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.

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