Jul 28 2007

The Next 'Next'

Published by at 11:28 am under Idea Driven Marketing

The NY Times Magazine recently published an article examining the concept of "next" in marketing and culture. "New" definitely isn’t good enough anymore. People increasingly want what’s "next" — the latest, the hottest, the coolest, the hippest, the next great thing.

Whether it’s tech gadgets (the article noted that 45 minutes after the launch of the ultimate "next" gadget, the iPhone, people were already wondering about the 2.0 version), the "next" fashion trend, or "next" political superstar (Barrack Obama is already over his "next" honeymoon phase), we seem obsessed about the next. And this is increasingly a global phenomenon as culture and brands criss cross the continents at Internet speed.

Being based in the SF Bay Area, adjacent to Silicon Valley, I feel like I am at the epicenter of "next." The talk today is all about who is the "next" YouTube or MySpace among the new crop of Web 2.0 start ups. Clearly, the new "next" poster child at this moment (this second) is FaceBook, whose 23-year-old wunderkind founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is today living the ultimate "next" fantasy.

Of course, FaceBook’s anointment as the "next" big thing (or at least the next big social networking phenomenon for this month), may end up being much more of a curse than a blessing. Sure, the company is riding a monster wave of hype and positive publicity. There is talk of multi-billion-dollar valuations and pundits are even calling FaceBook "The Next Google." Who knows where FaceBook ultimately will go, or if it ever lives up to the current out of control hype, but "The Next Google" moniker seems to me to be a "next step" too far. Even by the hyperbolic standards of today’s tech pundits.

There is a strange dynamic in business, branding and culture about being the "next" of anything. Trying to live up to the inevitable hype can kill the excitement, freshness and originality that made it "next" in the first place. The NY Times has a story just this morning on the turmoil in the non-campaign of non-declared presidential hopeful Fred Thompson. Just a few weeks ago, Thompson was declared by the pundits, political watchers and even the blogosphere as the "next" Ronald Reagan, an actor-politician who would ride into town and save the ailing Republicans from themselves. The stories today are considerably more sober in their assessment of Thompson and his presidential aspirations. Apparently, Thompson’s fledgling campaign operation is in serious turmoil, and there is already nasty gossip about his trophy wife running the faltering operation. It seems that Thompson’s "nextness" is already morphing into "so over?"

The moral of this story for marketers and trend makers/analysts is, don’t always believe or invest in the "next" hype. If you peak too soon, or if there is insufficient substance and staying power to the "next" mantle you have assumed or strive for, the public will desert you or your product (or idea, candidate, etc) faster than the launch of the "next" hot video sharing site. And we all know how fast that is.

Compare the fleeting and fickle power of being "next" with "The 100 Top Brands" featured in the recent Business Week Magazine. This is a regular feature of Business Week and its branding agency partner InterBrand. If you look at the top 10 brands in this year’s listing, they are a familiar group to say the least. In fact, all of the top 10 brands in the listing (#1 to #10: Coca-Cola, Microsoft, IBM, GE, Nokia, Toyota, Intel, McDonald’s, Disney and Mercedes-Benz), also made the top 10 last year. The big change was that Intel dropped from #5 to #7, and Nokia and Toyota moved up in the ranking.

These top 10 brands are consistently ranked as global brand superstars. They would not be characterized as "next" of anything. They are just the mega brands that keep on delivering every year for consumers, customers, employees and shareholders.

In Business Week’s top 100 listing, Google is #20, eBay is #48, Yahoo! is #55 and Amazon.com is #62 (up from last year’s 65 slot). No mention yet of MySpace, YouTube or even FaceBook. But, their day may yet come as the "next" Web brand to make it into the Pantheon of global mega brands.

Or, maybe not.


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