The Next Big Thing?

"What's the next big thing?"

That's the question I hear the most from people every month. Everyone assumes that our business is based on the next "big thing," and they need to know about it before everyone else. But I'm here to ease your tension; the next "big thing" is not a "big thing" at all, but rather a series of "little things."

It's rare that something comes along with a profound, individual impact on our business. The development of Flash had a profound impact. The MP3 had a profound impact. Google had a profound impact. MySpace and Facebook had a profound impact. Twitter is in the process of having a profound impact, but if you remove these monumental occurrences from the historical landscape, you can see that the evolution of our business comes from a series of incremental changes rather than a singular disruptive change.

Given that there's very little disruptive change on the immediate horizon, we focus on the category of our business that is most aptly suited for change. Right now the best place to look for that change is in the area of targeting technology.



Our business has always been rooted in technology, and over the last few years I've witnessed technology being brought back to the forefront. If you examine the parallel path of advertising with the evolution of the consumer Web, you can see that Web 1.0 coincided with reach. During this period the majority of online advertising was focused on portals like Yahoo, MSN, Excite and Lycos. These portals aggregated audience in one place. During Web 2.0, online advertising focused on contextual relevancy, driven by search and the rise of the "long tail" as a viable place to place a marketing message. As we shift into Web 3.0, the focus has moved to targeting -- and not just any targeting, but the rebirth of the cookie and profiles, retargeting, and other action-based audience targeting via cross-platform opportunities.

Targeting is not a new concept, but since behavioral targeting launched about six years back, numerous companies have been funded to try and build the better mousetrap. It's gotten to the point where it's having a profound effect on how media planners plan their buys.

In a recent meeting with a client of mine, we had to ask the question of whether their upcoming plans should be focused on contextual targeting or behavioral, profile-based targeting technology. The question created a pause, but it also sparked a good debate because this is a conundrum unlike any other form of media. In every other form of media you plan based on a combination of contextual relevancy and audience composition. In our business you target based on these same pieces of information, but the audience can literally be followed around no matter where they are, contextually relevant or not.

Imagine if Coke and Pepsi could dynamically have their outdoor, print and TV ads follow you around and reduce the waste against their ad spend. Imagine if you picked up a random magazine at the newsstand and all the ads were targeted at you, even though you rarely (if ever) read Soldier of Fortune magazine. The goal of targeting is to eliminate waste, and right now we can dramatically eliminate waste because of these advances in technology. Theoretically you can reduce your waste to 0% if you're diligent with the tools at hand.

I've joked in the past that becoming a media planner these days requires a Ph.D in mathematical analysis, but the joke is not far from the truth. The next "big thing" is certainly not a disruptive change, but it lies in the evolution of the models for targeting. Just having strong real estate is no longer the most important component for a publisher to consider. You must also have access to tools that segment your audience right down to the individual user. The next "big thing" is baby steps towards one-to-one brand marketing (not just direct response), and it requires a capability that you may not have previously needed in media planners.

So for those of you asking me what the next "big thing" is, this is what my response would be.

Do you agree?

11 comments about "The Next Big Thing?".
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  1. Brendon Keenan from Freelance, April 29, 2009 at 1:04 p.m.

    Why don't we just simplify the entire process?? Can't we just create an opt-in ad network where I as a consumer just TELL you what ads I want to see...or at least a venue to provide my interests, and then be served advertisements based on me telling you what I want to see??

    Just because I just visited a retail site, doesn't make a BT'd banner ad any more compelling.

  2. Shelly Kramer from V3 Integrated Marketing, April 29, 2009 at 1:05 p.m.

    Great article, Cory.

    IMO, one-to-one brand marketing is already going on via venues like Twitter, FB and the blogosphere. From today's eMarketer:

    Currently, 96.6 million US Internet users read a blog at least once per month, representing 48.5% of the Internet population. By 2013, 128.2 million people, or 58% of all US users, will take part.

    Brands like Zappos, Ford, Comcast, General Mills (who just recruited 900 or so mommy bloggers for their latest product launches) - and many others, are engaging in one-on-one brand marketing efforts on a daily basis.

    You are correct - is IS the next big thing, and figuring out how to deal with a total loss of control is what has ad agencies and media folks scratching their heads to figure out.

    I think it's exciting - next big things usually are. It will be interesting to see how this evolves.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article.


  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, April 29, 2009 at 1:16 p.m.

    You won't need a math Ph.D. to be a media planner. But those who choose majors in college to avoid math altogether will be increasingly marginalized in the future. Media degrees should at least require proficiency through and including some baby calculus course. Anyone who can't handle math should go into PR or some other high-touch field.

  4. Stephen Shearin from ionBurst Media, April 29, 2009 at 1:23 p.m.

    Great article and I definitely agree. A classic adage suggesting this has to do with seeing the forest for the trees. People are always looking for this tree or that tree and especially the next big tree, but in truth, we have a great forest built of several successful models and tools.

  5. Rick Lavoie from RUCKUS, April 29, 2009 at 1:33 p.m.

    I agree that evolution in this business is primarily comprised of a series of enhancements and together don't look like a big thing. However, I do think there is a big thing coming and like most big things, it comes as a surprise to most. Saying there won’t be one may be a way of putting our heads under the covers….again. That’s how we got behind the curve with this whole social media thinky.

    We are all collectively focused significantly on the technology and tools and individually focused in our area of expertise therefore seeing this from many different angels. This is usually a recipe for not seeing the big thing coming.

    I am betting there is a big thing coming soon and most of us will be blindsided by it – at the sacrifice of our clients and their customers. I've been studying and researching this a lot. I don't know exactly what it will be but it's core theme will be based upon almost total consumer control with the need to connect and social media maturity of all things associated with customer engagement and products themselves. Marketers will then need to scrabble to readapt their businesses to support it. This will take on the form of portable identities, experience distribution, and conversational marketing platforms.

    One big result is some brands and agencies won't survive as there will be a much stronger transformation from traditional to digital media. One big reason it hasn’t happened yet is that so much money is still tied to traditional media, networks, and agencies as well as associated livelihoods of stakeholders especially during a recession with a weak job market.

  6. David Steinberger from Gomper, April 29, 2009 at 2:27 p.m.

    Targeting's great, but don't marketers also want us to spread the word? I'm a 42 year old male. My viral network is not comprised of 42 year old males. Targeting adds value and efficiency, but it doesn't remove waste, especially in a viral world. An ad for a new woman's sport drink is not wasted on me...I've got daughters, a wife and a viral network that is 50% female. Your perfect customer is no worse that one conversation away from whatever consumer you reach. Where's the waste?

    The waste comes from the money advertisers spend building loyalty between consumers and media companies instead of consumers and the advertisers' product. Solve that, and you've got your next big thing. I'm trying at


  7. Andrew Budkofsky from Rolling Stone, April 29, 2009 at 2:40 p.m.

    How about we invest in what's big now, instead of chasing the next big thing? Clients haven't invested in solutions that can help them today, and they already want to know what's next!

  8. Lisbeth Kramer from Identities, April 29, 2009 at 3:15 p.m.

    I love a lot of what you say here, but I have a question...near your close regarding that the NBT will incorporate more "one-to-one" marketing really think that is all rooted in an expertise in numbers? What about planners or just mkngng savving pro's who get the need and value of true CONSUMER INSIGHT and translating that into strategy and creative that truly can target doesn't mean you will titillate the senses or the lifestyle to emote ..and influence need for product /experience..........

  9. Lisbeth Kramer from Identities, April 29, 2009 at 3:16 p.m.


  10. Norm Page from Grapeshot, April 29, 2009 at 7:52 p.m.

    Hey Cory, particularly relevant topic these days with adtech in town last week when we were fortunate enough to speak with several targeting technologies and/or data providers and/or their investors -- all of whom had great technologies to share. Obviously we'll have to dig in and see what the upside is to all of this targeting convergence. But it sure is fun working through it to turn the straw into gold!
    -- Rumpelstiltskin

  11. Michael Senno from New York University, April 30, 2009 at 9:51 p.m.

    The bigger question is, do people (consumers) want it to be the next big thing? I think its great, as I'm sure marketers and technologists do, however many of my peers don't like the "Big Brother" nature of targeting. It certainly has a place, but will the public - and government - prevent it from becoming pervasive.

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