “Millennials” (aka Gen Y) – the group born between 1997 or 1984 (depending on whether you accept the existence of Generation X and 1996 (or 2000-ish, depending on who you read).
Either way, this is the group which is now our fastest base of meaningful consumer growth and our greatest hope for the future of our (albeit changed) industry.
A few tasty ‘Millennial’ factoids for you – they are currently estimated to make up 25 percent of the entire U.S. population, and already make up 21 percent of consumer discretionary spending – which is estimated to be over a trillion dollars in direct buying power in the U.S. alone and a huge influence on older generations.
Some 37 percent of Millennials say they are willing to purchase a product or service to support a cause they believe in, even if it means paying a bit more, and are 2.5 times more likely to be early adopters of technology than other generations.
For Millennials “Useful is the new Cool” and they value brands that enhance their lives, with 80 percent wanting brands that “entertain them” (motorcycles anyone?), 40 percent wanting to participate in the co-creation of products and brands (personalization no less!), and 70 percent feeling a “responsibility” to share feedback with companies after a good or bad experience (tell us what you want to ride and we’ll build it for you!).
Finally, 79 percent say they would like to visit all 50 U.S. states, 75 percent would like to travel abroad and 69 percent say they “crave adventure”. Yay!
However, inevitably, what goes around can come around. The ‘Millennials’ are, apparently, destined to be followed by ‘Generation Z’ (aka Centennials, Post-Millennials, Plurals, or the Homeland Generation), and while there is no clear consensus either on start date for this cohort (the year 2000 is widely expected to be some kind of demographic watershed) nor any consensus about their characteristics as proto-consumers, a significant aspect of this generation is the widespread usage of the internet from a young age, so for them it is not new technology, which gives them, or will give them, an unprecedented comfort level with technologies of all kinds. Automatic transmissions, heads-up displays, V2V technology – just throwing a few out there!
The bad news is that some commentators are already suggesting that growing up through the ‘Great Long Dark Night’ has given the cohort a feeling of unsettlement and insecurity. Damn…just as it was getting interesting there’s that long shadow and lost decade thing again!