Are you a Digital Dinosaur When Your Customer Needs a Tech Savvy Star?

by Joanne Steele on May 17, 2013

I witnessed a local organization’s curfuffle this week and heard an older leader exclaim, “I’m not going to let any 29 year old upstart tell me what to do!” which got me to thinking.

The new digital face of protest - Occupy Wall St.We’re in the midst of the most momentous generational divide in the history of the world.

As is typical throughout time, older experienced people are leading organizations and businesses. But the people they are leading or sharing some degree of leadership with have a completely different world view. What is different now is the size and degree of separation.

The digital divide is in reality a digital chasm.

Generation Y or Millennials, born from the 1970’s to 2000 and Generation Z born after 2000 are born with digital in their DNA, according to Brian Solis at Altimeter Group and a whole host of research he quotes in his latest article, New Digital Influencers: The Coming Youthquake

Most of you, my readers, run business development organizations or are trying to attract customers to small locally owned businesses. Most of you are GenXers or older.

You have a complicated relationship with the digital world that is the most comfortable place in the universe for many of those who you are trying to serve, Millennials!

“No, no!” you say. “My customers are not digital heads. My customers are normal people who love authentic, regular, people to people experiences.”

You wish.

The reality is that Millennials make up over 35% of the workforce today and by 2015 they will represent half. These are the people who are buying stuff and building businesses in huge numbers. If they aren’t mine and your customers right now, they will be soon.

These are the people who are texting and posting pictures on YouTube between contractions as they have chlldren.

These are the people whose brains are truly wired so differently that they in fact can multitask, keeping multiple screened devices going at the same time! We GenXers and older (me) are fooling ourselves if we think we can multitask.

These are the ones who would have to get on a plane to visit with their most valued friends, because friendship now has no geographical boundaries.

Are your training efforts and marketing programs reaching Millennials?

In our business development classes too often we are still teaching as if the internet is an optional digital billboard.

In our marketing, we’re still treating social media as an information disseminating device. We post something and disappear until the next time we post something, never interacting or digitally socializing.

Becoming a digital native is like learning a foreign language

We all who are older than our Millennial friends, customers and clients need to step up and become digitally fluent if we want to be relevant. Our wisdom and understanding of how things work in the world still has meaning and importance but our ability to communicate depends largely on our willingness to step whole-heartedly into the digital world.

In Solis’s post he talks about the fact that digital fluency is a choice. People of every age are making the shift. They’re connecting and interacting through social media. They are moving to multiple devices for information and entertainment. They are checking with 10 or more friends and other resources online while making buying decisions.

It’s time to jump into the deep end of the digital pool if you truly want to build a thriving small local business in the digital age.

For SBDCs and micro enterprise associations it’s time to become thoroughly digital in order to be relevant and of service to those young business creators needing your help.

It truly is The End of Business as Usual, and we all must embrace and teach the new paradigm. Small business development organizations throughout the world should be the most tech savvy groups around, and right now, with few exceptions, they are not.

Small local businesses run by Millennials are already aware of and using digital marketing. They need assistance in applying marketing theory to digital practice. Older entrepreneurs need training and encouragement to become digitally fluent in order to succeed.

It’s challenging, it’s exciting and it’s the future. It’s not about letting some 20 something upstart boss us around. It’s about learning to speak their language so that they can understand us and we can understand them. It’s a new world out there!

Here are several past posts on similar topics:

Is Email Marketing Dead for the Millennial Generation?

How the Internet Levels the Playing Field for Local Small Businesses


photo on Flickr by David Shankbone – the new face of protest. Taken at Occupy Wall St. September, 2011




1 Cape Town Web Design August 24, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Good thing I’m young and was brought up in this fast paced technological environment. Although, if you think about it, when the current ‘younger generation’ gets older and the kids of the future are around – what will things be like then?! The way technology is progressing, I feel that kids of today might have an even more difficult time keeping up in future.
People should just try and go with the flow of their time because change is imminent and we’ll all have to deal with it at some point.


2 Gouthami May 19, 2013 at 10:08 pm

I totally agree with you, Joanne. It is like learning a new language. The only problem is that this language evolves faster than you can learn it. I am very good at learning new languages, but this “social media” has got me exhausted. Just when I think I have got the basic grammer and vocabularly right it has already become much more advanced. I am fast beginning to think that the only solution is to hire someone under 25 and hand it over to them! My 44 year old brain is giving up :). Your posts help a lot – thanks.

3 Joanne Steele May 20, 2013 at 8:35 am

Gouthami, I think you’re further along in learning this new language than you think! You’re commenting on blogs and have good awareness of the situation. Like any language, it is about practice. If you take my internet marketing training at Take Control of Your Internet Marketing ( you’ll see that part of Module Two is setting up and using a personal Facebook presence including segmenting lists, commenting, setting privacy settings and more. It’s “social media 101.” Using social media helps you to quickly learn what works and what doesn’t based on your own experience. If you’re feeling frustrated and overwhelmed by it, stop using it for business only and start using it for fun and communication… like a 25 year old. But stay away from games!! In a few weeks you’ll be itching to get back to your business social media efforts.

4 Nikolas Allen May 18, 2013 at 11:26 am

This is a common problem in the modern workplace indeed. Many older people are hesitant to “learn new tricks,” and many younger people don’t like to be “bossed around.” The example you cite in your introduction is really just a problem of prideful ego.

There’s a poignant saying that states, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” This means that leaders need to accept that they can learn something from their younger charges, and youngsters need to realize that they can benefit from the wisdom and experience of their elders. When we stubbornly believe we already “know it all,” we close ourselves off to further education, which is a shame.

As for using new technologies in marketing, many elders dismiss employing tools and media they are not personally using. That’s the wrong standard by which to judge. The real question should be: Is our desired audience using these tools? If so, your company better be employing them in some capacity!

5 Joanne Steele May 19, 2013 at 7:55 am

I agree with everything you say Nikolas, and I think it goes deeper. Millennials and younger don’t see technology as tools. As Solis said in his article, digital has become part of their DNA.

For millennials in marketing, digital is understood as a valuable communication tool as GenXer marketers view writing and talking as valuable communication tools. They’re windows and a pathways that are available for marketing, but also integral to so much more.

What those of us teaching marketing skills need to do is to help small business owners move from “tool” to “window and pathway.” Our business customers have to understand that their millennial and connected customers don’t take a break from technology any more than they take a break from talking, seeing, reading and writing.

6 Brian Yoder May 17, 2013 at 11:37 pm

Generation gaps are natural any time there’s change going on, but I think that the differences are less today than they were back when I was getting started. Back then you couldn’t even get older executives to TOUCH a computer keyboard! Why? For one thing they were intimidated by them and they had worries of making them self-destruct with the wrong push of a button. More importantly though, they were worried about status. People who touched keyboards were called “secretaries” back in those days and they were the lowest level employees other than maybe janitors. By comparison today’s differences are quite insignificant. True, I’m the old guy now, but then again, I have been building networks, social applications, and so on since the 1970’s and I have been using the Internet for longer than the kids just coming up into the ranks of employees today. That hardly makes me and those like me “newcomers” to the Internet, social media, and the like. On the contrary, some of us have decades more experience with them than 25 year old kids.

7 Joanne Steele May 18, 2013 at 11:01 am

Brian, very good points. We are making progress, and we need to do much more much faster particularly among those of us in the small business development sector. You are part of a rare breed and anyone who works with you is indeed lucky.

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