next:2010, the 2010 CMA National Convention delivered “tomorrow’s thoughts, today”. Delegates left with some insights – alongside a few inside jokes referring to puke, beer and even an electric douche machine.

Speakers provided thought-provoking, and sometimes controversial, messages on topics ranging from academia to traditional media to web analytics to mobile, and of course, to social media. A marketing convention would just never be complete without a talk on social media, now – would it?

Some that stood out:

    • Avinash Kaushik, Author and Analytics Evangelist at Google preached the good word…
      • Goal #1: Make sure your Website doesn’t suck.
      • Lesson #1: Bounce rate = I came, I puked, I left. Make sure people don’t bounce!
    • Ken Wong, Commerce ’77 Teaching Fellow in Marketing Strategy, Queen’s School of Business, Vice-President, Knowledge Development, Level 5 apologized…
      • Academe has failed marketing. Graduates enter business without the deepest knowledge for achieving the bottom line. If you can’t contribute to the bottom line, then you contribute to cost. If you only contribute to cost… you get cut first! Ken apologizes. Ken challenges us all: it is up to us to ensure that the next generation of marketing grads deliver!
      • Oh… and, by the way, the infamous “4 Ps of marketing”. Yeah, they were a method of classification for marketing activities in a book in the 60s. Didn’t mean we had to focus all our strategy around them. They actually compete with each other, and make it even harder to hit the bottom line. How do we move to a world of “AND” as opposed to the world of “OR” that we live in today?
    • Tara Hunt, Author: the “Whuffie Factor” warns us…
      • Social media won’t save your brand…
      • Your customers will save your brand.

These are only a few of the many speakers and panelists. Other messages included that mobile is dead, but it’s everywhere; that we should no longer market to individuals, we should market to communities; and that we never did “own” our brands – the market always has. At the end of the day, a brand is a series of experiences that people collect at various touchpoints and then share with their communities. So – what are you doing about all this?

Well, it seems to me that many marketers and businesses (mea culpa) have been looking for the next big thing. I’ve been pondering this next statement for a while now, and this Convention cemented it for me.

There is NO next  B I G  Thing!. So, stop looking for it.

Social media, mobile, direct marketing, e-mail marketing, experiential – when you speak to experts in each area they will all tell you the same thing: it’s not about WHERE, it’s about WHO & WHAT. Content is still king. It needs to be relevant and valuable to your audience. (Roger Dunbar, Vice President Business Development and Marketing, The Globe and Mail – one of the panelists at next:2010 will be happy to read that.) What Roger may not like is that, for content to be relevant to the audience, sometimes it must be created there as well!

Here’s my big revelation… the next big thing is the sum of little things. These tools are not “the next big thing”, they are tools. Each to be used together, in synergy, to create direct channels of communications with audiences. Direct channels of communications need to be reciprocal. And, the people who are part of these channels – now called “communities” – are the ones who will define your brand.

So – the only thing we can do is provide the right information through the right platform to the right people and communities so that they can then take it, experience it, affect it and share it with others. If we do this successfully, we can create a new way of mass marketing by allowing the masses to market to each other.

PLEASE NOTE: I am not suggesting that marketers should not focus on their strategy. But rather than chasing a single platform strategy, deeply consider WHAT you want to achieve and through WHICH communities. Build your strategy around that, not around the tool.

There you have it. My big a-ha from next:2010: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And, don’t diminish the value in that statement. Think of all you’re doing with your brand right now, and determine if the “parts” are working in silos, against each other – or together in synergy, where they can create a far richer and more valuable experience to those people who, at the end of the day, will be the ones affecting YOUR bottom line.