How-To

Trend Forecasting

Courtesy of Trendwatching.Com

It’s All About The Trends!

Let’s face it: never before has knowing about emerging consumer trends been as important as it is now. Luckily, finding out about trends has become much, much easier. In a world that’s fully connected, where tens of thousands of smart professionals and amateurs are spotting, observing, thinking, and innovating, and putting their findings online for all to see, insanely valuable resources are up for grabs.

Yes, this avalanche of trends, insights and new business ideas may cause information overload, but there is definitely an exciting innovation overload, too. The only thing that separates YOU - passionate CEO, marketer, entrepreneur - from being in the know is the time to devote to absorbing these sources, if not adding to them yourself.

So the world truly is your oyster, and yet, when we ask professionals if and how they spot trends and, even more importantly, how they apply those trends to their own brands, a lot of challenges and confusion still seem to exist. So let’s quickly look at why it’s crucial to stay on top of the latest trends, and then move on to discuss how to thrive in this trend arena.

Well…Why not? In a nutshell, tracking consumer trends is a crucial way to understand what consumers are doing now and may be doing next. Which ideally should inspire you to dream up new goods, services and experiences for and with your customers to meet and anticipate their needs.

And the latter should lead to more revenues, more profits. So consumer trends are as much about making money as anything else in the business world. Don’t believe us? Hey, Tom Peters seems to be on board!

So, what is a trend?

How about: - “A statistically significant change in performance of measured data which is unlikely to be due to a random variation in the process.”

That won’t get the creative juices going, though. So consider what we came up with a few years ago, and which is still holding up well: - “A manifestation of something that has ‘unlocked’ or newly serviced an existing (and hardly ever changing) consumer need, desire, want, or value.”

Example? One of the core human needs is to be in control, or at least to have the illusion of being in control. No wonder then, that the online world (a new technology), which firmly puts the individual in the driver’s seat, is so addictive. We dubbed this manifestation ONLINE OXYGEN, and as the Net continues to put even more control in the hands of ordinary consumers, we’re spotting sub-trends every day.

It’s more than…

Trend watching is about more than spotting the next color, fabric or hot designer. Sure, black may be back, and miniskirts may re-conquer the catwalks in 2008, but the consumer arena is infinitely more complicated than that. Oh, and trend watching isn’t about ‘hard-core’ futurism, either. Better leave gazing into a crystal ball, predicting what’s going to happen 15 to 20 years from now, to futurists and scenario planning departments. Trend watching is about observing and understanding what’s already happening, major and minor, mainstream and fringe. Once you fully understand what’s driving trends, why it is that some things take off and others sink, it’s time to figure out which of them will affect your business, and determining the impact of the ones who do. Next? Figuring out how to counter the possible threats, and capitalize on the many opportunities. To quote fellow trend watcher Michael Tchong:”Catch the next wave before it catches you”.

Point of view.

Which brings us to having a point of view about the world around you. The more trends you track, and the more able you are to put 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. Back to harsh reality, though: how many marketers do you know who could give you a concise answer if asked about, let’s say, the future of consumerism? In the same vein, how many business execs do you know who are capable of explaining the main ten (or five, or even three) trends shaping not only their industry but the entire business arena? And how many CEOs can skillfully lay out a kick ass plan of attack based on their understanding of the ‘New Consumer’? (No, Steve Jobs doesn’t count! ;-) Too many challenges and old habits are apparently stopping individuals across organizations from realizing that their future depends on having a well-honed point of view. Why?

Challenges.

Last year we conducted a large number of unscientific yet very telling surveys, sessions, and conversations, all dedicated to unearthing the challenges faced by professionals who want to make trend watching an integral part of their jobs or corporate activities.

If you’re facing one (or maybe all three) of these challenges, you know how hard it can be to remain upbeat about making trend watching an integral part of your daily work. The good news is that none of these challenges are life-threatening. In fact, as stated at the beginning of this document, everything you need to overcome these challenges is available.

Our recommendation?

Start your own corporate TREND UNIT. Today. Even if that unit is just you (in which case it’s really a TREND YOUNIT ;-). The TREND UNIT is not some multi-million dollar/euro/pound affair. It doesn’t have to employ a staff of five (though that eventually would be nice ;-). It’s more a state of mind. It can be low-cost, unauthorized, and grass roots if need be.

So don’t wait for permission, which for now will solve the corporate culture challenge. Find a few unaccounted for hours per week and start to weave your own web of 24/7 resources, especially free ones, even if those sources are just well categorized links on a company-wide accessible wiki. This will, at least for now, solve the resource/money issue. Then fine-tune your point of view, while inviting like-minded colleagues to brainstorm on how to translate your first findings to your brand and your organization (hereby addressing challenge number 3). We guarantee that within weeks, your TREND UNIT will be the focus point for trend-minded colleagues and other contributors. Let’s look at some more detailed ways to go about this.

1. Management and corporate culture.

L’enfer, c’est les autres. This seems to hold true in particular for innovative minds stuck in less-than-innovative corporations. Some replies to our surveys resembled a bitch-fest more than anything else. Boards stuck in a retro ’50s mindset. Obsession with shareholders instead of what’s driving today’s consumers. CEOs dismissing every new trend, every new business concept because “they would never use that”. No process in place on how to deal with bottom-up innovations. And so on. Is your trend project faced with fierce competition from the people who should actually be its greatest fans? Then consider this:

  • Sometimes, it’s a language/perception issue. The word ‘trends’ may still evoke images of flamboyant fashion designers caressing delicate fabrics, or crazed teens in Japanese parks dressed in full Louis XIV garb. So try talking about the Future of Business. Or the Future of Consumerism. Or Drivers of Change. Or Currents (From Ian David, MD of McKinsey & Company: “Companies that ride the currents succeed; those that swim against them usually struggle. Identifying these currents and developing strategies to navigate them is vital.”)

  • Make sure the trends you’re trying to explain are not just about YOU or your ideas and scenarios. Don’t make it an airy fairy one (wo)man show. Instead, be the messenger, the humble reporter. Show real-world examples of how other firms are already cashing in on a specific trend. Show all-round respected brands, and of course as many as direct competitors as possible. Never let it be just about YOU!

  • Don’t present numbers, but do have them ready at all times.

  • Make it visual. Pictures. Videos. Or, even better:

  • Let people try stuff out. And conceptualize, demonstrate! More on the latter in version 2.0.

2. Resources and mindset.

Weave your web of resources. Yes, we know. There’s too much information, or not enough. Some information is too expensive, while some free information is not relevant enough. And above all, time to thoroughly and properly track developments is lacking. In the next few months, we’ll turn this section into an extensive reading and resources list. For now, check out some first thoughts on where to spot, and DO re-read VIRTUAL ANTHROPOLOGY.

Checklist: where and how to spot trends

Which trend (re)sources to track and utilize? Here’s what works for us: - Papers, websites, blogs, news, newsletters (online and offline); also see VIRTUAL ANTHROPOLOGY.

  • Magazines (online and offline), books
  • TV, movies, radio
  • Seminars, fairs, trade shows
  • Eaves-dropping, chat rooms, conversations
  • In-house trend units
  • Advertising at large
  • Other trend firms, thinkers (philosophers, architects, sociologists), management gurus
  • Street life, travel
  • Friends, colleagues, family
  • Customers(!)
  • Trend reports
  • Consultants, researchers, experts
  • Universities
  • Shops, museums, hotels, airports
  • Catalogues
  • Competition

For full article, visit : Trendwatching