Panicking over the swarm of tweets, blogposts and journalists ranting about the next big thing in marketing technology?

Don’t worry, here’s your step-by-step guide to deciding whether to buy, wait or ignore.

We’ve all been there. I remember feeling it myself when all of the sudden you couldn’t open an industry magazine, a marketing blog or look at your business Twitter stream without feeling like a complete idiot for not having bought and implemented an attribution management platform.

‘What on earth is attribution management?’ I asked myself, since within weeks it seemed everyone else was doing it. By now, I think I know what it is. And I think I know I don’t really need it since our marketing mix really isn’t much of a “mix”. And since we don’t have a large enough quantity of impressions, clicks or conversions to really build an attribution model. But for a few nerve-wrecking weeks…

So here it is: your definitive three-step guide to deciding whether to invest or to call quits on ‘the next big thing’. Writing this I run the risk of being the utterly uncool and unpopular guy who wants to spoil the party before it gets going. But here goes.

Step one: Is it all hype or is there hope?

Firstly, take a deep breath and try to determine if this is really something you believe will be important. Everyone’s favourite example seems to be Second Life, so I’ll stick with that. Mostly because it really makes an excellent point.

In hindsight it was always obvious that it wasn’t going to work. A lot of us really wanted it to because how cool would it have been, right?

But you need to be the Devil’s Advocate here. You are considering investing your most precious assets: time and money. And since your bet is going to be more or less the same, you need to be diligent about the potential size of the pot you’re betting for and the odds you’re betting against.

If it doesn’t look attractive, there’s no need to be a first mover. Wait. Then wait some more. And when the novelty wears off, if it still looks an important trend, it might be time to start putting some time and money towards it.

Stop if: you think that best case and only by a long shot it will be long-term important and you can make a small return on your time and money (i.e. Second Life).

Proceed if: you feel confident that this will change marketing  Facebook).

Step two: Will it ever work for me?

Just because something is generally an important trend, it doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Everyone talking about the need to have Twitter as a crucial element of your online marketing mix shouldn’t get you overly excited if you are marketing adult nappies and your key demographic is 70-year-olds.

For my own part I spent way too much time researching viral video production and distribution strategies when I did strategic planning agency-side in 2007. Until it dawned upon me that my key clients were B2B companies targeting plumbers in eastern Europe. Not the most Youtube-savvy audience.

In fact, the most effective response mechanism for most campaigns was a fax machine (no, really).

So while it was immensely interesting (and we were already planning our celebration party when winning the Grand Prix in Cannes), I soon turned my attention back to looking into trade magazines for plumbers.

Did not win me much street cred at the agency, but saved my client from wasting a lot of time and money.

Stop if: your industry or your audience are unlikely to be affected by this (or are simply going to be very late in the cycle).

Proceed if: you see that this ”next big thing” will impact your industry or your target audience early.

Step three: Does the 10,000 hour rule apply?

Made popular by Malcolm Gladwell in his book ”Outliers”, the 10,000-hour-rule suggests that it takes that many hours of deliberate practise to master any given skill.

Even if that doesn’t quite apply to becoming a reasonably good user of Mailchimp, it certainly applies to becoming an ‘analytics ninja’ of Omniture, Webtrends, Google Analytics or Coremetrics.

So ask yourself a big question here. One that’s nearly impossible to answer. Will it take me ten thousand hours to master this new thing? And if the answer is ”yes”, take a long think to find out if it’s worth it. At all, but especially right now.

In my experience all of the marketing technology phenomena go through the same cycle: the innovators (software) develop for the innovators (marketers). Once it’s starting to reach mainstream new players come along with new products to make it available for the broad audiences.

Think of campaign management. Siebel and Unica lead the way but HubSpot are making it broadly available. So the right decision might be to either wait or to look for the provider with the limited functionality that actually allows you to get started and see returns in less than 10,000 hours.

Stop if: you only see 10,000-hour solutions and aren’t ready to invest that much time.

Proceed if: are ready to put in the hours – or if there is a “…For Dummies” alternative that better fit your needs.

I realise that this is 2011. And I realise that I’m not bleeding-edge with the above advice. But trust me, it really will pay off.