Steve Jobs ability to look forward from iPods to digital music drove Apple’s growth. (Photo by … [+]
There’s nothing like being in the right place at the right time. Smart companies spend big money on research and development to ensure that their offerings are up to date and to make sure they don’t miss out on lucrative new opportunities. Traditionally, this practice has been the sole stomping ground of qualitative and quantitative research firms, but not anymore. After all, nobody anticipated that trend-spotting itself would become a trend. Of course, forecasting and analyzing trends is not new. What is new is the emergence and widespread adoption of trend-spotting by organizations as part of their innovation processes and as a way to anticipate what their customers will want in the future.
Why is this happening now? Many business leaders have lost confidence in traditional consumer research methodologies, especially when applied to innovation. Did Borders see Amazon coming? Why not? Why didn’t Blockbuster react to the early emergence of Netflix? Why didn’t Gillette see Dollar Shave Club? How did Nikon miss the “GoPro” social media trend? How did the entire entertainment industry miss digital music? What’s happening now is the convergence of technology and the increasing acceleration of business and this is driving senior executive’s quest for certainty and security in an unsure business world. The problem is they are so focused on their everyday business, they might not see a disruptive trend coming.
That’s where you come in. If you want to become a brand and marketing expert or perhaps start a company, you better be able to understand what is happening today and how that might impact tomorrow. Here are some tips to perhaps become a better trend spotter:
Become a better reader. Regularly read the leading publications and websites affecting your business. This could include industry publications, trade association sites, major newspapers, key business magazines, thought leaders and influential bloggers. So many trends start overseas (London, Paris, Tokyo) or on the coasts (Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, New York), so make sure you read about what’s going on in those cities. At first, scan information from a wide variety of sources from international news on down to niche bloggers focused on specific aspects of your industry. Obviously, there’s a tsunami of information available. Use technology tools like RSS feeds, e-mail newsletters, Google Alerts or Twitter to keep on top of it all and get the info you want delivered to you when you want it. You’ll quickly learn which sources are valuable and which you can jettison.
Talk trends with people. Talking to people is an equally important trend-spotting tactic. Start by getting involved in your industry’s trade associations and attending events both online and offline. Network with other marketers, both in and out of your industry. (I promise, you’ll gain some of your most valuable trend insights by talking to people in completely different industries.) Take advantage of social networking tools like LinkedIn and Instagram. Start or join groups on the networks and see what people are buzzing about. Pose questions about trends you’re seeing and ask for feedback or comments. Also, watch your competition to see what they are doing.
Watching trends. There’s no substitute for getting out in the marketplace. Make it a point to regularly go where your target customers hang out. If your customers are teenagers, that might be the local mall. Well maybe not considering what’s happening to malls right now but even that is a trend. If they’re businesspeople, it might be the region’s “power lunch” restaurant or office park restaurant center. Spend some time simply watching and observing. What are people eating, doing, wearing, using? What stores or restaurants draw crowds and which sit empty? Trade shows are a great place to get trend ideas, even if you’re not looking to buy anything it’s worth attending select trade shows to simply to see what might be next.
Think about trends. As you begin regularly gathering all this information, you’ll start to develop a “trend-spotter mind.” As you absorb and mull about what you’ve read, heard and observed, you’ll start to make connections and observations that will lead to business-boosting insights. The news about rising interest in plant based food, the growth of free shipping and delivery services, the Millennial population which wants it now, spawns a new industry of food delivery to work or home.
Paraphrasing Steve Jobs, he once said in order to look forward you need to look backwards (perhaps the last ten years) to see what has happened in an industry and then create and connect the “future” dots. Well, be more aware and collect a lot of dots. Perhaps you can connect them and you’ll be able to look forward. One thing you can definitely do that is fairly easy: be more curious. Pay special attention to two large population groups, Gen Z and Millennials and watch what they are doing and consuming.