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Is It Time for Digital Marketers to Move On to The Next Big Thing? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 360)

People experimenting with VR to illustrate concept of marketers moving to "the next big thing"

What is the "Next Big Thing" for digital marketers? Is it web3? Virtual reality and the metaverse? Or something else altogether? More importantly, is it time for digital marketers to move on to the "next big thing"?

Well… maybe, but probably not in the way that you think.

We’re living through a period of continual change. Digital marketers need a strategy that allows them to serve their customers where they are, while getting ready for where they’re going. There are ways you can plan for the "next big thing"—no matter what it happens to be. And you can help your customers as they’re ready to transition.

So, what is it you need to do? How can you make this work for your business? This episode of Thinks Out Loud dives into "the next big thing" for you… and offers a roadmap for how to be ready.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

Is It Time for Digital Marketers to Move On to The Next Big Thing? — Relevant Links and Show Notes

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Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

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Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.

Running time: 24m 23s

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Transcript: Is It Time for Digital Marketers to Move On to The Next Big Thing?

Well, hello again, everyone and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud. Your source for all the digital expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 360 of the big show. And if you listened to last week’s episode and you think, "Oh my gosh, we had some crazy time jump that we went from 354 to 360." I made a mistake. Last week’s episode was 359 and it is correct on the website and it is correct in the show title. But I said 354, pretty much every time I said the name of the episode. So my apologies for that, but this is the correct show number. This is our 360th episode. Thank you so much for tuning in. I do, do, do appreciate it.

Remember When the Internet Was the "Next Big Thing"?

I think we’ve got a really cool show for you. It’s based on a conversation I was having with people online in response to a tweet sent by Palmer Luckey. Now Palmer Luckey is the guy who created Oculus, which was later bought by Facebook/Meta. He’s a brilliant, brilliant guy. He shared an amazing newspaper headline. Now I want to be clear, this was a literal print newspaper. It’s the Daily Mail from December 5th in the year 2000. And they had a headline that read, "Internet Maybe Just a Passing Fad as Millions Giving Up On It." Which is a remarkable headline for 2000. I mean, anybody who knew anything realized that this was not just a passing fad.

Palmer Luckey shared the photo of the article with his own comment where he said, and I quote, "VR is just a fad." Obviously he’s being sarcastic there.

I Am Not Dissing The Next Big Thing… No Matter What It Is

I want to make two points before I go deep into this episode. One, Palmer Luckey is brilliant. He is, as Wikipedia notes, "Widely credited with reviving the virtual reality industry." I mean, just a really, really bright, really sharp guy who is going to shape big parts of the world we’re going to live in for the next couple of decades.

The second point I want to make is he was born after the first time I used the internet—actually by a couple of years. Now his youth—he’s 30—is not a strike against him. I was around the same age Luckey is now in the year 2000 when the Daily Mail headline Luckey shared was published. I’m not as brilliant as Luckey, and even I knew headlines like that were nonsense at the time.

It’s also true that the internet then and VR now share a somewhat similar problem. Well, what’s the problem? Well, I’ll come back to that in a minute or two.

The Next Big Thing is Always Out There, Waiting to Be Discovered

There is a lot of cool technology on the horizon. There’s a lot of cool technology out there that you probably should be paying some attention to. I’ve talked about this a couple of times this year in terms of the trends you should or should not be paying attention to. We’ve all heard about web3, we’ve all heard about "the metaverse." We’re talking about virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR), and extended reality (XR). And they’re all big deals.

Well, kind of. Again, I still think they have a problem.

What Problems Does the Next Big Thing Have?

One of the problems is that they sometimes can distract you from looking past the current state of digital, the current state of digital that drives your business. So that’s really my intent here.

I’m not here to trash new technologies, not by any stretch of the imagination. I am a student of customer behavior. I have been for my whole career.

And in particular, I pay attention to how people adopt and use technology enabled services in their lives, websites, apps, devices. How are these tools changing our customer’s behaviors? And how do we need to adapt our businesses to that reality? And ideally, get ahead of the curve. So none of this is "be a fast follower," none of this is "wait until it’s too late." This is thinking strategically and thinking longer term about how we think about how customers use the technology. And then allocate our time and our energy and our money and our other resources effectively. So that we’re going to get the benefit, both where we are and where we’re going.

"Disconnected Technology" and Customer Behavior

I really care about the fact that as you look at where customers might be going in the longer term, you don’t lose sight of where customers are and where they’re likely to be for the next period of time. So, let me give you some context here of why I’m talking about this. In 2000, the internet … the Daily Mail is just wrong. Obviously, obviously, 22 years later, that’s a piece of cake to say.

At the same time, the internet was what I sometimes referred to as a "disconnected technology." Now that might sound ridiculous. I mean, obviously the whole point was to connect.

What I mean by that though, is that the internet and computers more generally were disconnected from people’s day to day lives. Home computer penetration in 2000 had only just reached 50%. Internet use in total, work and home, was also around 50%. Plenty of people didn’t own computers. Plenty of people didn’t use computers. Even if they didn’t own one, they didn’t necessarily have one at work either. Plenty of people with computers didn’t have internet access at all.

In Many Ways, We’re Reliving the Early Days of the Internet

If we think about it, Google was still very, very new. If it was just two years old, it wasn’t even among the Top 50 websites on the internet. Now that changed really quickly. So you always have to be thinking ahead… and we will come back to that. But Wikipedia didn’t exist at all. Not only was it not in the Top 50, it simply didn’t exist. We’re not even talking about things like Uber or Airbnb or DoorDash, which have only come along in the last 15 years. The iPhone obviously didn’t exist. Mobile phones themselves were usually not internet enabled at that point.

Now there were absolutely, a thousand percent, thriving communities, whether it was Usenet for the more technically sophisticated folks or AOL and Geocities for people who were less technically sophisticated. They were "cool sites;" people used them all the time.

What "Disconnected Technology" Means

But—and this is the key—most people didn’t live their lives connected to the internet. Your computer was either at your workplace or it was in your home office, in the den, or it was in an alcove in the kitchen. You had to physically separate yourself from the people around you to use your computer and use the internet. If you were like most people, you had to use your hardware and by most, I mean 99% of people, according to Pew, didn’t have broadband. You had to use your hardwired physical phone line, which meant that unless you had a separate line for the computer and most people did not. You couldn’t get calls or talk on the phone either. That’s what I mean by disconnected.

When people talked about, "I’m going to go online," they literally meant I’m leaving wherever I am, physically or mentally or emotionally, and I’m entering an entirely different space. I’m entering an entirely different physical location in my house or in my office. And I’m disconnecting from the people who are standing right next to me. It was a disconnected technology and a disconnecting technology.

Mobile and Social Changed the Game

Now obviously, a lot has changed since then. The two biggest were, I’m going to say mobile and social. There are others and we can make arguments about this, but I’m going to keep it simple for today, and we’re going to say mobile and social. Mobile allowed you to stay connected to the information you wanted wherever you were and whenever you wanted. Social allowed you to connect with friends and family and fans and followers, wherever you were and whenever you wanted. Generally, they both allowed you to stay connected to the real world, the physical world, the people around you, as well as the digital world. It wasn’t an "either/or;" it was "both/and."

The Big Problem With VR: It Disconnects

And that to me is VR,s current big problem. It’s got kind of the same reality. It’s not a "connected technology." It’s not a "connecting technology." It is still a "disconnecting technology." Generally you have to put on a headset and disconnect from the world around you. Even when the virtual worlds are deep and beautiful and brilliant and immersive—which some of them really are—many of them pull you away from your friends and your family and your fans and your followers. You’re pulled away from real life.

AR and XR Are Starting to Connect People

Now, AR and XR are beginning to show amazing promise at changing that. Google Maps Live View, the navigation that they have, where you just hold up your phone and it points you to where to go in real life. Google Translate’s live translation of signs. Those are extraordinary. They provide additional context and information while at the same time, letting you stay connected to the world around you in real time. That’s huge. If you’ve ever used Houzz’s View My Room feature. It’s equally cool for your home to kind of layout "what could this room look like?" So, so cool. So, so rich. So, so engaging.

There’s a very slick strategy game that I like a lot called The Machine that incorporates the world around you into the game play. And you can play with people in the room and people online, all at the same time. Very slick and the kind of thing we need to see more of and the kind of thing we will see more of. It’s coming.

VR is Still a Relatively Small Market

At the same time, VR headset sales still are in the low tens of millions each year. Now that’s a great number considering where they started from. But it’s not anything close to a critical mass in a country of 350 million people, let alone globally. This is still pretty small numbers. Not unimpressive numbers, not numbers we shouldn’t be paying attention to. But small in real terms, in terms of where we will probably end up.

Again, I don’t want Palmer Luckey to call me out and say, "He’s saying it’s just fad." It’s not just a fad. It’s also very early. We are still living with, we’re still incorporating the changes that mobile and social and the internet more broadly have brought about.

A Next Big Thing—the Internet—Still Has Immense Room to Grow

Colin Lewis and I had a conversation online a couple weeks ago, and he cited data from Benedict Evans and Ram Pamareswan that said, "Less than 10% of global GDP is conducted via the internet. Over the next 20 to 30 years, we will go up… to 50 to 70%," they project.

Now, even if that number’s wrong—even if they’re two times as high as what it really will be—that’s still a doubling or tripling of where we are today. Think about it. That’s crazy for a technology that’s been around for 30 years and been part of our lives for a huge chunk of that time. Again, only 50% of people were online in 2000, but 50% of people were online in 2000. So the fact that it’s still got so much room to grow is extraordinary. And I absolutely do think things like VR and AR and XR will be some of the enabling technologies that will cause it to grow ever larger and ever more integrated within our lives.

How to Plan for The Next Big Thing… Whatever It May Be

That’s where I really want to come to with all of this, because my point isn’t to say, "Oh, this is crap." Or, "This is a fad." Or, "Don’t pay any attention to it." Instead it’s to say, "How do you plan for either reality?"

Walking Towards the Horizon. The way I always think about it is walking towards the horizon. Think about where you are, pick a spot out on the horizon where you want to get to and know that you’re going to take however many steps you need to along the way to get there.

Scenario planning. You also should think about scenario planning. What does a best case scenario look like if we get there much faster? What does a worst case scenario look like if we get there much slower? What’s the most likely scenario? What are we going to do in each of those cases? The point isn’t that you have to have a perfectly fleshed out plan for all of them. The point is you should have given some thought to each of them and what they mean to your business, so that you’re planning accordingly.

Core and explore. I use a strategy, you’ve heard me mention it here on the show many, many times to follow what’s called a "Core and Explore" strategy. Focus on your core. Where are you today? Where is the business today? And spend 80%, 75%, 85% of your time and your resources and your budget thinking about "the core," the stuff that is real. But keep 15%, 20%, if you’re really, really adventurous, 25% of your budget to "explore" new things. Maybe AR will be big for you fast and the best way to find that out is to actually experiment with it today and allocate some budget with it. Not 80% of your budget, not the majority of your budget. But enough that you can actually conduct valid tests and useful tests to see if there is a there there for your business.

Try things with VR, try things with XR, try things with web three, try things with crypto it’s okay. But it’s an explorer, it’s not core yet. Then it’s easy enough to move things into core when you find they’re working for you.

Leapfrog to The Next Big Thing

This strategy also makes it easier for you to leap frog your competition in specific instances. We ran into a situation years ago here in the US, where we looked at the rest of the world and where they were in terms of internet penetration and said, "Oh, well, they won’t catch up to us." And that was a flawed assumption.

Because they didn’t have to. When I’m thinking about places like Southern Europe and the like, and we look at Africa and the like—I mean, developing countries within Africa—they didn’t need to start with dial up, they didn’t even need to start with broadband or wired infrastructure. They went right to mobile and we’re able to leapfrog, pick up right where we were at the time to improve internet penetration and get great use among their customers, among their citizens really quickly, really easily.

Some of that is built by Core and Explore. We’re going to have the core of what we’re going to do and also, we’re going to keep our options open with a little budget and with some resources to be ready if things change faster than we expect them to.

Conclusion: Is It Time for Digital Marketers to Move On to The Next Big Thing?

So keep your options open, plan for the future. Be ready to test new ideas and see what works for your business. Also recognize that some things may be a fad—though probably not VR. But if you use a strategy like this, you’re going to be ready for the next big thing, and for the virtual world, while you’re also living in the real world.

Show Credits

Now looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week. I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all of the 359 episodes before this, by going to TimPeter.com/podcast. Again, that’s TimPeter.com/podcast. Just look for episode 360.

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Show Outro

With all that said, I just want to say one more time, thank you so much for tuning into the show every single week. I simply would not have done this show for 10 years and 360 episodes without you. I appreciate so much the fact that you listen, that you share, that you engage in dialogue with me. I really just can’t tell you how much it means to me that we have this conversation every week. So with that said, I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week. I hope you have a great weekend ahead. I look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud again next time. Until then, please be well, be safe and as ever, take care, everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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