Today’s guest post is written by Michael Schechter.

Note – This post was inspired a while back by this post from John Falchetto and our ensuing conversation in the comments.

A while back, I was called out on this very site.

Shown for who I really am.

A truth I had long tried to hide was brought to light. Worse yet, this public unmasking was perpetrated by a friend (et tu, Gini).

This embarrassing truth: I am not a digital native, but an employee of a traditional company, selling a traditional product, through traditional channels (oh the shame).

Now, I’m almost certain you are getting ready to stop reading this post, I mean, what could I possibly know about digital?

We don’t have millions of followers and our customers aren’t losing any sleep over our next post. But bear with me for a second, we may find that Gini’s betrayal may have a tangible benefit to both those within and those beyond the bubble.

Some brands have been forged in the digital fire while others have had to (or eventually will have to) jump into it. The biggest problem I see here is we are trying to treat these two entities as one.

These are two very different situations and need to be treated as such. Those outside the bubble, who did not build their business in these channels are interested in what digital has to offer, but they don’t always need it just yet. It’s not that there isn’t a juicy opportunity, but balancing multiple channels (especially a mix of traditional and digital ones) is no easy feat.

We often try to show traditional brands the success digital brands have experienced. It is alluring, but it isn’t always relevant. Rather than enticing prospects with purely digital examples like Zappos or even those who have long had digital efforts like Levis, you need to understand a few key points:

  • With, not instead – Since many working in digital are true natives, they focus on what they know; selling and promoting in digital channels. Businesses are not going to want to abandon what they know and what is still working. The digital natives have to learn what they do and integrate what they know might work alongside their existing viable (if not flourishing) practices.
  • It’s just not as important– I want to be very clear here, it’s not that digital opportunities do not have the same potential as these brands’ existing channels. But they don’t have the same potential today. Companies are not looking to burn the ships and abandon their current revenue streams in hope of online riches. Many of these companies and these business owners have made a hell of a living working a very specific way and for now, while it is still working, that is likely to remain their priority.
  • Change takes time – It is going to take time and care to weave digital into the fabric of traditional companies. It is going to take time for their brand partners to see online opportunities as anything but a threat. Digital marketers have to teach these brands that digital is an investment in their future rather than an imperative of their present. It takes time to learn these channels and they cannot simply jump in when they inevitably feel the time is right. Show them digital is where the puck is heading, but remember, people still walk into stores to buy things (who knew!).

We often talk about listening at the point of need, but when it comes to selling the traditional company on the digital, we are selling want. Any entrepreneur worth his salt is curious about digital. He cares about the future of his business and knows the web will play a role. You have to tap into this desire. You have to help these businesses to see their future more clearly, but you also need to be realistic about where they are now.

This hits on the biggest mistake I see from those who try to sell me on digital services and products: What they are offering is critical right now, rather than an investment in what is likely next.

I may be an outsider, but I want in. I want the digital channels to inevitably become as important to my business as the traditional ones, but it is going to take time, thought, and work (and no, I don’t want to hear how your product or service can get me there faster… were you even listening?!?).

It isn’t easy to turn around the Titanic, but then again, thanks to the movie, I know what happens if you don’t…

Michael Schechter is the digital marketing director for Honora Pearls, a company specializing in freshwater pearl jewelry. He writes about all things digital over at his blog and you can follow him on Twitter @mschechter.