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Interview with Next Big Thing

I recently met up with William Higham of Next Big Things Research, a London trends agency, and posed him a few questions.

1. You're from a music background, how did this get you interested in trends?

I started off interested in the bands and then, the longer I was in it, the more I became interested in the audience. Plus I’ve always been interested in how popular culture shifts and mutates. I have been an amateur observer of popular culture since I was an adolescent: my collection of social histories of 20th century British and American culture and vintage back issues of magazines from NME and Vogue to Interview and i-D are second to none!

2. At what point did you decide to start up your own company and why?

I remember being at a Meat Loaf gig in Birmingham NEC in the mid-90s and looking around me at all of these 30- and 40-somethings in jeans and T-Shirts and thinking “Who ARE these people? How does Meat Loaf fit into their life? And what do they do when they’re not at a gig.” I stuck around the industry for a few more years, but the seed was sown. Plus, as a spotter of trends, I could see that, once the Internet had kicked in, the future of record companies was looking decidedly shaky …

3. How has your company developed?

It started off as me in my front room and has since developed into a small team based in an office in Soho, with correspondents in various cities around the UK

4. Do you find it a help or a hinderance that you haven't come from a marketing or design background?

I have come from a marketing background (I did marketing for record companies for almost 10 years) and that’s proved a vital tool for understanding both the consumer trends themselves and also the marketing implications of such trends. But I am unusual in that I don’t have an advertising background. It was a little odd at first, as I meant I had to get my head around how ad and media agencies were set up, but it’s certainly not proved a hindrance: having a more unusual background means I can, perhaps, take a more lateral approach. Plus many consumer trends come from the Entertainment and Leisure sector – and my background gives me a great understanding of that sector.

5. Could you provide us with some insight as to how you trend spot?

There is no hard and fast rule as to where trends can come from: they can come from any sector or any demographic (e.g. a trend in Health could appear first in the Travel sector) and they can also come from above (celebrities or brands) or below (directly from consumer tribes) e.g. Marlon Brando started the trend for T-Shirts by simply wearing one in the movie ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ but the trend for skateboarding came from the street. So for us, it’s vital to hunt for trends across all industries, sectors and locations; to talk to consumers as well as experts; and to monitor cutting edge and mainstream media. Just keep an eye out for anything unusual, in anyone and any sector – then try to work out WHY it’s happening.

6. Do you find that companies are open to trend spotting?
On the whole, the most successful ones are into trend spotting. And more and more companies are now starting to understand the importance of it as an aid to both marketing and strategy

7. What are 3 major trends that are going to break soon?

The New Puritans: despite tabloid reports to the contrary, we are seeing Britain’s youth becoming increasingly conservative and anti-hedonistic

Video Tech: from PSP and video iPod to IPTV and VOD, the future of personal tech will shift from audio to video

Eastern European Cuisine: as we spend more weekend breaks in Eastern Europe and more Eastern Europeans come over here, expect to see a rise in traditional Baltic and Eastern Bloc food and drink, from organic Polish beer to snacks like Golumpki