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The Next Color Barrier In Business: Green Versus Gray

I see a problem ahead for many companies. The bigger they are, the more likely they have this problem. They have a color barrier and they probably don’t even know it: the Green versus the Gray.

Who’s Green? Who’s Gray?

Before I get into the problem, let’s define these colors for the purpose of this post:

The Green: Young professionals somewhere between their early 20s and mid 30s. They’ve probably bounced around in a few jobs so they don’t yet have a vast amount of business experience and they may have even less experience in their current industry. They are, however, digital natives and intuitively understand many of the foundational elements that have changed business communications and marketing today.

The Gray: Experienced professionals around 50 years old and up. They have several decades of work experience and have likely been in their current industry for the majority of their career. They have worked their way up to positions of authority in middle and upper management but they’re unsettled by the way business has changed in recent years. At best they want to understand and embrace the changes. At worst, they want to ignore them and act like their industry isn’t changing as much as it probably is.

The Problem

So here’s the deal, I have been talking to more companies about the idea that everything is marketing now, and what I continue to see is that when I discuss the concept there are two very different reactions. The Green’s reaction is something like, “well, yeah, of course.” The Gray’s reaction is more like, “Ok, this is interesting, but I’m not sure we can/will/want to do this.”

And there’s the gap. The people who have the power to make the changes (the Gray) don’t typically understand (or aren’t willing to consider) how much the world of business has changed. If everything is marketing now, the implications are so far reaching into all aspects of business that it’s uncomfortable for most leaders who have been doing things the same way for a long time. 

In the meantime, the Green are seeing opportunities for their companies to change and adapt and they want to be part of that. They see potential all over the place because they grew up seeing things differently in a time when so much has changed. In fact, it was probably their youth and perspective that got them the job in the first place. But then it got real. They tried to make a suggestion and were rebuffed with a “we don’t do that around here” kind of response. Or they stuck their neck out with a new idea and realized that new ideas are only accepted if they seem safe, plausible and not too distant deviations from business as usual.

The problem here is that both sides need each other. The Green need the Gray. The Gray need the Green. If a business is going to embrace the idea that everything is marketing now, it’s going to take both groups to pull it off.

This week I’m going to be posting more on this topic. I think it’s something worth digging into.

Photo credit: “Untitled” by Adelle McCarthy

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  • http://www.fuelingnewbusiness.com/ Michael Gass

    Excellent article Bill Seaver and one that will be shared in future discussions.

    The advertising industry is so reflective of the Green vs Gray mentality. There’s been more change in our industry over the past five years than the previous fifty!

    The Great Recession which fueled the rapid rise of digital and social media marketing caught many agency owners, who were boomers, totally off guard.

    A large indepdent agency laid off some 200 emloyees during the recession. Those positions have been filled since the economic downturn ended but they were filled by Green (young professionals) with totally different skill sets from their predecessors.

    I started my consultancy at the beginning of the recession and it forced me to adapt or die. Working with Green and Gray staffers, I’ve found that it is easier to get the Gray’s, who possess a great amount of advertising and marketing experience, where they need to be but only IF they are willing to change.

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