The Generation Gap: The Private, The Public, and What it All Means for Marketers

We are living each day right in the middle of a revolution. No, not a political revolution, not even an information revolution (it's happened already, folks) but a privacy revolution.

There's the, well, older folks, most of whom not only won't read this but don't know what a blog is. For this generation, privacy was and is very important. To them, the internet still represents a strange and threatening beast, that they won't embrace. There are exceptions to this, of course, such as my 87 year old grandma on the social network friendster, but for the most part, this generation wants to keep things private.

Exhibit A: A few months ago, I was trying to set up a website for an organization on whose Board of Directors I sit. The idea of a website somehow met with real animosity, but I vividly remember the words of one particular older member of the Board, "Oh, no, I don't want my name out there on the Internet." Hmmm, I thought. It almost seemed like a foreign language to someone with 135,000 google hits out there. I shrugged it off as nonsense until...

Exhibit B: Just a few days ago, at a Board interview with a different, non-profit organization, I was talking to 3 Directors about the value of social networking for non-profits, specifically linkedin, when one gentleman turned to me and said, (I kid you not, word for word) "Oh, no, I don't want my name out there on the Internet." Deja Vu all over again, as the great Yogi Berra would say.

Now, I realized this was a phenomenon worth exploring, so I asked a whole bunch of older folks and they told me time and time again, "We don't want our names out there on the internet." If you're reading this, you probably already fall into the more public group, but nonetheless, I present:

Exhibit C: Online social networks, most notably facebook, whose status feature allows users to update all of their friends and the world with what they're up to at the moment. Of course, all of the social networks prime function is to get people "out there on the internet", making connections, sharing, learning, playing, etc. Tell the world about yourself, like online dating sites, only for everyone now, even a happily married old stiff like me. My favorite new site, for the real exhibitionists out there, is:

Exhibit D: Twitter. Twitter.com is about just one thing and one thing alone: Who are you and what are you doing right now? You literally update what you're doing via computer, cell phone, instant message, etc. and people who choose to follow you, friends, strangers, anyone, get instant updates. So when I tried kale for the first time at Thanksgiving, I immediately texted this exciting info and the 3 people following me on twitter got the big news, instantly.

That's a long way from the 2 guys above not wanting their names on the internet.
So what does this all mean for marketers anyway?

The answer is simple, age-old and one thing that hasn't changed through the years: Know your target. If you're marketing to men and women 50+, for instance, direct mail, tv, and print still have a shot at working, for instance. Don't expect this crowd to post to youtube or facebook (although eons.com is trying to do the social network things for this crowd). You can expect them to take in the information they gather from traditional media and use it to inform their decisions.

If, one the other hand, it's young people you're looking to market to, there are many resources on the net, and you can expect people to take over the brand, make it their own, have fun with it, and be completely unafraid to let their name (and your name!) out "on the internet". In the long run, as young consumers interact more and more with their favorite brands (Take the amazing Skittles partnership with Bebo.com, for instance), companies and organizations who are willing to 'put themselves out there on the internet" will continue to grow and improve.

The only question I have is, How long will it be until the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company begins to twitter?