Dear Marketers: We’re Forgetting the Young

3286023692_e2440cd688_mIt was like a punch in the gut, that moment when I was faced with just how much the marketing world has changed just over the short time (about a decade) since I’ve been in the business. You see, back when I first started, we used to receive tons and tons of postcard packs from publications. Maybe you remember these. Every publication, at least in the B2B world, seemed to have a direct mail option consisting of a pack of postcards. Every publication offered different sizes of postcards – some were jumbo, others were more standard postcard size. The concept was that instead of having to flip through a lot of editorial or a hefty buyers guide, you could simply sort through the stack of cards, see what products were available, respond to the ones that interested you, and move on from there. These days, this idea seems almost as antiquated as rubbing two sticks together to create a fire. But just 9 years ago, these postcard packs were plentiful.

What was my punch in the gut moment? I was training a new person and was telling them about these postcard packs. They looked at me with one of those “I have no idea what you are talking about” looks. I said, “Oh, hang on, I’ll grab one for you.” And I realized with a start that we had no postcard packs in our office. They were gone. They were extinct. Without me even realizing it, I had become one of those marketers who had assumed that the way things were when I started would be how things would remain. I had failed to notice the change, in fact, because I was so sure some things would remain the same.

I was thinking about this moment the other day when I saw an article observing that some toddlers are being taught how to code. I have thought about that punch to the gut moment when I see proud dads like my friend Geoff Livingston note that his young daughter has learned how to take “selfies” with his iPhone. I’ve thought about that moment since I started to read Mitch Joel’s Ctrl Alt Delete (not an affiliate link), which notes that we marketers think too much about what interests us and not enough about what interests our customers.

Marketers, we are forgetting to think about young people. And it’s going to cost us.

Growing up with what’s new to us

I’m in my mid-thirties, so I am sort of on the line between generations who did not grow up with the internet and generations who are growing up immersed in the online world. For those of us who did not grow up with email or Google, not to mention Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google Plus, this whole online world is still something that needs to be mapped out, much like Christopher Columbus and other early explorers needed to map out the new worlds they encountered. We are still talking about how to “do” social media. We’re debating things like content marketing and how to be “engaging.” For young professionals, this is already old news. Kids getting ready for college today probably had a Facebook account through much of their high school years. They grew up with the ability to contact anyone anywhere for free. They grew up with smart phones in their pockets. They grew up with an intimate understanding of this new world of privacy that so many of us find complex.

We’re already old-timers. And we keep hitting these old-timer issues over the head instead of jumping forward. We’re missing the boat.

Two big problems

There are two significant repercussions that could result from this short-sightedness. First, we are failing to reach the customers of the future. If we are out of touch, already, with the generations just joining the professional world, we are that much more behind the people who will be buying from us 20-30 years from now. We are not where they are getting their information. We are not speaking their language.

In addition to this disconnect, we are also in the process of creating a rift in the world of marketing that could become a major issue over the next 5-10 years within agencies and marketing departments. Marketing professionals who will be graduating from college in five years will not have grown up in a world of postcard packs. Social Media will be for them what telephones and fax machines are to us – a tool for communication. The mysteries will be elsewhere for these young people and they will have no patience for debates about how to “do” social media as a business.

Marketers give a lot of lip service to phrases like “customer-centric” or words like “futuristic” or “innovative.” We are forgetting, as a profession, that what is innovative to us may already be a part of a younger persons’ every-day life.

What are you going to do about that?

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/3286023692/ via Creative Commons


4 comments on “Dear Marketers: We’re Forgetting the Young

  1. I would argue that the opposite is also true. We go so tied up in our digital strategies that we forget that most Babyboomers still rely on traditional media and hard copy formats. When we focus 100% on digital, we risk missing the largest demongraphic group of consumers.

  2. I have to agree with Sherrilynne. There are still a lot of people who are tethered to their devices. And it’s not just baby boomers. I know a lot of young people who may not be consuming traditional media and hard copy formats, but neither are they glued to digital channels such as Twitter. They are busy living interesting lives. I know it’s not statistically valid, but if I ignore the people in the marketing communications field or tech sectors, no one I know can be bothered with Twitter, regardless of age, and I think that reality is getting lost on marketers.

    • Also a great point. Every now and then a blogger will show statistics indicating just how small a percentage of our population is using “social media.” The other thing to keep in mind is that people who are using platforms like Twitter or Facebook are probably using them to keep in touch with people, not to learn more about your brand.

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