Are young marketers now the “smartest people in the room”?

Deanie Elsner
Deanie Elsner

Recently I read about some interesting remarks made by Deanie Elsner, who is the former executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Kraft Foods.

Ms. Elsner made them as the keynote speaker at the Tapad Unify Tech 2015 cross-screen technology conference held in mid-June.  The gist of her argument was that senior-level marketers and heads of companies are most often the ones who are the “ball and chain” in a company when it comes to following effective marketing practices.

The way Elsner sees it, too few of these officials understand digital marketing as an integrated program that commingles data with a coordinated brand strategy:

“When you ask marketers to define digital strategy, they will give you ‘random acts of digital’ rather than an holistic strategy informed by data, with KPSs and data points that prove success.”

It doesn’t help that most upper-level managers are part of the Baby Boomer generation or just slightly younger, whereas most of the big developments in marketing technology and the communications landscape are being driven by Millennials.

[An aside:  recently we learned that Millennials, at 87 million strong, are now this country’s largest age cohort — ~14% larger than Baby Boomers.  And they’ll only grow more important in the coming decade or two as the Boomer generation passes into retirement and then into history.]

Millennials-vs-Boomers

In Elsner’s view, Millennial employees understand something that their older counterparts generally don’t see, which is that the “one-way communications” perspective on advertising and promotion is no longer so important — or even relevant.

I can see her point.  Consumers today are the ones determining the conversation and the agenda.  It’s up to marketers to figure out the best ways to follow that agenda and to use the best tools to make it happen.

But then Elsner makes this bold statement that I’m not sure is totally accurate:

“Your smartest person is your most junior talent.  The most dangerous, potentially, is the current CEO, because what they know doesn’t exist anymore.”

I don’t disagree that junior talent “gets” the modern communications environment more inherently than older employees.  However … younger talent is prone to the opposite extreme:  making assumptions based the latest trends for the youngest audiences.

When that happens, people can misread how industry changes affect consumers of all age levels, other demographics and psychographics.

In fact, in my work with numerous corporate clients, often the “smartest person in the room” is the one who’s over the age of 65.  And why not?  The reality is that irrespective of the seismic changes in marketing, there’s a lot to be said for 20 or 30 years of life experience to truly understand what makes human beings “tick” … why people are often so different … and what makes them choose to do the things that they do.

So the bottom line is actually this:  Both younger and older marketers are important and can bring a lot to the table, and there’s more than enough respect to go around.

2 thoughts on “Are young marketers now the “smartest people in the room”?

  1. I believe it all depends on the individual.

    Some of us are very aware that there are valid experiences outside our own, while some people feel that the entire world does or should share the same experiences they do.

    I’m sure I’ve known “experienced” people who seem to have lived the same experience 25 times over.

  2. Well! That sort of breathtaking arrogance doesn’t even justify a response.

    But if it were in fact true, no company should ever hire a marketeer older than, say, 35 years old.

    Mandatory retirement should be 40.

    And people should invest heavily in companies that manufacture shuffleboard equipment and knitting needles.

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