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Are People Misreading Older Business Executives in the Internet Age?




I was made aware study that was done by Forbes Insights in conjunction with Google about video and the business executive. Hmmmmm, Google and video, I wonder what the connection is? Anyway, here was the audience.

Forbes Insights, in association with Google, surveyed more than 300 C-level and senior executives at large U.S. companies ($500 million-plus in annual revenues) to learn more about how they are approaching Web video as a source of business-related information.

The chart below shows who did what after watching a business video. This chart comes from eMarketer (Note: We refer to them often because they make data from various sources a little cleaner to understand in graphical form. Thanks eMarketer).

Here’s where it got interesting to me. The paragraph following the above chart in the eMarketer article reads

Generational differences ran throughout the Forbes research, with a split in behavior at age 50. While the youngest executives were most interested in video across the board, baby boomers in their 40s had comparable participation levels. It was older executives who had not yet gotten on board with video, and business-to-business marketers must continue to reach them through other means.

What exactly does it mean that they have not “gotten on board”? Is it because they don’t act like Pavlov’s dogs by responding and reacting to what they see on video?

This is the kind of thinking that gets people in trouble. Here’s what I mean. What if rather than these older executives being crotchety hunched over guys who walk the C-suite in their pajamas are actually just more seasoned and able to sniff out BS more readily? What if after growing up in an age where TV was coming of age and seeing how most of what is pushed there is absolute junk has made these people more discerning? What if they know that video pitches should be just as suspect (if not more so) than traditional sales pitches?

Maybe it’s because I skew older in these studies that I get upset because the inference is often that older executives “don’t get it” or “are not on board”. What if the real reason for their lower engagement is that they are actually working rather than watching and uploading videos AND they exercise a level of discernment about what is crap and what isn’t based on years of experience rather than doing what the cool kids do?

I think that this idea that the new media world is better is the wrong way to go about this whole change. Does it have the chance to be better? Absolutely. But like with anything else it isn’t better just because it showed up. It will only be better because it provides value.

This idea that because video or anything is being embraced in greater numbers by certain age groups literally means nothing. The only real important measurement is what value does a video deliver to a viewer. How many crap business videos have you watched and wondered if you could get that 3-5 minutes of your life back?

Just because younger executives act more on video doesn’t make them smarter. In fact, it might just prove that they are inexperienced suckers who fall for the latest shiny object. If that’s the kind of leadership the new media era is truly developing then buckle up for a bumpy future.

So what is your take on this? Does viewing more video and acting on it make you a better executive or are experience, value contribution and doing the job more important? Is the lower adoption rate by older executives because they don’t get it or that they have a more refined bullshit meter?

Would love to get your thoughts in the comments.

  • gregorylent

    video is a time-sink compared to text. however, younger people had more time parked in front of tv’s as kids, so their brain is sort of ruined for much else. :-)

    • http://workingseo.com David Curtis

      On the other hand Gregory, you don’t even use a Gravatar which kinda sorta tells me maybe it’s a “lacka tech savvy” thingie too? Maybe? I’m over 50 (53 now) but I’ve also worked IT / MIS for some fairly big (3000 computer networks and above) firms in and around NYC – where MOST (99.9%) of the 50 plus crowd simply had no clue how computers work. We grew up with slide rules, rotary phones, black and white TV, leaded gas and fans.

      Based on my long experience (years working with everything from Commodore64, 286, 386… on up) The majority of my 50+ executive friends are clueless and terrified to admit they don’t understand computers and don’t know how to use them effectively. They pretend they do, just the way someone who can’t read pretends he can. They phone me weekly with their latest pitiful computer tragedies begging for a clue. No, I think the 50+ crowd just straight up doesn’t get it. They’re not on board and they lack the willingness to learn. I say willingness because that’s what it takes – jump in with a gusto, get in up to your elbows and dig, dig, dig!

      That’s what I did and it’s the reason this 50+ dude is still answering questions for the 25+ crowd today. I’m thinking the 50+ executives may have been emailed a link to the presentation and never actually watched it. They probably got flustered when it asked them what program they wanted to use to view the media.

      • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

        @David – Wow! Great insight!

        Whether they know computers though often is not a barrier to simply using the internet for research and using video as a piece of data to make decisions.Are the 50 plussers you encounter “Internet reticent” as well?

        • http://workingseo.com David Curtis

          @Frank – another can of worms.

          That’s a very complicated area. To you and me the internet is an extension of the computer, but most of the 50+ executives I’ve dealt with (those who had computers) started out in protected territory using AOL back in the 90’s when AOL was a closed system and had no access to the internet itself until later when AOL charged a portal fee. (Oddly enough the whole net neutrality argument today seems to be a question of closing off access to full internet access again, so net neutrality is different, but nothing new.)

          I’ll give you an example of a recent use of video by a 53 year old MBA who had gathered several other business execs together to make a presentation (I was called in to set up the technical aspects). The exec I (I kid you not) ran a Shop to Earth, Shop to Earn MLM presentation and then proceeded to schmooze all of them and sold the deal to about half of those attending.

          While the marketing video was slick and excellently produced, I caught the bigstock and istockphoto shots, the flaws in the arguments and saw through the whole thing because I personally do “exercise a level of discernment about what is crap and what isn’t based on years of experience.”

          The executive who had me set this up for him ran it as a guided presentation where he would stop it occasionally and enter his own arguments to close the sales. He used his personal influence, food and drink, a few attractive women doing the serving, and his own personal popularity plus the names of some other prominent members of the business world who had bought into the plan to help him market the video (his Porsche in the driveway probably didn’t hurt).

          From my experience dealing with executives who are 50+ there are two main types – those who dive in excitedly and get (at least part of) it and those who have one or more executive assistants who deal with everything on the web. Essentially that last group of executives is mainly answering emails. They’re not comfortable working with technology. Research is delegated to various department heads who then write overly cautious and sometimes critical recommendations (to cover their own asses) based on what they find.

          I don’t know if that helps answer your question because this is such a complex issue and there are no two categories of anything – You’ve asked something extremely important, I think. An in-depth study would probably fill several books and as we really are at the dawn of this whole thing whatever is written now will provide invaluable insights for the future.

  • http://twitter.com/SEO_NYC Suthnautr

    As someone who is 53 years old, based on personal experience and knowledge, I’d say it’s both. On the one hand I personally am always sceptical of video commercial hypeand need to see independent negative arguments before I make a decision.

    On the other hand the overwhelming majority of people 50 and older are serious technotards who may simply be disappointed in video that isn’t superbowl commercial quality. (Again this is from my experience observing age 50+ execs in several of the companies I’ve performed IT/MIS work for over the past 10 years). The 50 year old was wowed by the invention of the calculator, the color TV, microwave and non-rotary phones (cell phones came along much later and were the size of car batteries).

    Outside of a very small minority of us most 50 plus (and most especially those in mgmt) have an extremely limited attention span when it comes to computers.

  • http://www.forbes.com/forbesinsights Forbes Insights

    Frank,

    It appears what you’re reacting to is eMarketer’s take on the study, but the full study (at http://www.forbes.com/forbesinsights – thanks for the shameless self-promotion) takes a more complete view.

    Overall, what we’ve found in this study as well as two others we’ve done (a recent one on mobile and one last year that looked at how the C-suite gathers business information) is that generational differences are less related to age than to fluency in technology. Throughout their careers, younger executives know nothing but an Internet-enabled workplace. They are willing to engage more deeply with video because it is native to their online experience. Older executives likely tend to be more text-based because that’s how they are used to engaging with information online. Those over 50 — who began using PCs in the days of green phosphur and DOS commands — are often still work-related “digital immigrants” when it comes to video and other newer tools.

    This is further backed up by the way younger executives engage with business-related video as a social tool. They are far more likely to share videos with colleagues, far more likely to share them on LInkedIn or Facebook, and also more likely to go to those sites to view them. More specifically, 69% of executives under age 40 said they post work-related videos to sites such as LInkedIn or Facebook at least weekly; just 11% of those over 50 said the same.

    By the way, Gregory’s comment that video is a “time sink” is very indicative of some concerns we investigated in the study. Although 87% of respondents said their companies are comfortable with their executives watching work-related video during business hours, 44% said they still fear that their colleagues may see watching video at work as a waste of time.

    Stuart Feil
    Editorial Director
    Forbes Insights

    • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

      Thanks Stuart. I was reacting to the eMarketer comment and tried to clarify that in the post.

      I do see though that there is a general undercurrent of this image of over 50’s just not getting it and I am not convinced that is the rule. There are certainly those that don’t for sure but I would like to believe that anyone with executive level responsibility in a major company wouldn’t be that far removed from what is being used in the ‘modern workplace’.

      It’s an interesting space for sure. Please keep the Insights coming!

  • http://www.webadvantage.net Hollis Thomases

    My first reaction to Frank’s article was, “Yeah, the older, C-level exec probably has a more refined bullshit meter as well as 1) less time to allocate to all “extraneous” information intake in general; and 2) might be more inclined to delegate the viewing to an underling. But after reading David’s remarks, I can concur with his opinion too. I’ve seen both very tech savvy 50+ year-olds (and even 70+ ones!) and then I’ve seen those who are even afraid to get their own email account (seriously!)

    I think it’s really a combination of all these factors. I haven’t yet downloaded the Forbes study, but I’d be curious to see if it breaks down the C-levels in detail by title. For instance, how many of the 50+ year-olds were CEOs versus other titled executives and the same for the other age brackets? Could/would this have a factor?

    I do really like the angle of this study, however. So many studies are focusing on the youth market and yet older Americans wield so much more decision-making authority.

    • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

      Well said, Hollis. If both sides of the coin are valid it is important to make sure those who are holding back get educated or else they should be removed. Sounds harsh but it will be impossible for a C level executive to be completely clueless in this area if they want to keep their job and understand what is actually happening in their company.

      We’ll keep an eye on this moving forward.

      @Stuart – Want to do a seminar to educate the C suite late bloomers :-)?

      • http://www.forbes.com/forbesinsights Forbes Insights

        Frank: I’d be interested. Drop me an email.

        • http://www.webadvantage.net Hollis Thomases

          If you want to make it a panel or webinar, I’d love to join too!