Will Higham is one of the world’s most respected consumer futurists.
He’s informed 1,000s of business leaders via his talks, his consultancy, his articles and his book ‘The Next Big Thing’.
He’s spent almost 30,000 hours over the last 15 years analysing consumer trends and their implications for business.
Will was one of the first to predict trends in:
- online social networking
- artisanry, craft, provenance and localism
- streaming and on-demand media
- sharing and the peer-to-peer industry
- retro pastimes, colouring books and ‘kidulting’
To book Will to give a talk, or to find out more about his consultancy Next Big Thing, click here
A natural born futurist?
- Will has a unique combination of traits and experiences that make him both an effective futurist and a compelling speaker
- He’s always had a passion for people, and a curiosity for what’s next.
- He spent half his career in research and half in marketing communications, so understands both how consumers think and how to use that knowledge to drive sales.
- Raised by librarian parents but with a background in the entertainment industry, Will has an equal love of hard, scientific data and passion-point purchase drivers. His heroes too, from Andy Warhol to Richard Branson, equally enjoyed the commercial and the creative. Like them, he loves the space where corporate meets cool.
- Growing up during the iconoclasm of Punk, Will’s always avoided traditionalist thinking. His passion for boundary breaking was accelerated when he ended up working with three of Punk’s key figures in the early ‘90s: John Lydon of the Sex Pistols, Joe Strummer of The Clash and Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.
- William epitomises the early adopter: easily excited but easily bored, always looking for the next (big) thing.
Will founded strategic consultancy Next Big Thing in 2002. The company has since helped build future-proof strategies for a wide range of national and international blue chip clients: from BBC to HSBC, Sainsbury’s to Siemens.
His first trends role was at seminal consultancy Breaking Trends, helping clients from British Telecom to Levis. He was later appointed MD of research agency OnePoll, running campaigns for clients like Kelloggs, Findus and Hilton Hotels.
He got his initial experience of consumer trends in the 1990s. His began his entertainment career in marketing communications at Sony, where he worked with acts from Michael Jackson to Motorhead. He progressed to Virgin and then Universal, where he ran marketing campaigns for The Rolling Stones, The Cure, Verve and others.
Will Higham launched Next Big Thing in 2002. Since then, the company has advised media conglomerates, global financial institutions, retail giants and international telecoms companies globally. In 2017, Will was joined by his wife Nadia, a veteran of the change management sector, whose experience has enabled the company to strongly enhance its workshop, seminar and HR offerings.
He wrote the first UK handbook for trend strategists: ‘The Next Big Thing: Spotting and Forecasting Consumer Trends For Profit’ (Kogan Page, 2009), since translated into four languages. He’s spoken at, chaired and facilitated conferences and internal events for a range of brands, media and industry bodies: from Barclaycard to Retail Week, Virgin Trains to FHM.
He’s been interviewed across media – BBC to Bloomberg TV, Cosmopolitan to The Times – and written for The Economist, Ad Week, The Marketer, New Statesman and Viewpoint. He currently writes consumer trends columns for The Institute of Directors (IoD) magazine ‘Director’ and ‘Huffington Post’.
He’s consulted for trade bodies across a range of sectors. He’s taken part in academic programmes such as Cambridge University’s Open Innovation Forum on the future of food. And he’s acted as a judge on prestigious panels such as the 2017 WARC Innovation Awards.
What Inspires Will
“I call myself a Behavioural Futurist. Most futurists (people who study the future) are focused on the future of technology. But I’m interested in the future of people: consumers, citizens and employees. While I’m captivated by trends around technology, economics and so on, my primary interest is in how such trends will affect consumer attitudes and behaviours.
“I do what I do because I’m passionate about people. I’m interested in how people’s attitudes impact all areas of their life, from politics to leisure. I think people drive the world. From technological products to political parties, long-term success is invariably driven by genuine popularity. My book ‘The Next Big Thing (Kogan Page, 2009) was an attempt to illustrate how much consumers contribute to trends.
“This passion for people has always been with me. Before I knew what ‘psychology’ meant, I was fascinated by what motivated people’s actions or words, and owned piles of biographies. With age, I became obsessed with creative movements, from Punk (the first movement I was ever involved in myself) to Pop Art. I needed to know how and why a particular movement began, and grew, in a particular time and place. And I was inspired by my parents: my mother worked for Oxfam, trying to ensure all people had the same chance, and my father was a university librarian passionate about treating all his own equally.
“Growing up with such attitudes really helps me in my job today. It feels easy to grasp opposing perspectives, and predict what will happen across different social and psychographic groups.”
Hard And Soft Data
“I’m a bit of a dual personality: an extrovert nerd, a rock’n’roll geek,. I love the inventiveness and freedom of the creative industries, but I also love the hard facts and numbers of commerce.
“I was inspired to go into the business by two people, both of whom came from the Arts. Pop Artist Andy Warhol showed me that the business side of art could be creative in itself and I put his quote ‘Doing business is the greatest kind of Art’ on my cubicle wall when I worked at Virgin Records. And Mike Baldwin, the fictional factory owner in Coronation Street – no, really – who made owning a business look cool. I actually met Johnny Briggs once, the actor who played Baldwin. I was in the middle of my Jarvis Cocker-style fashion phase and when I told him he was one of my inspirations, he looked pretty surprised!
“My two favourite subjects by far at school also played to this duality. History appealed to my factual side and English Literature to my creative one. Both subjects still help me in my current role. A love of history might seem strange in a futurist, but it helps me understand how we got to where we are now, and how events might play out in future given how they did so in the past. Meanwhile, literature offers insights into the psychology of individual motivation, and feeds the creativity I need to make ‘illogical’ leaps into the future.
Duality also shapes my tastes. I like both ‘high’ culture (Victorian novels to arthouse films) and ‘low’ culture (science fiction to video games). The former gets my intellect working, the latter my creativity.”