I had the pleasure of sharing a conversation with a young lady recently (along with the rest of the train carriage heading north out of Kings Cross) as she chatted candidly on her mobile phone about a recent job interview with a digital agency.

It seems the interview didn’t go so well. The sticking point was, in her opinion, a really difficult question: What is the next big thing?

She could have come back with the most obvious “Next big thing” answer. The kind of thing we are all blindly sold (or selling) every day of our lives – socially-led, location-based, mobile stuff.

But it’s a competitive job market out there and that wouldn’t have made her stand out from the crowd.

Instead, she dropped the ball completely and proudly told her friend, “How should I know? I mean, I’m not Bill Gates.”

In the digital industries we are constantly focused on the next big thing. But is this persistent future gazing really so healthy?

I’d like to suggest the next big thing might already be behind us and future technologies only serve to enhance what we already have.

Put it this way, in the history of media, no new media technology has ever fully replaced an old media. For example, the BBC still enthusiastically produce radio programming despite the advent of television and the internet.

In the online world, retail sites like Amazon and eBay have long dominated the Hitwise Top Websites list. And whilst they have both embraced the latest social and mobile trends, it could be argued that it is their range of products, keen pricing and community built around their offering that has kept them head and shoulders above the competition. New technologies provide enhanced routes to market but it is the core principals they initially built their businesses on that have kept them at the top.

Similarly, whilst online brands such as Google and Facebook have re-invented the search and social landscapes respectively, their income is largely derived from advertising which is strikingly similar to the classified-type advertising (i.e. targeted and short and sweet) which has been around for hundreds of years.

Today, group buying and daily deals sites drive the latest bandwagon for wannabe internet entrepreneurs to jump aboard. For every Groupon, Living Social and Huddlebuy, there are a million imitators hungry for a little group buying action. It’s not like any of these sites are offering anything new – they just execute exceedingly well. People have always loved bargains and, as long as they are relevant, are more than happy to have them delivered to their email in-box.

Anyone who doesn’t think that the likes of Groupon aren’t just highly sophisticated email marketers should check out this blog post on Forbes – http://onforb.es/pWThoa – describing what happened when Groupon’s ESP experienced downtime. The Groupon brand is powerful but not as powerful as its email list and, as we all know, email marketing is a robust and proven tool in use by marketers for almost as long as the internet.

I hear every day of people who want to pull resource from highly profitable channels to focus 100% of their efforts on the latest techniques. Of course this is a fast-moving industry and we’ve all got to keep an eye out for the next trend that could catapult our businesses to the next level. But placing all your eggs in a basket that has yet to prove itself is an incredibly risky strategy.

Digital marketers need to learn from history, get the basics right and then start looking towards the horizon. Adopt the tried and tested first and then roll out more advanced strategies and you might just find you are the next big thing.

John Hayes

John Hayes


John Hayes is the EMEA Business Development Executive for iContact.