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Digital-Marketing Series: 9 Ways to Reach Digital Natives (and the Rest of Us, Too)

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Last night I pestered my 11-year-old to go to bed. It was getting late, and she was up past her bedtime. "Mom, one more minute... please," Caroline begged. "I want to finish this blog post."

She was writing the latest post on a new blog she co-writes with her friend Laurie-Maude. Modeled on the Disney TV show iCarly, the "CLM Show" is a text and video blog written on the Vox platform—so they can control the distribution. (They don't want the more icky boys at school to have access to it, for example.) They produce the 10-minute video "shows" each Sunday afternoon using my Flip video camera, and they update the "behind the scenes" in text posts throughout the week. They alert their fans about new episodes via email.

I would guess that two sixth-graders' writing, directing, and producing their own video show really isn't that unusual today. YouTube is stuffed silly with kids on camera and behind it, too. But, nonetheless, it's pretty amazing, isn't it?

Caroline's comfort with social media tools and her innate knowledge on how to use email to drive traffic surpass that of most grownups I know. It even surpasses her older brother's; just five years older, he isn't nearly as digitally fluent as she is.

Is that because Caroline and Laurie-Maude attended last month's Digital Marketing Mixer to learn how to integrate social media and email to further their brands? No.


Is it because they've solicited advice from me? No (although I did suggest the Vox platform and walked them through YouTube uploading).

Rather, it's because they are digital natives. They seem to intrinsically know this stuff, and they have an easy confidence with it that even I—with my love for it and immersion in it—lack. Around 11-year-olds, I'm like my partner, who grew up in Lebanon and moved to America when he was 10. Although his command of English is better than most people's—he's an editor, after all—he nevertheless lacks a certain comfort with American culture and language that natives possess. He'll always be an immigrant, just like I will be (and maybe most of us will) with digital media.

Much has been written about how this new generation of digital natives experiences the world: how they learn, live, relate, think, connect, fantasize, play, process, and communicate. One of the best descriptions I've ever read on the topic was based on an article written a decade ago by visionary Marc Prensky, who argues that new media and technology have inherently changed the way Digital Natives think, often in positive ways. In his article, Twitch Speed Learning, Keeping up with Young Workers, Prensky identifies 10 ways that digital natives "think differently" (and it's nicely charted here).

So what's this mean for marketers, specifically, who want to reach digital natives? And what's it mean for marketers who want to reach others, too, who are increasingly adopting new digital tools and are empowered by them?

It means focusing on what David Meerman Scott and others call the "new rules" of marketing. Rather than pushing marketing messages out to digital natives, it means engaging with your customers on a entirely different level.

It means talking directly to your customer where they are—on Facebook (www.facebook.com), YouTube (www.youtube.com), Twitter (www.twitter.com), Plurk (www.plurk.com), blogs, and other social platforms. It means giving your customers the tools to interact with your product or service however they choose. It means producing content your customers actually like and want to read or engage with. It means more conversation, more education, and less one-way communication and less sitting behind your desk waiting to take an order.

To put a finer point on it, reaching digital natives and retooling your marketing means the following:

1. Offering or sponsoring online research tools. Digital natives research before they buy. They ask their friends, and they search exhaustively online. Think: User-contributed product reviews, and the ability to share product reviews and comments on your product and services with friends.

2. Constantly refreshed content. Digital natives are impatient. They want content served fresh, all the time. Think: Content that is engaging, not boring, and that informs, not sells. Think forums and blogs and other ways to spawn frequent information updates.

3. Creating content to share. What's yours is theirs. Think: Finding ways to encourage digital natives to pass along your online newsletters, videos, podcasts, whitepapers, blog posts, or whatever you're producing.

4. Tossing out marketing-speak and your product-centric point of view—in all your communications and advertising. Think: Talk with your customers, not at them.

5. Finding ways to include video and/or audio. Video, audio, and other kinds of media are fun to share and pass around, and embedded video and audio players are often easier to pass along than text, too. Think: Producing some compelling media in digital or audio format.

6. Fostering brand loyalty. The loyalty of digital natives can be intense, and some may, entirely on their own accord, evangelize your brand or product. Think: Facebook applications, reaching out to bloggers who are leaders in your industry or who write about things related to your product or services.

7. Monitoring the conversation, and participating in it. Read leading bloggers who write about your products, services or industry. Comment on their blogs, start a dialogue when the opportunity arise. Think: Make it someone's job to monitor Twitter, read Amazon product listings, write industry-specific blogs you publish, or read and comment on blogs written by others.

8. Being transparent. What does that mean? It means fully embracing the "empowered consumer" and giving them the tools to harness their opinions—good and bad, said Ben Grossman. Think: Interacting with your customers openly in nothing but a forthright, honest manner.

9. Being prepared for the worst. The flip side of that loyalty is that digital natives have no patience for shenanigans. A ticked off customer has a larger platform, and negative feedback can send ripples excruciatingly far. Think: Dealing with disgruntled customers as issues occur. (And not wishing they'd simply go away.)

Watching Caroline last night finish up her blog post, I thought about something Arianna Huffington said during her keynote speech last week at the Digital Marketing Mixer. "If you are consuming old media," she said, "you are consuming it on your couch. If you are consuming new media, you are consuming it on your horse."

What Huffington meant was that the blogs, and services like Twitter and Plurk, and social and new media platforms both invite and demand that its participants be engaged, and involved, and active—always moving forward. Old media, like TV especially, just asks that we passively stand around and watch.

And increasingly—for my generation, but especially for the next generation—unless we're saddled up and in constant motion, we'll fall far behind.


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Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, the author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content (Wiley, 2014), and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules (Wiley, 2012). Ann co-founded ClickZ.com, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs and @AnnHandley.

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  • by Sonny Gill Tue Nov 4, 2008 via web

    Great points Ann!

    Taking these 9 points internally within a company, it's what's separating traditional media people and the digital natives (those using Twitter, Plurk, etc. and using it right). The reluctance to allow digital natives to implement new media specific strategies within their brand and company. The reluctance to let go and give some freedom and actually put a face to the company. Like you said, no one wants to be talked at, but rather talked to as an individual with a voice, but companies are finding it tough to open up and ditch their corporate 'mumbo-jumbo' in way of just being real.

    Ultimately, it's the digital natives role to educate and build acceptance among traditional media minds (internally and externally) of new media and demonstrate that either you evolve with it or get left in the dust.

  • by Janine Libbey Wed Nov 5, 2008 via web

    Sonny's makes a good point about companies being hesitant to use new media. I just came back from a marketing association lunch on social media and one of the first questions asked was, "How do you measure ROI?". It's important for the laggards to realize that some metrics can be used with social media, and that they remember that some forms of traditional media do not provide a clear ROI.

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