Sometimes when talking about potential jobs and projects, I feel a sense of discriminatory ageism about my digital experience. Perhaps it’s the gray beard or that I am not as enthused about Fortnite coming to my Nintendo Switch as the rest of America.
Because I am a Gen Xer and not a hipster Millennial (whatever that is), when I do run into conversations with younger peers — and frankly older executives who assume you need to be in your 20s or early 30s to understand digital — age comes up more often then you’d you think.
Here’s a fictional comedic attempt combining many of the dialogue points I have heard over the past two months.
“So, you were early, one of the digital marketing pioneers. What was your first experience?” asks decision maker X.
“Oh, I hand coded EIA — the Electronics Industry Association’s — first website back in ’95.”
“Seriously? I haven’t heard of EIA.”
“They broke up and became the Telecommunications Industry Association, and the Consumer Technology Association, you know they run CES? That was my first trade show experience.”
“Wow! That must have been crazy! Hey [Grandpa], tell me about MySpace.”
“Well I marketed Sully Erna’s book on MySpace and sold 2,000 copies the first day. He’s the lead singer of Godsmack. But personally, I wasn’t on it, it struck me as pretty cheesy.
“My first social network was really blogging, then when Twitter and Facebook broke in the mid 2000s, I was one of the first power users. I am not on Twitter anymore, though. Deleted my 20,000 person account.”
“What? Why did you do that?”
“It’s a great place to be if you are a brand doing customer service, or a public celebrity or politician opining. Not being one of those, I can do without the troll kingdom and bots. Don’t get me wrong, the last brand I maintained was very active on Twitter, but I see little personal value.”
“So tell me about today’s digital strategy environment? I mean with digital advertising media and Hubspot.”
“Well, we are definitely in an era of data and analytics, which makes it a very exciting time for companies who want to invest in marketing that directly impacts their customers. Automation — Hubspot, Marketo or Pardot for example — is just one type of marketing technology that can empower precision communications. When I implemented Pardot…”
Combating Digital Ageism
It’s always a good conversation, yet potential employers or agencies hem and haw. You would think historical experience is an asset in digital, but many just believe your time has passed. Or dismiss you as overqualified (translation: too expensive) to handle the project they had in mind. Or because of your experience and age, you don’t fit their digital marketing unicorn image.
Whatever the reason, digital marketing ageism exists. Almost 75% of technology company workers are under the age of 40, according to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM).
The question is how to combat ageism. Here are a few suggestions.
1) Training and Certification
Dismissing someone’s skills in today’s marketing world can be easy, even if you know the technology or medium well. That’s where training and certification can come in handy.
Becoming certified in a specific technology eliminates the questions. It’s just assumed you understand the marketing technology. Currently, I am embarking on Google Analytics certification, a crucial aspect of understanding today’s data environment for most brands.
Even if you don’t get certified, training can help. I recently went through Hubspot’s certification training program, but elected not to take the certification test (a $2500 HubSpot license is too much for my new fledgling business).
Once I got past bubbling 20 somethings explaining to me on video how a blog works, I understood Hubspot within the context of general automation principles learned using Pardot. The strengths and weaknesses of both programs became evident, and as a result I am better able to have a conversation about marketing automation.
2) Dress the Part
Another way to demonstrate that technology hasn’t passed you by is to dress the part. Not only in your clothes. Don’t wear a shirt and tie when your colleagues are going to show up in a t-shirt and $200 designer jeans. That doesn’t mean look like a slob, but dressing casual — e.g. sport shirt, jeans and cool shoes for me — conveys “not antiquated.”
Dressing the part also means using relevant technology. That includes putting away that beat up iPhone 6 and carrying a modern device (Google Pixel 2 XL for the win), and perhaps a smart watch, too.
Use digital media, too. While no longer on Twitter, I am super active on Instagram, 500 px, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social networks. I also podcast, and yes, still write a marketing article or two every month.
If someone really wants to look, they will see an active professional working in current media. Communicating with others via those media forms helps convey that indeed, I still get digital.
3) Embrace Age
If ageism appears to be an issue, embrace it. Bring it up and make clear that you don’t see it as a disadvantage. In fact, explain how experience benefits you.
Marketers that know how technologies change quickly, and are media agnostic — e.g. able to shift as audience preferences change — can better guide companies through volatile evolutions. Consider how many brands were impacted this year by the collapse of SnapChat’s popularity, and Facebook;s self-inflicted data marketing wounds.
Even better, how many are shifting to experiment with Reddit given its corresponding surge in popularity? Successful experiences year after year in digital are the hallmark of a leader that can evolve as technology changes.
Also, be ready to discuss new trends like blockchain and AI and how they may impact a company or organization’s business in the future. It’s one thing to check the boxes, it’s another to navigate a company towards ongoing technology relevance.
What are your thoughts or experiences with digital ageism?