4 Questions You Need to Ask to Survive the Creative Age

Liz Millikin on B2C Marketing Strategy

The most exciting talk at the Denver Digital Summit came from what, for me, is an unlikely source: Microsoft.

Geoffrey Colon is a Communications Designer at Microsoft and author of a new book, Disruptive Marketing: What Growth Hackers, Data Punks, and Other Hybrid Thinkers Can Teach Us About Navigating the New Normal.

Sitting in on Geoffrey Colon’s presentation was a reminder that there is a reason for Microsoft’s enduring dominance in the tech world. While they may adapt more slowly than young, startup companies, Microsoft does change its course, changing to fit the needs of the world today. By embracing today’s reality, digital nomadism, companies of all sizes, from solopreneurs to software behemoths, can succeed.

In this post, I join in the conversation about how digital nomads and the Creative Age have changed the way we work…and the four questions your marketing department needs to ask to adapt with agility and grace.

Who Are Digital Nomads?

What imagine comes to mind when you hear the phrase “digital nomad?”

Maybe you see a hip, scarf-wearing creative types posted up at your favorite café with a Macbook and a Moleskine.

Or, a bespectacled programmer who spends one day a week working from home so that they can be home when the kids get out of school.

Or, maybe, what comes to mind is a teenager running multiple digital conversations at once, alternating between Facebook Messenger and Snapchat selfies.

All three are examples of digital nomads –- people who move freely through digital spaces and who use digital tools for just as long as they are useful. These nomads pick up useful technologies as they emerge, but will discard them quickly when something better comes along.

Chances are, you are a digital nomad, too. You just might not realize it.

Digital nomadism has changed the way we as individuals work, connect, play, and purchase. For businesses, adapting to this new reality is integral for lasting success.

To understand this new reality, you have to understand the transition from traditional business structures –what we thought business would be like when we were in college – and the new, creative, and entrepreneurial reality.

Adapting to Digital Nomads: Consumers on the Go

Digital nomads have changed the way we as marketers work because their mobile, flexible, agile lifestyle has resulted in a new system of shared values and culture.

It has, in short, changed the what, why, and how of consumption for a large portion of the population.

Geoffrey shared the two tenets at the heart of the Creative Age.

“Everything today is temporary. Nothing is Permanent.”

Think about who your audience really is.

They probably don’t own homes.

If they live in a city, they probably don’t own a car.

Young people do not have a cable subscription.

No one buys music anymore; they stream it.

When they can’t stream it, they pirate it.

The social apps they use most (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat) are all free to use.

Just as our work is increasingly decentralized and mobile, so too is our social life. As marketers, we need to adapt accordingly.

The rules have already changed.

The Reality of Marketing to Digital Nomads

Now that you’ve accepted that nothing is permanent in the Creative Age, it’s time to rethink your marketing efforts.

Geoffe shares that there are only three things to know:

  • Be where your customers are
  • Use the tools you are good at
  • Use them right now

There is no silver bullet social media platform or blog service.

Instead, the right tool is the one where your customers are that also gets the job done in the moment, right now.

This is a sentiment echoed and elaborated on by the conference-opening keynote speaker, Gary Vaynerchuk. In his Q&A session, he pushed back against the idea that a platform is only worth using if it’s expected to be a long-term investment.

“Who cares if Snapchat is going to be here in 6 years?,” he asked. It’s cool right now, so he is going to use it–and you need to use it, too. (If it fits with your product and target demographic.)

Instead of looking to the past or the future to figure out the best plan of marketing attack, the industry needs to operate in the moment.

Marketing for the world we live in right now is the only way to succeed.

Marketing for the world right now means adapting to and finding new opportunities in the mobile, creative, digitally nomadic reality.

Four Questions to Ask Before You Market Anything

Geoffrey wrapped up his presentation with four questions to ask.

The answers will guide your marketing decisions moving forward. I will add a word of warning; because everything changes so quickly, answering these four questions once is not good enough.

I challenge you to do more than fill out a persona sheet based on your “gut feelings” and who you think your audience is.

Get to know your real audience, not just who you think you’re selling to. How? Survey them.

Revisit these questions and responses regularly.

Audience demographics shift frequently as nomads move between tools and services as they search for the perfect fit.

These questions are:

What culturally and ethically matters to your customers?

Make sure your company’s culture and ethics align with your customers.

Brand loyalty isn’t as common as it once was, largely because digital nomads are opportunistic. If a better tool, service, or product comes along, nomads will move to take advantage of the opportunity.

But that isn’t always the case. One bad Airbnb stay doesn’t turn the person away from the service. Why?

Because Airbnb’s language of aspirational mobility, genuine human connection, and entrepreneurship is inspiring. It taps into the culture and global community-minded ethics of digital nomads. We will keep coming back.

Where do your customers/potential customers live both online & off?

The answer to this question will help you determine which tools to use to reach your audience. As a marketer, you can never expect customers to come to you; you have to reach out to them.

Follow the advice from both Geoffe Colon and Gary Vaynerchuk: go where your audience is. Don’t worry if the platform will be active in 2 years.

They are there and they are listening to you right now. That’s all that matters.

Are your customers producers?

Chances are the answer is a resounding yes. Based on data from Mathew Sweezey, in 2007 consumers overtook businesses as the largest creators of media.

The key for marketers is discovering what kind of content your customers are producing and how to engage with that content effectively.

In aggregate, are customers creating qualitative conversations that tie into your company vision, culture and ethics & go beyond product?

Do you remember the scene (or paragraph) in Fight Club where Tyler Durden says: “You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the back. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet.”
Your brand needs to take that message to heart.

Your brand is more than your product.

Your audience is more than a group of people who own or want to own your product.

If the culture and ethics of your company coincide with those of your audience, you can be part of the conversation, too. Having values, supporting causes, and sharing stories is an important way for brands to humanize themselves and create brand loyalty.

How Did This Happen? Traditional Business Give Way to a New Work Model

In a traditional business structure, individuals became employees.

They worked for a business owner, and for many years that meant working for a factory or large corporation that was run like a factory.

The hallmark of Henry Ford’s factory system is the assembly line, a highly efficient way of dividing labor among a series of workers with distinct processes that have been optimized for consistent and steady output.

The Information Age, developed on the heels of the internet, changed everything.

Do you remember when the internet was called the Information Superhighway? In many ways, it was an apt moniker.

Like the Oregon Trail before it, people took to the highway to gain access to the resources they needed to create a better life; in this case, this mass migration wasn’t for land or gold or to escape persecution.

Instead, the first users of the internet were searching for information, knowledge, and connections with other people.

The move online created new opportunities for personal growth and business. As evidenced by the Dot Com Bubble, online business was an exciting, attractive space. Hundreds of people invested their time, money, and experience into digital entrepreneurship.

And the march of ages doesn’t end here.

After the boom and bust of the original digital business space, new technologies have changed the landscape again.

The Information Age is Dead, Long Live the Creative Age

Thanks to the increased power of mobile devices, mobile communication systems, and cloud computing, it’s a brave, new, exciting world for digital nomads.

At work and at home, we are no longer tied to bulky computers, monitors, keyboards, and mice. Instead, a laptop is the most you’ll ever need, and much work can be done from our tablets and smartphones.

The increased mobility of our technology means we can now work from anywhere, which means that our work is becoming de-centralized. We are no longer beholden to the factory floor.

The latest statistics report that 20-25% of the US workforce telecommutes on a regular basis, while the number of people who work at home (who aren’t also self-employed) has grown by 103% since 2005.

Nomadic Benefits Everyone Can Enjoy

Nomadic workers aren’t just helping themselves, either.

If an average business allows employees to work remotely for 50% of their time, then they save $11,000 per person per year.

The benefits go far beyond employers and employees. For that same increase in remote work, the resulting greenhouse gas reduction would be the same as if the entire New York workforce gave up cars. Permanently (Global Workplace Analytics).

While these statistics focus on those who work remotely from a job with a company, many more people have turned to self-employment, working as freelancers, contractors, and starting their own businesses.

All a would-be entrepreneur needs to get started is access to the internet and some kind of device to connect to it.

Because of this, businesses can be founded in a day. It no longer takes years of slogging to start your company.

Does this seem unlikely?

Take the origin story of Airbnb.

Founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia couldn’t afford rent for their San Francisco apartment, so they decided to set up an air mattress and built a website: the original Airbed and Breakfast (GrowthHackers).

One website, and they were in business.

Started by digital nomads, Airbnb’s success is driven by other digital nomads who have turned to the site and app to support and inspire their own nomadic lifestyles.

How are You Adapting to the Creative Age?

Geoffrey’s talk at Denver Digital Summit has me excited – and hopeful – for marketing’s future in the lives of digital nomads (like myself).

With new technologies and tools emerging every day, it’s best to reframe the old curse as a blessing: may you live in interesting times.

From flexible remote working policies to rapid adoption of new social platforms, how are you adapting to the new age? Have you noticed a change? Share your experiences with us in the comments.

Geoffrey Colon’s full slide deck is available here.