How do some people seem to know about the next big thing way ahead of everyone else? Because they know how to recognize early signs of change. That leads them to key trend spotting techniques and trend marketing.
What is a trend?
A trend is a general tendency or direction in which something’s going to move, develop or change. It’s defined by a shift in mentality or behavior that then influences a large group of people.
Pay attention though. This is not to be confused with ‘fashions’ or ‘fads’ which increase dramatically followed by an almost immediate decline. Trends last much longer and have a much greater impact on society.
A new behavior. A new attitude or opinion. A new expectation. Any of these can form the basis of a trend. Underneath our definition lies a model that juxtaposes multiple dimensions of external change against human nature, which, at its most fundamental, doesn’t change.
Basic needs such us status, creativity, self-improvement don’t change. The way we address these needs through new products and services changes and forms the basis of a new trend. Can you give an example of a fundamental trend that doesn’t change? – The trend changes. Basic needs stay the same.
But it’s not enough to simply understand a trend. You want to know where and how trends will emerge and crucially, which opportunities they will present to you.
Why trend spotting?
It’s important to be on the lookout for the newest trends so you can plan more effectively for the future and introduce more successful initiatives to your business. By focusing on what will happen next, you can make more informed decisions in less time, saving a lot of energy and money in the long run.
Trend marketing … fundamental trend elements
There are three fundamental elements that drive all trends:
- Basic Needs
- Drivers of Change
The secret ingredient of trends, however, isn’t any of one of these elements. Rather, it’s the tension created as the three elements interact with one another. This tension can best be identified by understanding customer expectations and by looking for gaps between what customers want – both now and in the future – and what they are currently being offered.
Understanding this enables you to hit the sweet spot of trend-driven innovation with your new offering – when you beat customers’ expectations and resolve this tension. Think about how Airbnb changed our expectation from travel towards a more authentic experience, how Uber changed the way we expect to move through the city or Tesla! Who would have thought an electric car could also be sexy to drive?
Listen and observe
Today, there’s too much broadcasting and not enough receiving. Everyone is focused on pumping out information, but turning off our signal and receiving and digesting, that’s a skill that has disappeared.
How do I do it? I like to immerse myself in a topic by reading about it. I schedule an hour in the morning, and again before bed to this to reading. I schedule it. I also carefully observe things going on around me. It is amazing how much you can learn. Pay close attention and take notes.
Distinguish between short-lived and long-term
Strive to identify big changes that create lasting problems that lots of customers will be happy to pay to solve. The idea is to wind up with a business model in which revenues are much larger than costs for a long period, not one that limps by on slender profit margins before competitors take even that away.
To filter out fads, talk to the potential buyers of the solution to the problem. The more frustrated they are, the more likely they are to pay for a solution. In extreme cases, potential customers may be willing to fund the development of solutions. Also, talk to experts. While they may not be able to write checks, they can provide insights and point to possible solutions that customers could not even imagine.
Trend marketing careers … follow trustworthy thought leaders
When selecting your sources for news and information, find reputable resources you can trust. These are people who are experts in their field, brands whose information you find to be reliable and valuable.
I follow some marketing bloggers who have been in the business for years. Most of them I’ve found through other people I follow or trust. When their blogs are too gimmicky or inauthentic, I stop reading. Be selective and filter out the noise.
Look beyond your boundaries
You have to look around and ask: ‘What are the general trends going on, even though they haven’t affected me or my business yet?’ For example, many noted that people weren’t yet ready to buy music by the download. Few also noted that the way they found new music was shifting.
They could see how companies could become major players launching new music, such as Apple through its commercials, or Starbucks with its stores. What was the trend? It was where people weren’t necessarily interested in discovering music by walking into a record shop or watching MTV anymore.
Trend marketing brands … connect the dots
Once you’ve collated information and the latest news from your chosen area, you can start to group articles together, assess and find connections between the elements.
Tools for collating and bookmarking your findings:
- Evernote – A great tool that lets you assign photos, docs, scans, notes, for future reference.
- Pinterest – A great content sharing service that allows members to “pin” images, videos and other objects to their pinboard for future reference.
- Delicious – An online social bookmarks manager that lets you save, organize and discover interesting links on the web.
- Freemind – great free tool for creating mind maps
- Old fashioned pen & paper, sticky notes & white boards!
Key trend spotting techniques … test assumptions
Once you have connected the dots between your findings and found re-occurring themes and connections, you can then assess the potential trends to see how they are doing in the current landscape, and make potential predictions for the trends future using the following:
Google Keywords: By using Google keywords you can see the average number of searches that your potential trend is typed into Google each month, and compare them to other trends and keywords.
Google Trends: Google Trends is really good for seeing the fluctuation of trends, how well they’ve done in the past, how well they’re doing now and make predictions of how well they’ll do in the future.
Then ask yourself the following:
- What are the needs that the trend satisfies (is it a trend or fad)?
- How many people won’t be able to or be interested in taking advantage of the trend?
- What will affect the speed of the trend?
- Where is the trend now – who’s currently using it on the innovation curve?
Once you have a solid idea that’s on trend and that will survive within the current landscape, find out the following:
- What demographics are you targeting (get to know them and ask them questions)
- What is the investment required and how profitable is the idea?
- What’s the longevity of the concept?
The basic tools of the trend tracker are seeing, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. In other words, every sense that can be used to get information about the world should be employed in looking for upcoming changes. Start by reading and watching everything you can. That should include general interest news outlets, trade publications, blogs, government reports and casual conversations overheard in elevators. Be especially alert for problems people are talking about.
Create a competitive advantage
To get the biggest benefit, be the first mover. It is rare for any single entrepreneur to be the only one who sees an opportunity. Most will hesitate and not move at all. Many others will not move swiftly enough. Lasting competitive advantage usually goes to the first entrant to stake a market out and capture customer loyalty. Those who come later usually have to settle for slimmer profits and more competition.
Being first is not enough, of course. Business history is littered with well-financed startups directed by well-regarded leaders who committed too much, too early and in the wrong place. So test before committing. Again, look for revenues that overwhelm costs and customers who are overjoyed.
For every trend that supports a future startup star, any number go ignored, leaving potential customers searching for solutions and opportunities for established companies to fill their needs. But it only takes timely identification of one trend to get a startup in flight, and these techniques can point you to the one you need.
There is no silver bullet when it comes to spotting trends. Trends reveal themselves over time from a variety of places. Spotting a growing pattern means you must have your eye on multiple sources long enough to notice changes. This takes some intentionality, but it doesn’t have to tie up all of your time.
Take care on choosing sources
Just as it took multiple sources—bloggers, Facebook, word of mouth—to realize that the time is ripe to visit Colombia, spotting a trend in other industries is much the same.
As you put together a list of blogs, news sites, social media channels, and other sources, here are some tips to help you hone in and filter extraneous content:
Look outside your industry
In addition to watching what’s going on in your niche, it often pays to expand your horizons. Our world is so interconnected; true trends pop up everywhere. Keeping an eye on developments in other fields can sometimes be key in predicting changes closer to home.
The bottom line
Many successful businesses were started by entrepreneurs with an ability to see a trend before everyone else. They were able to take their insight and capitalize on it in a new and creative way. Businesses from Uber and Lyft to Airbnb and HomeAway are just some of the most recent examples of entrepreneurs benefiting from emerging trends. But just because it’s been done before doesn’t mean it is easy to see trends first and find ways to capitalize on them.
Smart entrepreneurs are always looking for an edge. They want to know how they can identify trends and how they can use that skill to build and grow a business. Fortunately, there are steps you can take develop this skill yourself. Here are five keys to spotting trends and capitalizing on them before your competition does.
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Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he blogs on topics that relate to improving the performance of your business. Find them on G+, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
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