BT: Digital natives are fundamentally a new breed

Generation Exchange: BT’s Zaid Al-Qassab argues that he can never be a ‘digital native’ but agrees that there are more similarities than differences between him and group lead for marketing, Andrew Ridler.

Although it is accepted that the fundamentals of marketing have changed little over the past 30 years, generational differences start to emerge when it comes to being a digital native, according to BT chief brand and marketing officer Zaid Al-Qassab.

“We have more in common across different generations of marketers than differences, but there is a nuance that I can’t make myself a digital native,” he explains. “I wasn’t brought up that way and therefore I do feel I can learn from people who are digital natives. You do see a more intuitive use of digital among younger marketers.”

Andrew Ridler, group lead for marketing capabilities and brand communications, sees a difference between the generations in terms of understanding digital channels, but he argues this is a small factor compared to their shared appreciation of marketing’s fundamental skills.

READ MORE: The similarities and differences between junior and senior marketers

“We have had a big focus at BT on core skills around creativity and insight and getting the most out of your briefs and agencies – those fundamentals that drive everything,” says Ridler.

“Marketing’s role is required to be collaborative, so you need digital skills, but you also need to understand customer service and what’s happening operationally within the business, and you need to get [to grips with commercial figures].”

We have more in common across different generations of marketers than differences, but there is a nuance that I can’t make myself a digital native

Zaid Al-Qassab, BT

By far the bigger cultural shift between older and younger marketers is how the crop of emerging talent approach their career path and prioritise wellbeing.

“For me and my peers there’s a real focus on work-life balance and doing something meaningful,” Ridler adds. “Sometimes it might be judged not just on hierarchy or how senior you are, but whether you’ve got autonomy to deliver something meaningful.”

Al-Qassab agrees that the desire among young marketers to take a different path to the top is possibly one of the biggest changes in marketing since he was a graduate.

“Everyone [then] said their ambition was to be the CEO, never mind the CMO, and no one would have dreamed of saying anything else. It would have felt like a dereliction of duty to say something else,” he laughs. “It’s a good change that people are able to admit what they want in life and where they want to go.”

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