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Tracking the Elusive Trend
Holding traditional corporate viewpoints tends to blind marketers to trends. Their perception of what trend spotting involves implies that the trend already exists and awaits their notice. Rather than researching a wide range of examples as parts of a possible whole, many of those who see themselves as trend spotters lazily promote fast-fading fads as real, up-and-coming social forces.
Those with industrial expertise may suffer tunnel vision and miss input that comes from unfamiliar sources. Corporate peer pressure can transform conscious bias or wishful thinking into a self-serving forecast. Even scientists who have credible data may lack the insight to interpret it from the human angle. The press compounds the problem by offering trend predictions that are too unrealistically broad to play out over the long run. The work of discovering real trends is different. It requires curiosity, observation, thoughtful analysis and practical application. Successful trend predictors observe the ever-changing present, noting details for later reflection. They seek connections among industries and ideas.
Helpful Habits of Trend Curators
Becoming a trend curator calls for thinking like museum curators who combine apparently isolated pieces into a connected collection that tells a gripping story. You can combine bits of information with your original insights to detect and foresee a trend’s narrative. Trend curators exercise several deliberate habits:
- They cultivate curiosity with thought-provoking books and documentaries, seek a range of diverse viewpoints and always ask questions.
- They are observant and pay close attention to details.
- They are fickle in their attention, so they can examine many ideas briefly and file them for later use.
- They are thoughtful; they take time to consider others’ views and share their own views coherently.
- They are elegant in their style, and present their concepts with eloquence and simplicity.
“The Haystack Method”
Catching a trend flying by within a barrage of information is as unlikely as finding a needle in a haystack. Yet if you break the barrage down into its individual reports, behaviors and ideas using the Haystack Method, you may see connections that form the basis for trends. The five steps of Haystack Method are:
- Gather stories and ideas from a wide range of sources, including broadcast and social media, books, magazines, lectures and personal conversations.
- Aggregate the ideas, grouping them by demographics, human needs and behaviors, or according to any other connections that appear.
- Elevate those aggregated idea groups into wider patterns that form them into a trend.
- Name your trend with a simple, recognizable, yet not clichéd brand; try collective words, alliteration or a new tweak on a familiar phrase.
- Prove that the trend is viable and offers a unique take on a cultural or social shift that will affect widespread behaviors, now and into the future.
Trends in Culture and Consumer Behavior
The trend toward “Everyday Stardom” reflects the ubiquity of social media channels, which encourage people to share their private lives with the public. Consumers display ever-more intimate information in their search for memorable, shareable experiences. Selfies, tweets and photo walls imbue a person’s cyberlife with a sense of recognition, even celebrity. Retailers who set out to fulfill consumers’ innate need to express such daily star-power customize their services to each customer’s Internet-posted desires.
On social media sites, typical consumers craft themselves more attractive online personas. The online self-portrait is a key component of that finer version. This edited self reflects the trend of “Selfie-Confidence.” The person who posts selfies chooses the most flattering photos taken in the best light and at the venue. This cyberself represents the ideal self the poster aspires to be. Dismissing selfies as narcissism ignores the Selfie-Confidence trend. Staged attractiveness on the Internet bolsters a positive self-image. A 2014 survey showed that 65% of teen girls feel more confident when they post flattering selfies.
In the “Mindfulness” trend, meditation has traveled off the yoga mat and into the corporate mainstream. Its goal is to maintain a constant degree of self-awareness, social awareness and stress-soothing perspective. Google, the World Economic Forum and the Seattle Seahawks use this yoga-inspired method to encourage team relaxation, brainstorming and bonding.
Trends in Marketing and Social Media
For decades, corporations sponsored traditional charities with hard cash, earning PR for social responsibility. Today, consumers demand “Branded Benevolence.” Corporations caught up in this trend must show they operate a conscience and have a commitment to good works and employee participation. Coca-Cola promoted its social conscience by installing twin vending machines in India and Pakistan, long-time enemies. Along with a streaming camera, each machine showed an interactive touch screen linking the two countries. Buying soda required two people touching hands across the border. This video went viral as consumers enjoyed promoting world peace.
With the rise of Internet shopping, retailers discovered the “Reverse Retail” trend, a concept that combines e-commerce with physical shopping. New stores operate as showrooms, allowing shoppers to try clothes on or try product samples for future purchase online. This trend emphasizes lively entertainment at the showrooms. Customers leave with positive memories of warm, personal service. These feelings, more than any purchases, bind consumers to the retailer.
In the “Reluctant Marketer” trend, ingenious companies encourage customers to advertise for them. These firms concentrate on creating a product or experience so superior that consumers spread the cyberword. This subtle trend skips commercials in favor of well-researched, helpful content. Tomorrow’s marketing promises a blend of customer care and social media buzz.
Trends in Media and Education
Marketers have created the trend toward “Glanceable Content” – offering brief contests, short cartoons, heart-stopping headlines and other bite-sized bits to capture the web surfer’s roving eye. The National Center for Biotechnology reported in 2013 that the average person’s attention span had plunged to eight seconds, down from 12 in 2000. The average goldfish can manage nine. Curtailing their attention span helps consumers gain control over the constant media barrage.
Corporations track web users’ product and media searches and choices. Simple tracking helps companies tailor their products – and media qualify as a product – more accurately to consumers. In early 2015, Apple took a giant leap, patenting a technology that virtually senses a consumer’s mood. Companies can use this “Mood Matching” to recognize consumer emotions and offer tailored content. This radically alters media and advertising strategies and customer service.
Social media offer new access for amateurs and semi-professionals to conduct social experiments, even on a global scale, using “Experimedia.” For instance, in 2014, freelance journalist Esther Honig emailed her photo to designers in 25 countries along with a simple request to make her beautiful. The retouched images the designers sent back reflected the full spectrum of cultural beauty biases. Honig used her experience to write a feature story on Buzzfeed.
Trends in Tech and Design
Your internal hardwiring responds to imperfection. Flaws or quirks that distinguish you from cookie-cutter conformity capture attention and affection. The trend of “Unperfection” surges from Ugly Christmas Sweaters to Ugg boots to the rise of artisanal products. Flaws inherent in handmade, artisanal items make them unique to each buyer, which in turn makes buyers feel unique and emotionally bonded. Retailers respond by offering intentionally flawed products.
Consumers welcome innovative technology that makes their lives healthier and safer. Maintaining the resolution to use these apps, however, fades over time. New apps take charge of waning willpower with “Predictive Protection.” Fitness trackers use inactivity alerts to urge owners to exercise. Apps notify you of poor posture, or awaken you in sync with your sleep cycle. Many car models feature blind-spot monitoring and assistance in changing lanes. Some automakers are experimenting with self-driving cars to remedy error-filled human control.
A controversial trend, “Engineered Addiction,” caters to the consumer’s natural compulsion to indulge in bad habits that feel good in the moment. Game apps epitomize a built-in manipulation of the game player’s need for success, entertainment and loyalty. The Khan Academy website harnesses this habit as an incentive to learn. Students who complete a topic or donate their time to tutor their classmates earn badges to mark their success.
Trends in Economics and Entrepreneurs
Corporations mount vast data gathering and analysis operations to improve and tailor their products. Now, everyone can use his or her own “Small Data” – collected from online activities and the myriad apps, from exercise bands to teakettles, that track personal details. Small data records your behaviors, ideas and ideals over time. The small data analyst can find useful insights about his or her personal attitudes and behaviors. Small businesses can benefit from their small databases of current customers by bonding with them through feedback surveys or by encouraging customers to share websites and personal stories.
For decades, major industries like entertainment and publishing maintained product control through hierarchies of distribution. Now, the Internet directly connects music and programs to a streaming audience. Eliminating the middleman this way epitomizes the “Disruptive Distribution” trend.
The “Microconsumption” trend focuses on charging only for each transaction, no matter how minute. Shared-ride apps like Lyft and Uber have forced companies to reconsider the payment options they offer. DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg predicts that future movie streaming services will charge according to screen size, offering entertainment by the inch.
Applying Trends to Your Business
Successfully forecasting trends requires searching for and applying unlikely connections across the cultural spectrum. Connect apparently unrelated trends to create new approaches for your business. For example, recognizing the public’s desire for both nutrition and fun food, the ad agency CP+B pushed baby carrots with its “Eat ’Em Like Junk Food” campaign. Organize “Trend Workshops” to apply these trends strategically to meet your business goals:
- “Customer journey mapping” – This helps you apply trends like Everyday Stardom and Reverse Retail to each phase of your customers’ buying process.
- “Brand storytelling” – Use the Unperfection trend to share an emotional aspect of your product. Branded Benevolence emphasizes employees’ personal commitment by referring to their individual histories.
- “Business strategy” – This explores ways to update or enhance major components of your business model, such as brand positioning, marketing or payment processing, using trends like Mood Matching, Selfie Confidence and Microconsumption.
- “Corporate culture” – To inspire a positive workplace, encourage your employees to connect as a team and to invest in a personally meaningful mission statement.