Around the globe, trends constantly wax and wane, bringing hype and buzz in their wake until they get re-absorbed into the collective consciousness. By trendwatching, you can spot these trends in the advertising around us, in the media entertaining us, and in our social lives.
Relevance, nostalgia, and aesthetics all contribute to the creation of a trend, but one variable that cannot be accounted for is newness, or innovation. Since the virtue of an innovative trend is in its total originality, it cannot easily be forecasted. But it’s possible to infer these innovations by spotting the ebb and flow of trends, and their relationships to cultures, societies, and market segments. This way, we can capitalize on the “next big thing” early, and use trendwatching to mine for true inspiration.
The Value of Trendwatching
The main product of trendwatching that should interest you is profitable innovation. A trend is an indicator of something that is bigger than us, channeled through an existing and stable consumer need, desire, or want. Trend-driven innovation makes you feel in the “now,” in the know, and is a huge benefactor to any business. Thanks to technological globalization, thousands of professionals and amateurs are posting their findings in innovation and creativity online for everyone to see. These valuable resources are endless; you just need to know where and what to look for.
The main product of trendwatching that should interest you is profitable innovation. A trend is an indicator of something that is bigger than us, channeled through an existing and stable consumer need, desire, or want.
By observing and understanding what’s popular and in full swing in the global consciousness, you can gather insight from the major and the minor, the mainstream and the fringe, the cusp and the bubble. By trendwatching through a neutral and removed point of view, you can watch the rise and fall of trends and capitalize on what is noteworthy. But first, you must ask yourself if the trend has potential; the only way to know is to run it through a company checklist. Ask questions such as:
- Does this trend influence the company’s vision?
- Does this tend lend itself to new business concepts?
- Does this trend provide our brand with new branding tools?
- Does this trend provide you the tools to communicate with those already part of the trend, and show them you understand what excites them?
All this boils down to whether or not you are “in the loop”; if you’re not, then you have some work ahead of you.
The Role of Trends in Shaping Markets
There’s never been a more exciting time to be in the business of trendwatching. An overflow of insights, spottings, reports, and live feeds streaming through the global arena, all provide access to a variety of potent strategies. There is more to trendspotting than simply following what’s trending on Twitter or getting shared on Facebook; mixed elements that touch on the technological realm, as well as cultural movements, form a gravitational pull that can draw in a massive, international audience.
As human beings, consumers don’t change that much over time. They like being comfortable and content. Their deep needs and desires mostly remain the same, but can always be catered to in new ways, especially with the technological capabilities of today. Anything from changes in societal norms and values, to a breakthrough in tech, to a rise in prosperity can cause a shift in trends.
The most successful innovations often satisfy existing, dormant needs in new, attractive, and intuitive ways. Apple has done this fantastically well with their release of the iPod back in 2001, which satisfied the need for fast, mobile, and convenient access to music.
This innovation spawned tons of copycat MP3 players, which in turn paved the way for the digital music market, which has become the focus of today’s music industry. Apple once again repeated the act when they released the iPhone, and people recognized the need for an Internet-capable mobile phone with camera capabilities.
Today, smartphones populate the multi million dollar mobile phone market, and the apps they run have become a vast market of their own. Both of these Apple products addressed the needs of consumers in simple and functional ways, which explains their vast success. They are two striking examples of how purveying to emerging consumer needs can radically influence the market, and even transform it altogether.
Essential Advice on Trendwatching
Tracking consumer trends is one of the ways you can gather inspiration and help invent new profitable goods, services, and experiences for, and with, your customers. The creativity that drives some trends makes them worthy of widespread exposure, and your business could be the vessel that a trend takes to spread high and wide. There are, however, a few pitfalls of which to be weary.
First, be wary of information overload. The Internet is a powerful trendspotting tool, but you need to sift through its massive collection of information if you are going to find a few gold nuggets.
Second, pay attention to whom the trend resonates with. One critical mistake that trendspotters and brands repeat over and over is to assume that a given consumer trend will resonate with all consumers. In reality, not all trends have universal appeal, and not everyone will welcome a given trend with open arms.
Third, be aware that every trend has a corresponding “anti-trend.” Spotting these is another type of trendspotting altogether. Just be aware that anything new and little-known will always have some amount of negativity associated with it. As a trend gains traction in the marketplace, this negativity diminishes, but so does the trend’s potential for innovation.
Fourth, don’t assume that you can spot a trend by deducing it from the fashion world. The fashion world is incredibly diverse and exciting, and can pioneer entire business models; but ultimately, it is only one part of the world of consumer trends. It does not define consumer trends, and criticism within the fashion world itself is often disconnected from the mainstream’s own preferences.
Cultivating the Right Attitude
It’s important to keep an open mind when trendspotting. If you don’t, then you will miss the potential for innovation that trendspotting can provide. Your professional interests must be broader than your own personal tastes. You might not find a particular innovation exciting, but others out there do.
Make sure the trends you’re exploring are not just about your own ideas and scenarios. You want to be the humble reporter of trends, delivering feeds of trends and fads without prior judgment. Ask yourself why people are excited; what’s the reason behind the hype?
By maintaining an all-encompassing view of the world, you will become better at tracking trends and interpreting them within their own context. It’s important to find guidance on what you already navigated in your trendwatching. It’s too easy to get lost in the world of trends, and if you stick to your own industry, you will greatly limit your own potential sources of inspiration, and you will miss critical changes in your customers’ expectations.
If you are to be successful, you need to closely observe, but not judge, the world around you. So, go out there, and develop a point of view that can open a window into the future of consumerism.
You must treat your competition as a potent and direct source of inspiration. Whatever they are not doing, following, or seeing needs to be at the forefront of your company’s initiatives, and fast. If you simply obsess about what they are doing, you’ll just end up copying them at every turn. To become a trendsetter, you need to look at where your competition is not.
Never be too quick to dismiss anything; trends can take a while to resonate with customers and take off.
Some of the resources available to spot trends in products and consumer thinking are:
- Websites, blogs, magazines, and books
- News, newsletters, and newspapers
- Web alerts
- TV, movies, and radio
- Trade shows, fairs, and seminars
- Clients, colleagues, friends, and competitors
- Street life
- Consultants, researchers, experts, and universities
Every firm or company needs a “trend group,” even if that group is made of only one person. Trendspotting is more of a state of mind than a formal occupation. Start a weekly or monthly trendspotting session with a few people who are interested in new findings and upcoming trends. Dissect these trends and their driving motivations, and discuss their relevance. Perspective is crucial; by brainstorming and digging for parallels between trends, you can get a lot out of trendspotting.
Introduce real-world examples of how other firms are already cashing in on a given trends, and point out what respected brands are doing. Don’t forget to include your competition! Use visuals to back up your analysis, and demonstrate why these are trends worthy of consideration, whether you like them or not.
Lastly, share the trend experience. Don’t make this a one-man show: contribute to the collective wisdom. Spread the latest news or viral hits, and help get everyone on the same page. The more people are aware of a trend, the more momentum it will gain until it becomes a juggernaut in the cultural landscape.
Trendspotting can be highly rewarding, but the proof is in the pudding. This is not to say that you need to drop everything you’re doing and dedicate twelve hours a day to hunting down the latest “thing.” The bottom line is, you simply need to do more of it. With a little luck, the proper resources, and an open mind, you can turn a trend into a golden opportunity for innovation.
Individual trends usually fall within broad categories, or macrotrends, that have a wider reach as they adapt to the various markets and cultures of the world. For instance, the trend towards elegant and simple UI in smartphones, which brought us the iPhone and the touchscreen, is part of a broader macrotrend of simplicity, which has been influencing business and design for decades.
In the following articles, Matt Watson, creative designer and co-founder of WATSON CREATIVE, explores ten macrotrends that have affected nearly every aspect of business and design in the last century. By studying these, and relaying them to your own segment of the marketplace, you can discover pathways to individual trends that are directly relevant to your own business.