The Digital Natives Are the Entertainment!

The following is an edited excerpt from the book Dancing With Digital Natives: Staying in Step With the Generation That’s Transforming the Way Business Is Done.

As digital natives immerse themselves in emerging entertainment channels-and concurrently force old ones to change in order to meet their expectations-they are reshaping the way people are entertained, as well as how they entertain. In the natives' world, the tools of content creation available through these emerging platforms are free (or cheap) and readily accessible. And they have been that way since a native first thumbed his name into a smartphone.

Natives find it exhilarating that they, themselves, are the editors, directors, and actors in their own entertainment. This could be as routine as self-editing an online mashup containing clips from their favorite movies; it could be as voyeuristic as "directing" their own 24/7 life-casts; or it could be as wish-fulfilling as creating a Facebook profile to shape the way people see them.

The big reveal, then, is that digital natives are the entertainment. With this perspective, we realize that this is a generation that will not think twice about letting your cameras follow it through even the intimacy and rejection of seeking true love. Each time a television network executive creates a new twist on the find-someone-to-marry reality show, he has to beat away 20-something potential contestants with a stick. It is a truth that is not difficult to understand when you realize that, in particular, this all-access television genre is one that the digital natives have never been without. It makes them natural entertainers. It puts a premium on their ability (or need) to have a voice in the simplest of ways: from posting hourly status updates on Facebook, to engineering emotional webcam conversations with strangers on the other side of the world, to creating videos that rally around a cool brand they love. And yet, as any Hollywood producer will tell you, dealing with entertainers can be a very delicate dance.

If you're a marketer trying to exploit these emerging entertainment mediums, tailoring your message to the digital natives as entertainers must be built around a genuine back-and-forth conversation. So as a brand, it is your ability to provide and enable entertaining content that keeps the conversation going-a strategy we might call content-as-a-conversation.

While it is hard to be too open with the natives in a conversation, it is easy to be too aggressive because digital natives visit their entertainment watering holes to be entertained, not to buy things. When you blatantly push them to buy your product, you lose their trust. Likewise, within these entertainment venue conversations, marketers must adjust their expectations for the sort of information they expect to gather, and, really, for the information they use in making their own marketing decisions. They need to focus more on the emotional and activity-related components of those they are marketing to, rather than simply the traditional demographic hard-numbers-psychographic, instead of demographic. Ultimately, such a shift actually allows you to gather much more highly personalized information, the kind that really tells you about what makes a particular native tick-likes, dislikes, emotional needs.

Evolving beyond hard-and-fast demographics is an understanding that, in this new world, you never quite know who you are talking to. A Facebook profile may say age 99, 26, or 17-and none of these ages may be accurate. This phenomenon is traced back to the digital natives' need to entertain. Their online identities are built upon a series of self-reported profiles at various sites where it is okay to create yourself the way you want people to see you. This could mean building an avatar that sports the hippest fashions when you, yourself, are quite style-challenged, or reporting your age as 25 instead of 18 because you aspire to appear more mature. Hollywood calls this phenomenon "wish fulfillment." In these worlds, digital natives do not see these as lies, but rather as free passes to help craft personas which they (and their peers) find inherently more entertaining.

In the digital native universe, the lines between marketing, entertainment mediums, and entertainment itself are no longer blurred; they have vanished altogether. You have to ask yourself: If my brand were a human, would I be friends with her? And today, the answer lies in how much that brand entertains and, more importantly, how that brand enables your digital native customer to do the entertaining. 

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