Key focus points for Selling to the Digital Natives (and how I miss the download bar).

A couple of weeks ago I attended a panel session at innovfest here in Singapore

Doing an excellent moderation job was:

Tiffani Bova, Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist – Salesforce

And the panelists were:

Cedric Dias, Head of Digital Marketing – OCBC Bank

King Quah, Co-Founder & Managing Director – SaltyCustoms

Parin Mehta, APAC Trips Operations Director – Airbnb

Shanru Lai, Co-Founder – ShopBack

Tim Kobe, Founder – Eight Inc.

Firstly, what is a ‘Digital Native’? Simply put, it’s a person who has grown up with Digital – someone who (unlike me) hasn’t had to transition and get used to the digital world.

Inherent in the title of this panel discussion is some assertion that it’s somehow different now when we sell to digital natives. This could be interpreted two ways I suppose: one, that we distinguish between digital natives and everyone else (including me) when we try and sell stuff or two, that we simply regard everyone as being digitally engaged nowadays and not worry if they’re a native or someone who had to make the transition.

It’s probably easiest to (generally) think that everyone is now best engaged (mostly) through digital means. It’s interesting that I should be considered potentially different because I am not a native. Let’s consider this difference in the context of some of the points raised during the discussion.

Tim Kobe made the observation that we should be ‘recognizing behaviors and replicating them’. As someone with a grounding and background in design thinking, I can relate to this. Tim, I think, is encompassing several things here – most importantly probably is that digital and technology should take its lead from real people and an understanding what they want and need and not try and invent behaviors. I’ve had plenty of tech vendors come to me and try and shoehorn a shiny piece of functionality in to some fanciful and imagined user need to try and give it some credibility and relevance.

As a non native, I have lived through the early days of the revolution and learned that digital and technology have not invented needs and desires but merely (albeit it in staggering, unimagined and wonderful ways), helped us do what we want to do. That grounds people like me and, quite possibly, balances the imagination and creativity of a native (who never thought putting a PDF brochure online was digital) with proper consideration to user needs and putting the user at the center of innovation.

(And making money too, but that’s another story).

Shanru spoke of the highly social nature of the native and the need to always be giving them content. She didn’t get the chance to expand further on exactly what she meant by ‘social’ but as someone who lived through the days when the digital landscape was rife with predictions of people never mixing in the real world again, I’m guessing Shanru wouldn’t recognize this concern and, perhaps, not even be aware that some of us lived through these dark scenarios!

Cedric echoed the contemporary refrain that experience is key. And I wonder if, ideally, a non native would warrant a different experience to that of a native. It’s possibly fanciful thinking of course to think that we would want to invest in selling using different digital experience for natives but, even assuming we could easily distinguish our audience and customize their experience (native versus no native) I wonder what we might choose to be different.

Perhaps, to address another point made, we might wish to slow down the experience for non natives! We were told that the natives are increasingly impatient and, whilst we can all relate to this, I think there are interesting points to consider here.

I use a podcast app (Downcast) to download and listen to podcasts and the download speed can be so fast now that I actually miss the ‘downloading’ bar. That wait, the inevitable wait that was part of our digital transition, became a cornerstone and foundation of our digital experience for many years. And it speaks to a fundamental difference between natives and non natives – that we know what it used to be like and (without elevating myself to the level of someone who has really suffered) what the struggle was. It really was hard to get ‘images’ to download in 1988 and that’s something the natives will never know.

It’s perhaps why one of the panelists described the natives as the spoiled generation. And also why Parin of Airbnb spoke of their focusing on the offline experience. For us non natives the experience was the digital bit itself – the waiting, the fixing things that broke, the realization of the what the new dawn offered, the download bar and getting a a 7 Mb file downloaded across a few floppy disks.

Digital now is increasingly the experience enabler and not the experience itself. Perhaps understanding that will help us sell in the future knowing that those of us who really experienced digital itself are making way for the spoiled ones for who ‘our’ digital is just that thing they never have to think about.

Do we understand what digital transformation is yet?

I wrote the article below in September 2015 – over two and a half years ago. What’s changed? Are we any closer to understanding what a digital transformation is? Are they less of a ‘all the rage’ and more of something that’s actually being executed?

Let me know your thoughts?

Sept 10th, 2015 Digital Transformations are all the rage nowadays – at least talk about them is. Eighteen months ago whilst working for a big ad agency here in Singapore we pitched a global digital engagement to a big FMCG prospect. “Let’s call it a ‘transformation’”, I said. No objections there and so we went in all guns blazing with details of just how we’d accomplish that. It was a great pitch but we didn’t win.

Since then I’ve heard the term used time and time again with clients who want it and agencies promising it. It’s fast becoming the new coveted space agencies and consultancies want to get in to.

I want to touch on four things and hopefully draw attention to what I think might constitute real transformational change.

Digital Transformation is not about:

  1. More digital stuff: Transformation is NOT simply a case of doing more digital. Or even just about doing it better or more seriously. It’s not just about shifting more budget into the digital marketing pot and building better and brighter websites, starting a YouTube channel or doing some eCommerce. It’s not even getting with the new(ish) and adding Pinterest or Instagram to your already (probably) not so effective existing Social Media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. No. A digital transformation is about something far more organic – about something that needs to be embraced from the heart of the organization and by all of it. It’s about a shift in the way the company does all of its business.
  2. Just the communication and engagement strategy: Digital Transformation is way more than better ‘digital’ marketing communications and ‘digital’ consumer engagement. It’s about embracing an ethos which should realize itself through consumer empowerment and (amongst other things) the provision of utility and the further democratization of data and systems. It’s about moving from the brand making sure we know about it to the brand making sure they know about us – about each consumer as an individual. And then, whenever possible, speaking to us as such.
  3. Just about the (Digital) Marketing Department: No company digital transformation should be confined to the marketing department. Being a digitally transformed company means embracing the consumer-centric opportunities that digital affords and adopting a new mindset and way of doing things in all parts of the organization with consumers as well as with internal stakeholders. It’s not a marketing vehicle – it’s a way of thinking about things and doing stuff in HR and within the R&D department. It’s about everywhere.
  4. Being part of a job title or work responsibility: Working for a digitally transformed company will impact every employee. Everyone will be embracing digital in their work, not simply in the trivial sense of using a digital device or looking at a computer, but in the essential elements of the ways they do things armed as they will be with new knowledge and insights they have when relating to consumers and to their colleagues.

In fact, today’s digital marketers may end up being just a small (perhaps insignificant) part of a company – a company entirely composed of digitally transformed employees doing the sorts of things they do now but in ways that you might not recognize.

Unless you have already been successfully digitally transformed. In which case you’re probably well ahead of most of us.