If you’re not a digital native, what are you?

I’ve been party to a growing number of discussions recently about the role and relevance of the ‘digital native’ in B2B marketing. Whilst the number of digital natives that are actually signing the cheques for business purchases undoubtedly remain low (for now), their very presence in organisations is inevitably impacting on both B2B buying and selling.

The shift in behaviour and dynamics that digital natives will catalyse is likely to be dramatic. Having been raised in a digitally-enabled world, they have an intuitive understanding of digital that can amaze older contemporaries – the word ‘native’ succinctly defines their sense of being at home.

And this got me thinking: if these under 25 (or 30) year olds are the natives, how do you describe everyone else? Here are some suggestions:

Digital aliens: This suggests non-natives are aggressive invaders, hell bent on taking over, which is certainly not accurate description of how most over-30 year olds behave in the digital world.

Digital migrants: This is better, but suggests that older B2B marketers are gradually and inevitably embracing digital… which may be true for some practitioners, but certainly isn’t for others, and it doesn’t reflect the headlong rush to adoption of new techniques and the profound shift that I feel we have seen.

Digital nomads: This paints a picture of marketers wandering, perhaps aimlessly, between different forms of marketing, which is useful, but it also suggests they have no fixed destination, which seems to contradict the sense of a gradual, one-way migration.

Digital refugees: This is my favourite – it suggests they have been forced out of their natural habitat, and into a world where they are not comfortable, where they may be persecuted. They have no choice but to adapt to survive here. I must reluctantly count myself amongst this group! However, there would seem to a couple of final possible categories.

Digital fundamentalists: The minority of over 30 year olds whose brains are wired in such a way that they intuitively ‘got’ digital right from the outset, are able to keep up with the trends and are utterly disdainful of anyone who doesn’t share their view. (I am indebted to Pete Jakob of Purple Salix for suggesting this variant.)

Digital deniers: those who have so far refused to acknowledge the shift, and are clinging to the old ways. Their days would seem to be numbered.

By now you are probably asking yourself: ‘why does any of this even matter?’ Well, non-natives make up the majority of the B2B marketers, and it’s my job to understand them, how they think and act, and what their information needs are.

And here’s the rub: like it or not, you were either born a digital native or you weren’t – it’s as simple as that. You can’t ‘become’ a native, no matter how hard you try: it’s not something you can learn.

If you are not a digital native, by default you are a digital refugee, and your challenge is to adapt as best you can in order to survive. It won’t always be easy, but it is certainly possible. In the months to come, we will be returning to this theme, with the aim of helping those non-natives meet these challenges head on.

In the meantime, perhaps you'll let me know what you think of my descriptions - are they accurate? Have I missed any? Which one are you?