Staying human in an 'iEverything" world

A parenting lesson for the post-digital age could teach us a lot about running a business, says the president of BBDO NY

Recently, I read an article in the Washington Post that really resonated with me.  It was about how Gen Xers are the first generation of parents in the age of iEverything – and more important, the last to straddle a life experience both with and without the Internet and all of its social media marvels.  

The impact of this reality brings a great responsibility and opportunity: How as parents do we adapt to the fact that our children find the Internet and social media completely intuitive, and a fully integrated part of their lives? It’s how they communicate, it’s how they start and build relationships, it’s how they share their experiences. Their lives are frenetic and public, and as parents we sometimes worry what will happen to them in a world where they never really "talk" to people. 

But this is their reality, and one that isn’t going to change. They would say their lives are efficient and entertaining, and that they are incredibly knowledgeable. Our responsibility isn’t to fight the world they live in, but rather to understand it while instilling some of the values we experienced from the pre-iEverything world: the importance of face-to-face communication; the ability to be present and fully engaged in events as they happen, rather than always viewed through the screen of a smartphone; and to experience the joy that can be found from reading an entire book vs. just digesting everything via sound bites. We are the last to have this opportunity, and it is a gift. 

But this approach doesn’t just apply to parenting. It also applies to how we lead companies. The post-digital age has forever changed how the communications industry operates, and in many ways for the better. It has given us the opportunity to more be effective and efficient than ever before. Data enhances our ability to uncover insights more quickly and find the answers needed to make our stories increasingly customized, predictive and famous. Our messages are more contextually relevant across platforms, increasing our chances of cutting through and driving growth for our clients. And powerful, creative storytelling has never been more important in a world where people have vastly more opportunities than ever to tune our brands out. 

Between utility, engagement, and experiential, digital has made the connection between people and brands deeper – we’re no longer just messaging and selling.  However, just like with our children, we have the opportunity to instill those values that we learned from the pre-digital world —the ones we know are still critical to the success of our businesses. In this fast-paced, always-on, always-solving world, we can’t forget how important it is to invest in people, both on the client side and internally. 

We must show our clients that we care more than ever. That we will stay up all night solving their business problems because they are our partners and we will always go above and beyond. This can be one of our greatest differentiators — having the most talented, most caring, most tenacious employees that love where they work and in turn love their clients and view the brand and business as true partners — the ultimate extension of the marketing team.  

Our long-time client Mars calls this mutuality, and it is one of their driving principles. And I believe it’s one of the most important values from the pre-digital world that we must carry on. Doing business in the absence of true partnership and accountability to growth is a disservice to our clients and the brands we represent. 

Our world may now be better informed by data, algorithms and digital platforms, but it is still an art form and we have the great ability to keep it human. That is our opportunity, and just like with our children, it is a gift.  

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