I turned 64 this year and have been on the receiving end of scams and offers related to social security, dementia and Medicare for weeks now. I'm also getting offered senior discounts without asking. None of that has bothered me as much as getting dismissed because I'm no longer in my 30s (which bothered me as much when I was in my 20s). Today, however I had a revelation and I'm feeling much better about my age.
I was doing a session with the marketing team for a small business back by telephone and was in the process of breaking down their preconceived notions about communication when the youngest member of the team asked me, "How do you know this is what our customers are thinking?"
"Because I've been doing this for 40 years," I replied.
"Oh." She replied.
Then one of the business owners, well into his 70s asks, "Wait a minute. You said you've been doing this for 40 years. How old are you?"
"Well, all right then. I feel much better about this."
What we had in this meeting were people with specific experiences and perceptions that were colored by their what they "knew"to be true. Most people never venture far outside of that comfort zone. They talk to the same people, listen to the same opinions and get annoyed if they are forced to go outside of that zone. In the world of communication strategy, that is a formula for failure. Until you actually spend a significant amount of time outside the zone, you can never properly communicate to your audience.
I've been watching social media since the 1990s, long before we had Facebook and MySpace. I had become pretty good as a communicator in general and with traditional forms of media but I knew that this new form of communication would become more important in a relatively short time, so I went waist deep in it and learned that my particular approach to communications fit better in social media than it did to mass media. That approach essential says: "No one cares what I think. They care what people they respect think. Write about that."
To do that, you need to be outside your walls talking to different people, learning how they accumulate information and knowledge (often two different things), and how they apply it to their lives. No one has all the answers but collectively, they have most of the answers. It is hard to realize that until you've had a few years under your belt, so being old helps a great deal.
But being old doesn't give you all the answers, either. The people that are younger than you have a different perspective in life that is no less valid than yours or people that are older. They all contain a portion of truth than needs to be considered. That is the key component in any successful communication strategy: breadth of perspective. That, however, is very hard to do from the inside of an organization, and the longer you are in the organization, the more likely it is that your perspective will become calcified.
That's why getting the perspective of someone out of the loop is imperative and the best choice generally comes from your current and prospective customer base. What they think of you is an order of magnitude bigger than what you think of you. They may not be correct in their view, either, but when you show you are open to their opinion, they become more likely to listen to yours. In the process everyone gets what they want and need.