The Native Advantage
Throughout history older generations have found reason to deride their younger-fellow-planet-dwellers. Justified or not, younger people "just don't know how easy they have it" and would never have survived what their parents had to suffer through.
Today's Millenials are no different. "Entitled!" "Impatient." And, yes, they "just don't know how easy they have it."
Leaving some of the stereotypical insults aside we thought it might be useful to look at how the perspective of the "digital natives" may indeed differ from their parents in positive and negative ways, and to think about what that means for professional helping to design new digital experiences. We surmised that one big difference between the millenial generation and their forbears is that for them digital experiences were not about the "tech."
Technology considerations are, relatively speaking, new to the world of advertising and the industry has had a lot to absorb in a short period of time. Unfortunately for those averse to change, advertising is not just technology, creative writing, design and media planning. More important than all of that is understanding the sociological changes that technology delivers through constant connectivity at your office, home, and now, well, pretty much anywhere for those with smartphones.
Those of us who remember a time before computing, never mind connected computing, also remember the early struggles with using the technology. My generation had to master computer commands or rely on “keyboard overlays” (don’t ask) to explain how to complete the most basic task. Once the internet came around, understanding what a web page was and why we wanted it had to precede our search for understanding about how the ability to richly share information – live, 24/7 – would help, or hurt, how people ‘felt’ about companies.
The internet immediately created new ways for delivering products and services. Almost overnight the sales and distribution mechanisms for travel-related industries were completely transformed.A lot of attention was given to making sure the designs of the new offerings were “on brand” but not much consideration was given to how much 24/7 connectivity changed what customers expected of the brands whose products and services they purchased.
The questions millenials and subsequent generations encountered when first coming to terms with connected computing can pretty much be boiled down to “who’s out there and why do I care?” not “how do I work this?” Marketers have had to relearn the art of conversation (unnecessary when broadcast was preeminent) in order to deliver effective advertising. Ironically a lot of the skills truly important in today’s marketing mix (responsiveness, good nature, an understanding of the individual needs of people) could be better taught by our 19th century predecessors than our broadcast parents. Digital natives were faced with the sociological challenges inherent in connected computing from the beginning.
In my industry I work with a lot of young people, probably at more senior levels than other major service industries. I know popular themes in the media about digital natives are that they are more selfish and entitled, but in general I find colleagues in those age groups to be more curious, entrepreneurial, and appreciative of the full ecosystem of marketing tactics than my older colleagues. And I think one reason this is so is that the digital natives in our industry were driven to it by a curiosity about how messaging, dialogue, and the full suite of touchpoints available to the modern marketer influence decisions.
Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed and am proud of my early experience in interactive marketing and know that the ‘how’ of communications technology will remain a central, essential part of the modern-day mix of marketing skills. It’s just that now more than ever the softer talents are more important in interactive marketing leadership than an understanding of and appreciation for technology.