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The lost generation of marketers argument revisited

In the ever excellent Wall Blog, Gordon MacMillan has commented on a Telegraph piece by Alexis Dormandy of Lovethis.com.   In his Telegraph article, Alexis pointed the finger at generation X marketers for the fact that a lot of businesses are still struggling with social media.

The crux of Alexis’s point is that most marketers of my class learned their craft in the pre social media age, and hence certain skills sets have passed them by.   Maybe so, says Gordon, but at the end of the day what really counts is still having a great idea – citing the Old Spice campaign as an example.

I understand the accusations of age-ism in the comments underneath the article, though I don’t agree that Alexis Dormandy was being ageist.   I also appreciate the dangers of generalising.

Yet, I think there is an element of truth in Alexis’ argument.  And he isn’t the only one who thinks this way, the same point was articulated by none other than Simon Clift, the former chief marketing officer of Unilever, of course one of the largest companies in the world.

Speaking to the FT last year, Clift spoke of a ‘lost generation’ of marketers aged between 30 and 45 – “if you are 25 or 20, you know this stuff….if you are 50 you see your kids do it.   Most of our brands are managed by people who have had to learn it.”

Some have indeed taught themselves the necessary skills.   I can think of a whole range of generation X-ers on the agency side whose social media knowledge and ability is first class (just a few UK examples – here, here, here and here)

But others haven’t.  Certainly 2-3 years ago when social media marketing and management was beginning to evolve, it didn’t in every instance go down well when a 20 something talked social media to someone 15 years their senior.   Things have hopefully changed, but I think the knowledge gap is still partially there.

So to come back to it all needing a good creative.   Yes it does need that.   But as I argued in a post last year it also comes down to understanding measurement, understanding the speed at which things happen online, and knowing the etiquette of different social channels.

Old Spice did work because it was a great idea.   It also worked because Iain Tait, ex Poke London, who moved to W&K, knew how to bring the campaign online.

Gordon MacMillan says that a good agency can compensate for the social media knowledge gap, in the same way that a media buying agency can provide media skills.   Being in an agency myself, clearly I agree, but media buying and planning is not like social media, which are direct communications channels.

As a result, I’d argue that one of the jobs of any agency handling social media on behalf of a client is to help the key members of a marketing and management team skill up and get to grips with online social tools.

The result should be that social media isn’t seen tactically as a channel, but rather something that is embedded into the way a marketing department and an organisation as a whole works.

Image – Russell Davies

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