The Digital Marketing Divide: Boomers vs. Millennials

Boomers are running bank marketing departments, and that could be a big problem when it comes to digital channels. Here's why.

A study from Adobe study found that 40% of marketing directors said that they wanted to reinvent themselves for the digital age, but only one in seven of those said they knew how they would actually become digital marketers.

Experience may have gotten senior marketers to the position they now enjoy, but limited knowledge of digital marketing is causing friction with younger employees in financial institutions across the nation.

Back in their day, digital channel attribution, retargeting and programmatic advertising weren’t topics taught in college, leaving many of today’s top marketing executives in the awkward position of managing something they know little about. Marketing VPs and CMOs desperately try to stay abreast of the fast-moving, constantly evolving digital landscape. There’s a steep learning curve and little time to absorb it all.

Senior-level marketers have found a few ways to resolve the dilemma: slog forward into the digital abyss alone, or bring in a hired gun. Most financial marketing departments are already under-resourced and crushed with the burden of existing responsibilities, so muddling on alone can mean slipping further behind.

Many institutions go out and hire one of those “digital natives” — a Millennial college grad who seems to possess the tech chops their new boss lacks. They may have built a website or two and learned Google Analytics along the way, but generally speaking, the bar for becoming a digital operative in the banking industry is pretty low.

Another option is to hire an outside agency, but even then, the solution will only work up to a point.

Why? Because the knowledge gap between Boomer the Boss and the Millennial Digital Marketer continues to widen. The Millennial gradually learns more skills, assumes more responsibilities, and eventually ends up managing all digital functions. Which may not seem like a bad solution for the harried CMO, but now we have a digital technician who’s left with big decisions that have a huge impact on marketing strategy. To make a medical analogy, technicians may read X-rays but they don’t perform the surgery. In other words, a technician with tools isn’t a marketer.

Years ago I pushed back on a hot-shot digital agency and asked them to explain why two of their bank clients in different geographic areas had similar websites when the audiences, goals and products were totally different. They had no explanation except to claim they were not marketers. Their goal was to build a functional, economical product (a website) — and they had technical proficiency in this area — but they lacked the marketing chops to recommend the right strategy for clients. They were gifted technicians, but not very good strategists. They understood the tools and how the tools were used by some, but not how or why the tools should or should not be used by any particular institution.

CMOs who are failing to keep up with digital developments are shortchanging their institution… and themselves. According to Adobe, high-performing digital marketers get 70% higher smartphone traffic to their website, visitors spend 30% more time on the site, and they get double the conversion rates. It pays to stay engaged. CMOs who fail to do so put an unfair burden on the rest of the marketing team members and compromise the institution’s overall strategy.

Bottom Line: Digital shouldn’t be managed as a separate entity. More than just a series of independent communication channels, it must fit within the strategic context of a broader, coordinated marketing plan. Allowing technicians to take over digital marketing programs may make life easier for a Boomer CMO, but it isn’t really the right way to go.

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