The Paradox Of The Next Big Thing

The best thing about marketing is also the biggest challenge facing marketers: the next big thing.

There is a constant search in marketing for the next big thing. In everything. Consumer trends. Digital developments. Research methods. Predictive analytics. Micro niches. Growth markets. Creative approaches. Technology applications. New media.

And now, AI.

Marketing is hard. Good ideas are hard to come by, and competitors catch up fast. Habits are hard to break, and consumers won’t pay attention, can’t remember or don’t care. Pricing is always under pressure, even as costs keep rising. No surprise, then, that most campaigns and innovations fail. Which is nothing new. Marketing has always been hard.

The attraction of the next big thing is the hope that it will break a brand out of the cycle of washouts that bedevil marketing. Perhaps by revolutionizing some aspect of marketing, or at least by making marketing easier.



In fact, the next big thing always breaks a brand out. But only at first. Because soon enough, every brand adopts the next big thing, and then the competitive edge is lost. The next big thing becomes an expected thing. Just another cost of doing business without the initial edge and lift, although with enough impact to hurt any brand that quits or drops it.

This is where AI is headed. AI is transforming all aspects of marketing from insights mining to creative development to personalized delivery, and more. Brands are moving full speed ahead to experiment with AI and adopt AI applications. Reluctance is not an option. Brands cannot sit by and cede to competitors the advantages AI offers.

Every brand will realize substantial operational savings of time and money from AI. But all brands will also realize the same improvements in ideation, brainstorming and positioning. The bar for excellence will be higher, but whatever advantage is afforded will be available to every brand. So, as every brand gets up to speed on AI, no brand will have a leg up on any other brand.

When it comes to innovation, first-movers always enjoy an advantage, and oftentimes gain enough of a lead to secure some permanent advantage. This is not certain, though. Brands operate with more agility these days, enabling them to react quickly. This is proving especially true for AI.

Therein lies the paradox of the next big thing. Marketers must keep up with every new development, yet it quickly becomes the same old thing. Advantage is fleeting. Parity prevails. This is why marketing outcomes look the same today as 50 or 25 or ten or even five years ago.

Curiously, the constancy of marketing outcomes is further assured by the widespread sharing of insights and best practices among marketers and agencies. Marketers love to share, but sharing means that everybody else will learn to do it, too.

By and large, marketing is a zero-sum game, unlike many other professions and practice areas. For example, hospital emergency rooms can share best practices without fear of losing customers or market share -- in marketing jargon -- to other emergency rooms. Not so for brands. 

Even in growing categories and markets that reward all competitors simply for being in business, brands succeed at the expense of other brands. It’s only a question of degree -- it’s worse during declines or slower growth -- but it’s always a trade-off.

Brands fight it out for share of market, share of wallet and share of mind. This carries over across categories. A dollar spent on a concert ticket, for example, is a dollar less to spend on a high-end coffee or a movie to stream or a jumbo pack of snacks. A minute spent with one brand’s ad is a minute less to spend with another brand’s ad. An hour of time spent in one store is an hour less to spend someplace else.

Competitive advantage comes down to fundamentals, not fads. Fads can’t be avoided but they can’t be counted on as a catapult for competitive edge. Instead, brands get ahead by mastering fundamentals. Real needs. Quality solutions. Fair prices. All managed with a relentlessly responsive focus on customers.

The difference between success and failure is not the next big thing. It’s doing the fundamental things better. The question to ask of AI, the thing to look for in AI applications, should be all about that.

2 comments about "The Paradox Of The Next Big Thing".
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  1. Stephen DiMarco from SDM, June 26, 2024 at 12:52 p.m.

    Excellent post! I enjoyed reading it top to bottom. The phrase thay pays "Reluctance is not an option. Brands cannot sit by and cede to competitors the advantages AI offers.:

    My councel to companies is to quickly identify how to allocate at least 10% of their top line to GAI innovation. And avoid the tempation of simply reclassifying investments as AI when they are not (to appease investors).

    Thanks for the foresight Walker!

  2. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, July 14, 2024 at 5:27 p.m.

    Here is a simple question. Would you prefer to buy an hand made car or a assembly line vehicle, which would you chose? Or real cooked meal made by a chef or fast food? My point is ads and the distribution as gotten overly automated with endless presumtions made by computer programs.

    What we do is to put relations and humans back in the picture. Meaning, when a advertisr comes to ST to place their sweepstakes ads, we hand place each URL link into our program. Old fashion, yes. By doingg so, the advertiser gets not only a highly targetted method of securing click-through entries but also absolute security from the hackers.  Best of all, hand placed ads are cheaper that programmatic or AI. 

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