The term digital natives was coined by Marc Prensky in 2001. It is typically used to define people born after the 1980s – also similar to the Millennials who grew into the online world of the Internet, social technologies, computers, etc. When I was reading more about it, I realized that while this is a broad definition, cultural adoption of technologies, or the Internet in and of itself, has not followed the same timelines.
While talking about digital natives, the place and technology adoption, or leapfrogs, need to be taken into consideration. This means there are potentially large differences between digital natives born in the U.S. in the 1980s and say children in Africa born in the same years. The digital divide here is a concept that can’t be ignored. And having said that, one could potentially argue that this is true of any technology adoption curve, which, in general, follows a bell-curve indicating levels of innovation adoption.
So why are we talking about creating a future with Digital Natives?
- The workforce of companies is increasingly becoming Millennial-oriented, about 75% of the total workforce in 2025 will be comprised of Gen Y.
- Many Digital Natives are turning out to be innovators and creative geniuses, especially in the intersecting fields of social and product technologies to which they are naturally aligned.
- Just like the workforce, the consumer base will also tilt towards Digital Natives. This means, they will increasingly reject products and companies that are unable to build online trust, social sharing capabilities and community presence, among other things.
Five steps towards creating a future with Digital Natives:
- Do not treat digital natives in the same old way: There is a big difference in the way digital natives deal with the issues of sharing, privacy, or even their trust of products may differ drastically from those that are not yet as fully immersed in the Internet, including late adopters.
- Do not treat all the digital natives the same way: It is important to recognize that they may have had different paths and differing exposure to technology as children, even within the same country. Some that you would imagine to be well within the digital native bracket may instead exhibit behavior associated with digital migrants. It is important to recognize this difference.
- Engage with digital natives for creating brand and social capital: A Product Head told me how the brand and purchase decision purely depended on the product itself. He even talked about brand value and how that was even driven a lot by product. At that point, I argued with a fellow marketer that I don’t quite agree. A Digital Native would perhaps see it differently. When I am buying a service or product online (even if it is a physical product) my tendency is to first search, check their community, and if I like or dislike the product/service, share my feedback. Brand valuations are based on this “social capital.” It has taken Airbnb five years to reach a $10B valuation, compared to 12 years for Starbucks. This is not by chance.
- Crowdsource and create innovation with digital natives: Once I had a few doubts on the product pricing. Luckily I knew the marketing head of that product and I voiced it. His reply was simply “our customers will tell us the pricing they like.” And that’s just one part of the innovation cycle. There are specific platforms from Twitter to Facebook to Quora to Kickstarter that are allowing for bottom-up innovation, real-time customer feedback and have also been enablers of innovation across the value chain. Digital Natives understand and rely on these platforms almost matter-of-factly absolutely the best reason to engage with them!
- Listen to the digital natives, accept mistakes: The first step towards managing a brand in today’s world is to start observing and listening, no matter what sort of a product or brand you manage. If you get negative responses, the best way to act is evaluate the matter, and if there is any likelihood or error from your side, accept your mistake instead of staying in the “no-communication zone” or being overtly defensive. New technologies and products are not perfect, and natives do not expect them to be. They do, however, expect you to be human and respond appropriately.
What other strategies and steps do YOU employ with digital natives?
About the author:
Upasna Kakroo likes how people interact and alter with digital. She has been documenting memories since 2003 on her personal blog Someplace Else. She lives in Munich, Germany.