03/09/18 | Leadership, Workplace

Closing the Gap Between Digital Marketing Teams and The Baby Boomer Execs Who Oversee Them

In the world of marketing, there’s a hidden digital divide wreaking havoc across various industries. It’s afflicting companies of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies. Is it happening in your organization?

Here’s one story that shows how it’s playing out. (I’ve changed the names, but I’m basing this example on clients I have worked with. I specialize in explaining digital marketing to Baby Boomer executives.)

Megan and John: shared goals, different language

Megan, who’s is in her late twenties, has risen to a position of responsibility at an international organization, managing a digital marketing team. She’s frustrated, though, at the lack of respect and understanding she receives from her supervisor in upper management, whom we’ll call John. John refuses to give Megan adequate funding for her work and doesn’t include her in many meetings. Megan has a great team and asks me to help her gain the respect, and budget, she needs in her organization.

John drives the vision and strategy for his division, his region, for the overall company. He needs everyone working for him to make that vision come true. He’s been successful in his career because he delivers the results he’s promised to senior management, to his board, to his shareholders to his employees.   

Yet John has a weakness, an Achilles heel, he doesn’t like to acknowledge. He doesn’t really understand the new “digital marketing” or how it can move his business forward. He knows about social media – mostly from Facebook – which he considers a waste of time, and so he may budget for Google Adwords but he’s not sure it’s worth it.

While John recognizes the world has “gone digital” and makes sure he has an internal marketing team, headed by Megan, tasked with “doing the digital marketing” to drive the business forward, he’s really just going through the motions.

He’s “checking the box” and throwing it over the fence for someone else to handle. Unlike the rest of the business, he’s mostly ignoring digital marketing because he doesn’t understand it. He just hopes it will work. If it doesn’t, he might try to shake up the internal team, and also lower their budget, again.   

Symptoms of the disconnect

In effect, he’s setting the team up for failure before they even start. In response, here’s how the internal marketing team or agency often works in this situation:

  • They move forward and are somewhat isolated from the sales department.
  • They have no idea how their results will be judged by John.
  • They are very busy: creating campaigns, generating likes, shares, and other online metrics.
  • But they can’t win because they haven’t aligned their activities with the organization’s goals.

Megan and John’s story is just one example of many occurring inside many organizations. According to the Pew Research Center, more than a third of American workers are Millennials.They now make up the largest share of the American workforce and many (like Megan) are in management positions, overseeing teams that drive business results.

The “digital divide” between Baby Boomers (as well as some Gen X’ers) and Millennials is more than just a difference in ages and attitude; it’s a technology divide. It leaves both sides frustrated and keeps businesses from getting the results they need from their marketing dollars and efforts.   

5 steps to close the divide:

  • Senior leaders start to share their vision, goals, and strategy with the digital team, including timing.
  • Senior leaders need to get up to speed on what the digital marketing landscape encompasses, whether that means taking courses, attending conferences, or scheduling a series of educational meetings with the digital team.
  • Marketing must work directly toward business goals.This means that leadership must set expectations and allow the team or agency to create programs and campaigns aligned directly with goals, vision, and sales.
  • Senior leaders must be clear about how digital marketing will be judged and what marks they need to hit to be considered successful. Marketing metrics get clearly defined.
  • When leadership teams truly understand what digital marketers do, then they can provide sufficient resources.

A few months after we work together, I ask Megan how she now feels and how her team is doing. She’s thrilled that she’d been included in the conversations about the company’s strategy for the year. Her team knows exactly what they need to do and their new campaigns are in synch with the company’s goals. In fact, they’ve created a different approach, and all new work, compared to the year before. And she’s excited and re-energized with her role in the company.

That’s the digital divide that has to be recognized – and addressed – in many organizations. And it’s worth the work to recognize and change it because the results, when everything is aligned, can be amazing.


Janet Granger

Janet Granger

Janet Granger is a marketing strategy and business consultant, with over 20 years of experience in companies ranging from Fortune 500 to small businesses. Her book, "Digital Influence for Baby Boomers: Why you should care and yes, you can do this!" is available on Amazon.

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