What should older marketers do when their digital whizzkid colleagues upstage them?

A young digital native regularly upstages their older marketing boss. Trouble is, the CEO has taken a shine to this digi-kid and believes in everything they suggest, good or otherwise. What should the marketer do? Marketing's Guru Will Harris suggests a sting operation...

What should older marketers do when their digital whizzkid colleagues upstage them?

Q: A young member of my team, being a 'digital native', consistently suggests digital solutions to our marketing issues. Some of these are good, others I know are inappropriate for our brand and, while they may generate buzz, they won't deliver sales. The trouble is, my boss has taken a shine to this person and believes in everything they suggest. What should I do?

A: The short answer is: go native.

It's probably not the advice you were hoping for, but I think you are confusing two different issues.

First: is the young upstart right to be consistently banging on about digital? Probably. Unless your business sells to people who are hermetically sealed off from the online world, digital is the way marketing is going.

Second: if what the enfant terrible is suggesting is inappropriate for the brand, then they should be stopped at all costs. Stupid ideas flawlessly executed online are still stupid ideas.

If something is going to damage your brand, doing it digitally only magnifies the process. You need to show why the ideas are inappropriate, possibly by threatening, in front of the chief executive, to repeat them in the real world.

What worries me more, though, is what your boss is really up to. They might be faced with wunderkind's digital option (lots of buzz, but maybe no sales uplift) or your analogue approach (no buzz, no sales lift). In their position, what would you choose?

Greatest weakness

However, digital marketing's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Everything you do in digital can be tracked and the results shared by you around the (broader) group. It's one thing to corrupt and cajole positive sentiment for your TV or print campaign with a few well-placed anecdotes and a placed story or two in a friendly publication, but digital works with real clicks by real people.

If you can trace the real relationship between digital cause and sales effect, you might be able to burst the young whippersnapper's balloon.

I'd suggest a sting operation. Wait for some dog of a product to come along, champion the digital cause, and watch the young smartarse make a fool of themselves. It won't help your career, but it will make you feel much better.

Will Harris is a former marketing director for Nokia in the UK and Asia region. He was the first marketing director of the Conservative Party and launch marketing director of the O2 brand.