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How not to get left in the digital landscape dust

Even with millennials snapping at their heels, members of the older business generation don’t like to face the fact that there are simply more people online today than ever before. Can I put it bluntly? The world has changed! The internet population now makes up half of our global population, and 70 percent of those are active on social media. With the rapid proliferation of digital technologies in the last two decades, there has been a corresponding change in consumer behaviour and expectations. One very important example: most prospective buyers now research businesses, products and services online first before making a purchasing decision. That generation of business professionals who are not using social media to connect with their clients, convert prospective interest into sales, and cast the net wide to market their products are not only missing out… but they are also vulnerable.

As members of the business community, it is imperative (as always) to be aware of the shifts that alter the professional landscape. Ignoring this is the surest way to be left behind. And in a marketplace where relevance is key, this mistake can be the difference between prosperity and a slow…lingering…utter…failure. Death by a thousand cuts – business version. Yet despite this, many members of the baby boomer generation are still reluctant to fully embrace online methods. Let’s investigate.

First off, the baby boomer generation came of age when the norm for marketing was sending direct mailers and purchasing heavy media advertisements, all part of the ‘interruption marketing’ era. Further, many of this generation completed their entire schooling without ever using a computer. Youth today simply would not relate! Fast forward to 2017 and while the baby boomers are the demographic segment at the peak of their professional career that also holds the largest portion of wealth, many still resist using the most effective tool in a business professional’s arsenal: social media. The millennials, on the other hand, are fluent in its uses and fully comprehend its importance. But they have an unfair advantage, they grew up as digital natives. It’s as though they are hard-wired for it. While up to 90 percent of millennials own a smartphone; this statistic is only approximately 43 percent for baby boomers in the same income bracket.

Unfortunately, the business community in the older demographic will always be playing catch-up in this arena and if they don’t learn to effectively use digital to reach their customer base, they will simply continue losing business to the tech-savvy who become more and more relevant. Social media marketing and interactive marketing are only going to continue growing in importance as sources of news, product information and peer-recommendations, especially regarding goods and services. In fact, there is some evidence that this may be the most accessible venue for sharing information as some consumers now resist traditional direct marketing efforts by registering on Do Not Call Registries, not opening direct mail and unsubscribing from email lists that they voluntarily added themselves to initially.

But social media does not have to be overwhelming – even to those digital dinosaurs who keep parking it in the “too hard” or “maybe later” basket and then “never get around to it.” It’s vital to remember that technology itself should never be intimidating. Brian Solis explained this best when he stated that, “Social media is more about sociology and psychology, than technology.” This may sound familiar since sociology and psychology are the disciplines that marketing calls home. Once you understand this concept, then learning the nuts and bolts of new tech and electronic devices is simple. Just remember, it’s not about the tools, it’s – still – all about the people.

It’s also wise to remember that content trumps channel always. This boils down to the fact that a practical campaign and messaging strategy must take priority. Any effective marketer already knows this: the message comes first and the decisions about how to distribute that message come later. This concept is no different when applied to digital media. Once the message and strategy are developed, then it is time to consider how it will be applied to various platforms – rather than the other way around.

And finally, do not let social media or digital technologies replace or overshadow other marketing efforts. While it is important that all professional associations include these tools in their customer service and marketing to stay competitive, it’s equally important to realize that they should simply be a part of a larger marketing strategy that includes traditional methods. Social media should exist neither as 0 percent of your plan or as 100 percent. When either of these scenarios is true, you are overlooking some segment of your intended audience. For any generation, the best approach is to integrate online and offline tools into a powerful business strategy … then have a commitment to ‘always be learning.’

Sarah Pearce is a professional speaker, business coach, social strategist and author of Online Reputation: Your Most Valuable Asset in a Digital Age.
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