The Next Digital Executive, From the Dorm to the Board

Anyone in management right now has or at least should have one key issue on their minds this year and it’s not about winning that next big account, or striking that regional trading deal or even rolling out the new DSP that’s been talked about for the past year. It’s about building a better team. It’s about talent. And more specifically, digital talent.

Digital talent should be a critical priority for any organization that wants to succeed in this constantly changing media environment in which we live. Everyone has been talking about the progressive shift to digital and the sheer growth the channel has to offer, particularly within Asia. According to the 2011 ADMA Digital Marketing Yearbook, total online ad expenditure by 2014 should reach US$22.2 billion within Asia Pacific, up 32 percent from 2010. And some reports say this figure is too conservative. Globally, this would represent around 22.9 percent of global ad spend.

But growth will not happen if we don’t have the right people to help drive it. But what does the right person look like? Who are the next young digital mavens sitting on deck?

Recently, I have been pondering this very question of what really makes a great digital person. As a company, we made a big decision and recently hired several new college graduates into our digital groups and I’ve been observing how they work and behave. I’ve noticed some interesting traits that can make this “new breed” very successful in our field as they mature. But similarly, I’ve realized some clear gaps that if not addressed, would be a major barrier for their growth.

So I wanted to try and put on my ethnographic hat and attempt to predict what I think the next digital executive will look like, through my experience in observing this new young breed of digitites and in what I feel to be timeless traits of a business leader that you can only get from experience.

Four Qualities the Next Digital Executives Will Possess

These are the four key areas this group inherently has in their DNA that will far and away act as the main drivers for them to stand out and become the next digital leaders.

Digital natives: The median age across Asia right now is averaging 31.9 according to the CIA’s World Factbook. Removing Japan, China, and South Korea from the equation and you’re looking at around 24.7. This is far younger than the U.S. median at 36.9 and Europe at 41.3. This represents a huge digital native population – a generation “born digital” and grown up immersed in digital technologies, where a life fully integrated with digital devices is the norm. Digital natives have a firm almost inherent grasp of many of the concepts we struggle with on a daily basis with regards to the application of technology as a communications device. And this built-in digital DNA will be an essential building block for their digital careers.

Culture and language: These days I interact with many people, particularly in Asia who have grown up in diverse cultures as a child and more likely than not, speak a handful of languages. And this will only rise, as information continues to intensify and the world in general becomes even smaller. What this brings to the business world is a better understanding of culture and a deeper respect for local markets, countering the traditional imperialistic approaches of the past. The multilingual part will simply allow these future leaders to seamlessly toggle between languages and discourse, which in turn will most likely boost business productivity and should add an element of clarity in the otherwise hazy conversation we sometimes have through translations.

Connected and collaborative: I was talking last week with one of the new college graduates we recently hired and he told me he has over 3,000 friends on Facebook. Over 10 times my fan base! Wow, he’s connected I thought. The future digital executive will be more connected than ever, as they tend to start connecting at a younger age, mainly as a result of their digital native upbringing. And they seem to reach out and continually maintain their connections well almost as if it’s some kind of gold customer list that are harvesting. I also see more collaboration happening among this group. A collaborative approach that spans culture, language and device allowing them to easily access and share new ideas.

Applicable education: The future digital executive also has an applicable education. Simply stated, there are far more educational programs and courses within the field of digital marketing than there ever was. Right now you can receive a Bachelors or even a Master’s degree in digital marketing. Courses on social media, content marketing, and mobile marketing to name a few are now the norm. So this new breed of students will get early exposure to some of the core areas and channels of the digital world, than generations could before. They will enter the workforce and should be able to think within context easier and with more relevance, because of their early educational exposure to the channel.

However, these four principles alone will not lead to total success in the digital world. There are other more fundamental areas that round off any future exec. Areas around presenting and public speaking, the ability to sell (internally and externally), and a basic acumen in financial principles, will all help to complete the next future digital executive.

What do you think the next digital exec will look like?

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