July 03, 2013
How To

Four Ideas on Marketing to Digital Natives Versus Digital Immigrants

SUMMARY: These last two weeks have been a bit of a departure from the standard MarketingSherpa fare. We’re covering some emerging marketing topics that are so far unproven, but show significant promise.

Last week, we provided five ideas to ponder about the business-to-individual (B2i) concept, and this week we're covering the challenge of marketing to digital natives, also known as Millennials, versus digital immigrants -- Generation X and older.

Because mobile and social media marketing channels are an increasingly important part of the B2B marketer's toolkit, this particular marketing challenge is something that many marketers may overlook.
by David Kirkpatrick, Senior Reporter

The oldest "digital native" now is about 30, so as more and more become business purchase influencers and decision makers, the differences in marketing to these two generations should at least be on every B2B marketer’s radar screen.

To help you navigate this brave new world, we reached out to a wide range of expert sources to get some insights, ideas and a few tactical action items on the topic:
  • Rich Fleck, Vice President of Strategy, Responsys

  • Mike Hotz, Director of Strategic Services, Responsys

  • Jim Lecinski, Vice President US Sales and Service, Google

  • Michael Ni, CMO, Avangate

  • Christine Nurnberger, Vice President, Marketing, SunGard Availability Services

  • Dan Springer, CEO, Responsys

  • Brian Solis, Principal Analyst, Altimeter Group

Read on for tips, tactics and thoughts on meeting this current challenge for B2B marketers.

Idea #1. Think social channels first with digital natives

On this topic, Ni said:

The circumstances for marketing to digital natives are actually quite interesting in that they are, in many ways, going back to more basic tactics than their "digital immigrant" predecessors.

This is most apparent in the fact that social-first marketing is key to getting to this younger audience.

Whether it's through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc., digital natives demand a personalized connection to businesses and are not as susceptible to the blanket marketing tactics that were so prominent before.

This doesn't mean that more blanket approaches won't still be used — e.g., email blasts — but the first point of contact that truly matters will now be through social as, even though it's through a digital medium, it creates a one-on-one connection much more akin to a shop owner and his regulars than a big brand with a broad message.

Additionally, gamification works wonders with this new generation. Providing badges and other reputation tools is the new form of "knowing the owner" that drives loyalty and purchasing decisions. Best of all, these digital options provide the seller with the opportunity to customize to the individual through data and insights rather than trying to market through conjecture.

Idea #2. Understand how digital natives engage with your messaging

Nurnberger provided three tips on getting Millennials to engage:

Marketers need to know their audience, their consumption preferences and where they go to consume content. For example, up until very recently, SunGard Availability Services had a somewhat distorted view of the C-level executives we marketed towards, and therefore made incorrect assumptions on how these executives consume content.

Through our own internal buyer persona work, and looking at studies on the demographics of today's chief information officers by CIO.com and Ernst & Young, we found the average CIO is between the ages of 43 and 49. The bar bumps a bit at Fortune 500 organizations, but this is still a younger demographic than we expected and it changed the way we target this buyer.

At our recent IGNITE event — a consortium of 25 top CIOs from around the country — every single executive was working off a tablet or other mobile device.

That said, in terms of content, marketers still need multiple formats as there are different consumption styles between Millennials and other generations. Millennials grew up self-educating through online and social channels for consumer purchases, and this is translating to their roles as influencers in the enterprise purchasing process.

They are smart and cautious, and the quality, authenticity and credibility of the content are of paramount importance to them. For example, IT analyst reports and studies still have tremendous value in the IT buy cycle, but in order to translate core messages to the Millennial audience, marketers need to synthesize the message into much smaller, more easily digestible formats. The creative delivery of this authentic, credible content is also key to success.

We're seeing better response rates by this demographic from interactive PDFs, infographics and white board videos versus other more text-heavy assets. We are hearing similar feedback from our media partners like eMedia.

When marketers have authentic, credible, data-driven content, they need to carefully plot how to distribute this content in order to reach the Millennial audience. Millennials are more peer-driven than previous generations.

As a result, amplifying content through social channels and building up a follower base of content will gain more ground than a traditional paid media approach. While technology can make the dissemination of this content much more manageable, marketers need to think through these distribution channels when designing content.

Content needs to be in both short and long form. It needs to be created with for all the appropriate social sharing mechanisms with responsive design and mobile usability in mind, yet still be printable for that CEO reading on a plane.

Idea #3. Engage with your customers using data-driven clues

Hotz provided a great deal of very tactical advice:

B2B buyers have changed their information-gathering, evaluation and purchasing habits as they have increasingly become digitally native.

Marketers need to adapt their own approaches to suit their [B2B buyers] needs. A typical B2B purchase is not an impulse buy. A B2B customer is most often a "buyer in waiting," constantly scanning the business landscape for the best solutions to their business challenges and exchanging information with suppliers and colleagues to help them make the best buying decisions.

In the past, your salesperson was the main source of information for B2B buyers about the company and its products. They were involved in the buying process from beginning to end and were able to directly influence the progress of the deal.

Today, B2B buyers have gone digitally native. Google recently reported that 83% of B2B buyers do their research online before they even contact the company. They can find your product, learn about it, see what others think of it, maybe even trial it and buy it, all without ever talking to a salesperson. As a result, marketers must use the digital channels to build intimate relationships with prospects during the purchase decision-making process.

The first step is to begin to know your customers through the data you have available and then focus on the customer data that matters most.

How do they learn about and evaluate your products or services?
  • Website technical specs

  • "How to" articles

  • White paper downloads

  • Product trials

  • Email newsletters

  • Blog posts

  • LinkedIn

  • Ratings and reviews

  • Targeted digital display ads

  • Etc.

How do they interact with your brand?
  • Desktop

  • Mobile

  • In-person

  • Over the telephone

Once you learn about your customers, the next step is develop the digital messaging and content that will assist them in completing tasks at hand during key points in the lifecycle.

This is accomplished by using data-driven clues, such as what content topics are they opening and clicking on in your emails, browsing on your website, posting in social channels, or interacting with targeted display ads. The marketer can use these clues to deliver highly relevant digital messages that address the buyer’s needs, concerns and/or barriers to purchase at key points in the decision making process.

The goal is to replicate the experience a human salesperson provided in the past through facilitative marketing. Establish your brand as the "source of authority" in you space by establishing your brand as the source for useful, task-specific information accessed digitally on demand and utilize a digital lead nurture program to walk buyers through the buying process.

The final step is to cater your program to how your customers and prospects digitally interact with your brand. Are the interactions primarily through a telephone, in-person, a desktop computer or a mobile device?

You can use their primary channel of interaction as a way to determine key interaction segments and develop different content experiences for each segment. For example:
  • For buyers that primarily interact with your brand via the telephone or in-person, you can incorporate email follow-ups and/or targeted display ads to reinforce the benefits conveyed during their interaction with a call center representative or salesperson.

  • For buyers who primarily interact with you via mobile devices, you need to make sure your content in email and on the Web is mobile friendly and also consider where SMS and Mobile Applications Push Notifications can enhance the experience.

Springer added digital immigrants are beginning to approach the behavior of digital natives such as engaging through mobile devices. At the same time he said one key difference is with digital immigrants, the messaging is often one-way where with digital natives there is more interaction.

To provide an example, he stated, "You get a lot more 25-year-olds posting reviews [online] than you get 50-year-olds posting reviews."

Fleck agreed the mobile tactics, such as SMS messaging, are more likely to create a two-way engagement with the audience.

Idea #4. Instead of natives versus immigrants, think Generation C, the connected generation

Solis and Lecinski shared thoughts on the concept of the "connected generation" with each other.

Solis went first:

When marketers design campaigns, they might have the Millennial in mind, they might be very clever and creative in terms of their marketing to the Millennial, but what they don't have, I think, mastered yet, and this is something that I think goes back to the moment of truth, is that the journey is different for somebody in Gen X than it is, say, someone in Gen Y even Gen Z.

This is why I refer to a lot of this idea of Generation C, this connected generation, because once you start to live the digital lifestyle, even if you're my age and all you do is live on social and mobile, and iPads and what have you, you start to exhibit Millennial-like behavior.

And, the journey for someone in the connected generation is going to be different, how you make decisions.

For example, in the Zero Moment of Truth, where you go naturally to get information is different than somebody in say the outside of Generation C. How I click, the screens that I use, the context — the mindset that I'm in as I'm using each one of those screens, what I do on those screens is going to be different. And so, what I believe that marketers need to think about is, you know, they bring the decisions in terms of the strategies, the experience, the life experience, the professional experience that they have as human beings.

That's already working against them.

What they need to do is stop thinking about things the way that they normally do and think about them in the way that a Millennial or someone in Gen C would think about things, and design that experience exclusively for them.

What you find out is that as you're designing this, say something is a little bit more natural for the smart phones, something is a little bit more natural for the tablet, and I'm not talking about porting your website with scaling technology, I'm talking about designing an experience that takes into account the advantages of each one of those platforms, and designing an experience that fits together so well that it's fluid, it's frictionless, that you just naturally induce fantastic experiences that cultivate great moments of truth, that cultivate great experiences between those moments of truth, and it's different than what you would have done for the traditional customer.

But, I bet you that the traditional customer also benefits from this mindfulness.

Then Lecinski responded to Solis' comments:

When you think about Gen C versus older generations or other sets of folks, I think it's important to keep in mind that increasingly there is not the huge differences in device access, penetration, time spent, access, etc.

It's what they're doing and how theyre using it.

And, a lot of the thinking that we believe about this Gen C is informed by really good analysts up in Minneapolis, our friend Katie Elfring at Iconoculture who really specializes in this Gen C audience, and she talks about them being motivated and driven by FOMO [fear of missing out].

So, you go to a restaurant and you see four Gen C 20-somethings all sitting at a table at a restaurant, none of them talking to each other, with their heads buried in their smartphones.

That is because they're worried that something interesting might be happening in this moment that they're missing out on.

For marketers, that's another moment for you. That moment of something interesting, exciting is happening right now that you have to think about is what can I give Gen C that's so interesting that they feel compelled to share it with their friends — their network — right now.

The latest specs [or] my video PR press release may not be something that's FOMO worthy. What is it for your target audience, if your target audience is Gen C?


Altimeter Group




Solis' latest book — What's the Future of Business (WTF)

SunGard Availability Services

Related Resources

Five Ideas on the Business-to-Individual Concept for B2B Marketers

B2B Gamification: Bold strategy in conservative industry increased website visits 108.5%

B2B Social Media: Gamification effort increases Web traffic 100%, employee collaboration 57%

Gamification: 6 tactics for B2B marketers

What does it mean to be a digital native? (via CNN)

Digital Native vs. Digital Immigrant? Which Are You? (via Psychology Today)

Social Media Marketing: 4 questions to ask yourself about social media buttons

Social Media Marketing: Can you compete with your customer’s mom?

Mobile Marketing: 5 takeaways from MarketingSherpa case studies

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