I still remember the first person I knew who had an email address. I was in 7th grade science class, and my friend Beth told me she had one – she even wrote it out on the chalkboard. I remember grilling her about what the “@” symbol was called and why it was needed. I also remember she, like most 7th grade girls, had impeccable handwriting.
Five years later, Marc Prensky writes “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” noting that the world had passed a cultural threshold where younger generations are now completely assimilated to the digital world. Experiencing life through digital media is not a second language, it’s an integral part of the development of their minds: They are Digital Natives.
This is in opposition to older generations: Digital Immigrants, who, as Prenksky puts it:
As Digital Immigrants learn – like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their “accent;” that is, their foot in the past. The “digital immigrant accent” can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first, or in reading the manual for a program rather than assuming that the program itself will teach us to use it. Today’s older folk were “socialized” differently from their kids, and are now in the process of learning a new language. And a language learned later in life, scientists tell us, goes into a different part of the brain.
Just like in real life, the longer you spend in a new environment, the more comfortable you become. You can blend in, learn the language and understand the customs. But what Prensky says is also true: You never truly unlearn your original language or programming, even when it isn’t necessary to survival in your new world (like the Dewey Decimal System – which I could still navigate, by the way).
So when considering Baby Boomers, a massive consumer group, both in B2C buyers but also in B2B decision makers, you have to know the differences in how they are programmed, but you can’t ignore the similarities and think they are unreachable.
Digital Immigrants’ “Accent”
I want to explore this idea of an accent, a hangover from the old world, a little further. What does that look like online? In general, it can show itself in a few ways:
- Using digital as a tool to get back to more comfortable ways of working, e.g. looking up a company phone number online to make a call instead of using a Live Chat feature.
- Being slower and more reluctant to explore new websites and social media platforms.
- Never checking Snopes before sending me a wildly inaccurate email forward.
OK, that last is more of a personal experience … but also, it’s true, and you know it.
While sometimes it’s funny to laugh at the differences between age groups in the digital world, what’s most important, especially for marketers, are the similarities. An accent may make communication tough at times, but it can still happen.
Boomers’ Digital Voice
I think too many marketers have been ignoring, or only targeting tech-savvy, Boomers online. But the Boomer market has changed. Just a few years ago, it may have been difficult to reach certain age groups online, but a lot has changed in those years. The digital immigrant accent is less noticeable.
The fact is, Boomers do just about everything the natives do, just less of it. Seventy-three percent have a Facebook account. Fifty-four percent watch online video and 29 percent have a smartphone (compared to 65 and 48 percent, respectively, of everyone else).
Even if a target audience isn’t necessarily active enough online to really deliver an ROI for monitoring, moderating and making content for them, they may not be too far away from a reachable target. In one instance, our target audience was affluent outdoorsmen age 50+, and there really wasn’t a good way to reach them on owned media channels. But do you know who was reachable? Their wives. That market was, and is, very active on Facebook, Pinterest and, increasingly, on Instagram.
We were able to develop a strategy, a voice, and content and monitoring plans that were tailored to reaching that market with the message.
Shift to Remarkable
It took them awhile, but they’re now on social media. Their numbers have tripled in just a few years. But a recent rise of late-to-the-game Boomers on places like Facebook has also coincided with Facebook’s algorithm shifts that limit the exposure of posts, making growth more difficult if you aren’t willing to buy promoted posts. This makes reaching Boomers through owned media more challenging.
But it also highlights a need to shift focus. In some ways, I think the digital marketing industry continues to be too tied to numbers, or at least the wrong ones. With such easy ways for us (and clients) to see audience growth numbers, it becomes the lowest common denominator for digital marketing success. I’m not knocking building audience – it what Raidious was founded on and continues to do – but it’s about building the right audience and targeting them (Jeffery Rohrs covers this very well in his book “Audience”).
If Facebook, the primary social media channel of Boomers, is not giving you free advertising space anymore, then the old way of producing a lot of content over a few really strong pieces needs to change. Instead, you need to create truly remarkable pieces that will do two things:
- Get shared, possibly even getting some nice earned media takers.
- Be worthy of a paid advertising spend.
Since the early days of Raidious, we’ve been using this graphic to explain the focus of our efforts and expertise:
More and more, these circles are becoming one. Your owned media channels are the host for content that should be remarkable enough to merit earned media and justify paid. All three ways to get your message out need to be working as one holistic marketing strategy. In some ways, this is the final step of owned media maturing, and in other ways, it’s a return to marketing normalcy with just another publishing channel in your arsenal.