Is there a generational gap and, if so, what do we do about it?

Thursday’s Wall Street Journal had a quote from Carol Bartz, the CEO of Yahoo, “Are we leading up to “I’m both too old and too stupid to know what the Internet is’?”  Her remark was in response to a question about her experience but it made me think about a potential generational gap in Internet usage. 

At a book club meeting almost a year ago, several members asked for a description of Twitter, as if it was a foreign country or new-fangled religion they had heard about.  One member provided an excellent summary based on his usage of the site but several were left trying to get their heads around why anyone in their right mind would use Twitter.   Once again Twitter came up during a recent book club meeting.  No one new had tried out the service in the 10 months since our last discussion.  It made me wonder if the technological gap is not just rich versus poor but also young versus old.  As the remark by Carol Bartz indicates, there is a general perception that the Internet is a young person’s game.  High profile anecdotes have reinforced that assumption.  According to a July 2008 Frank Rich Op Ed piece in the New York Times, John McCain doesn’t know how to use a computer.

For marketers, this represents a challenge and an opportunity.  To me, it is further proof that we need to develop integrated campaigns with both online and offline channels for outbound communication and inbound response.  You cannot assume that everyone will be on the Internet 24/7.  Broadcast media, print ads, direct mail, etc. can play an important role in reaching an older audience that may not be on the Internet as frequently and they reinforce your message to those who are active on the Internet.  A recent report found that displaying a URL within a  Yellow Pages print ad drove an increase in online leads.  Of course, you should measure the interaction of online and offline behavior to see what drives the most responses and to optimize future campaigns.


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