Knowing, understanding, and applying consumer trends and insights will forever be a holy grail to business and marketing professionals. Tracking consumer trends, then, is a crucial way to gain relevant inspiration, helping you dream up profitable new goods, services and experiences for (and with) your customers. In short, trend watching should ultimately lead to profitable innovation.
Before we carry on, here’s our definition of what constitutes a (consumer) trend (we came up with this years ago and it still holds pretty well):
“A novel manifestation of something that has unlocked or serviced an existing (and hardly ever changing) consumer need*,desire, want, or value.”
At the core of this statement is the assumption that human beings, and thus consumers, don’t change that much. Their deep needs remain the same, yet can be unlocked in new ways; these ‘unlockers’ can be anything from changes in societal norms and values, to a breakthrough in technology, to a rise in prosperity.
* P.S. Need to brush up on your knowledge of human needs? Re-reading Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs never hurts.
In general, switched-on companies and individuals track at least three trend levels: Macro Trends, Consumer Trends, and Industry Trends.
Trend watching is about observing and understanding what’s already happening, the major and the minor, the mainstream and the fringe.
All we can say is this: whether pigs are the new cats, or pizza cones are (again) the new ‘it’ snack, these phenomena won’t dramatically change the consumer arena. At most, they’re yet another manifestation that consumers want to be unique or crave convenience and surprise. The latter are actually trends. The products are fads.
One massive mistake both trend watchers and brands make all the time, is to assume or pretend that a certain consumer trend will affect or be embraced by all consumers… Whatever catches your fancy while spotting and tracking trends, please remember that not everything applies to everyone, and that virtually every trend has its anti-trend (and yes, this also means you need to look beyond your own interests: see Tip 5).
Furthermore, the new doesn’t always kill the old…In trends, always try to figure out what the ‘and‘ is, not just the ‘or‘, and your trend (and opportunity) spotting skills will improve immensely.
Be curious and be open minded. Ask yourself ‘why‘ whenever you notice something new, instead of immediately looking for shortcomings.
Also realize that you are not necessarily your customer: your professional interests should be broader than your personal interests. Ask yourself why they are excited and which existing need has apparently been unlocked.
To become a trend setter, you need to look where your competition is not:
- Think like a (paranoid) CEO, even if you don’t get paid like one. We all need to be a specialist in something. However, we also need to be generalists, to understand the big picture (from macro trends to consumer trends to industry trends) and how we and our companies and products fit in.
- You don’t have to like every trend. So never dismiss anything too quickly.
- So instead of dismissing, ask questions. Non stop. Why is something happening? Why was it introduced? Why do consumers like it? Or why do they hate it? Look beyond the sources that appeal to your personal tastes.
- Try stuff out.
- Get rid of taboos, prejudices, dogmatism, negativity. All of this will severely block your ability to pick up new ideas, to understand your customers, and will thus cost you money.
Increased curiosity paves the way for acquiring a point of view about the world around you, for comprehension.
The more trends you spot and track, and the more skilled you are at putting these trends into context, the more guidance you’ll have. When you have a broad point of view, even tiny observations start to make sense.
The point of view you want to develop could be summed up by a succinct answer to the question: “What is the (short-term) future of consumerism?”
Establish your ‘virtual trend research centre’
Here’s our checklist of where to spot changes in consumer behavior, new trendsetting products or just super-smart thinking on where our societies are headed at large.
- Papers, websites, mags, blogs, books, news, newsletters1
- Alerts and trending services2
- TV, movies, radio
- Seminars, fairs, trade shows
- Customers, clients, colleagues, friends, family
- Eavesdropping, chat rooms, conversations
- In-house Trend Group
- Dedicated spotters network
- Other trend firms, thinkers (philosophers, architects, sociologists, management gurus)
- Advertising at large
- Street life, travel3
- Friends, colleagues, family
- Ready-made trend reports
- Consultants, researchers, experts
- Shops, museums, hotels, airports
- Trade shows
- Start ups
- Customized trend tours4
- To really get going, get Google Reader and amass feeds from every source you want to track.
- There’s a wealth of tools designed to take the global pulse, from Google Alerts to Twitter; enter search phrases or track hashtags like ‘consumer trends’ or ‘world’s first’ or a specific trend name.
- Then dive into trending topics from a range of online sources. Starting with the obvious, see a snapshot of search queries with Google Trends, then explore tweetmeme, monitter, Trendsmap, Trendistic, Yahoo! Buzz, and Bing Social.
A quick thought on naming trends: we feel it’s crucial to describe trends as imaginatively as possible.
- Arouse curiosity. Strange names invoke interest, make people sit up and listen, make them want to know more. A well-chosen name radiates the promise of a story, of something important.
- Create a common language. You will find that groups and teams will rally behind a named concept more easily than behind something generic. Speaking a common language saves team members heaps of time—they’re able to refer to a project or trend name and instantly be on the same page.
- Coin, own and track. Coming up with an as yet unknown name means it’s easier to coin something. Now coining isn’t about ownership, or claiming you’re the first one to come up with an idea: everything is already out there anyway. But it’s convenient to coin a new name, because you get to (temporarily) lead the discussion. It also facilitates tracking: googling your unique trend name will instantly lead you to other experts’ take on ‘your’ trend.
Mix and match two or three words that define the trend, creating a new word that preferably hasn’t been used by anyone else (a quick Google search will usually reveal just how unique a made-up word is).
What works for us is to have a Trend Framework: basically a long list of all the trends we’ve spotted over the years, divided by main and sub trends, and how these trends interact with each other.
The easiest way to start building your own Trend Framework is to copy consumer trends from existing trend curators. Then add your own findings. Your framework will expand quickly, meaning fewer surprises every time you spot something of interest: the bigger the framework, the easier it is to categorize your findings.
Recurring question: how do all of the trends in your Trend Framework relate to one another? What’s the context?
We normally find that consumer trends can be grouped by the core need they newly address or unlock, but that won’t show you how certain individual trends are connected. A hands-on, if time consuming, approach to finding the connections: construct a matrix featuring all the trends you track, both vertically and horizontally, and do a trend-by-trend ‘relationship check’.
Last but not least, by keeping a complete-as-humanly-doable Trend Framework, the majority of your observations will easily fit with one of the existing trends. Which means that if a handful of them don’t, you may be onto something genuinely new. So the more trends you track, the easier it will be to spot a truly new trend.
Trend Network | Once senior support has been secured, it’s time to move on to the fun stuff. Every self-respecting Trend Group will of course want to be able to tap into a network of contributors around the world, one’s eyes and ears in the streets of Tokyo, lanes of London, avenues of New York and Paris, and avenidas of São Paulo.
Where to find these contributors? Easy. Just enlist your colleagues, your friends, your family, your fans, your lead users, your mainstream customers, your suppliers, and reward them with presents, your goods or services, credits on your website or something they can put on their resume. Oh, and don’t you dare complain that the global part of this is complicated if you’re with an international firm. Since you have offices and colleagues around the world, your network is already in place and you just need to start exploiting it more effectively.
Too expensive? Hey, if we can do it, so can any other small, mid-sized or big firm. Take a look at our Happy Spotting Network and our sister-site’s Springspotters Network, which reward spotters with points that can be redeemed for gifts.
Sign up for their newsletters, tweets and feeds. They will yield enough material to start building your resource centre, your Trend Unit, your Trend Framework.