Business is obsessed with trends. From the well-known fashion trends of the season to technology trends like new social media platforms (think TikTok), creation tools (Canva, Figma and the likes), or technologies (hello Vision Pro), today’s business leaders and managers are on constant look-out for what’s next – and on edge when they feel unable to predict the next big thing.
As someone who spends a considerable amount of time on trend tracking professionally, I’ve observed that the amount of trends reports published, as well as the emergence of specialized forecasting consultancies in the past decade, has grown exponentially.
NOTE: I attempted to research some numbers to back this observation, but could not find any specific to trend forecasting. I did find a considerable market growth for the global consulting industry, especially in North America and Europe, where trend forecasting has its roots.
How we got here
But not just consultancies and agencies have gone into the business of trends. Experts and freelancers now publish their own trend papers on Linkedin. So it’s not just a business. It’s a marketing opportunity – and a quite lucrative one. From decision makers and executives, managers to professionals, if we’re in the business of doing business, we inhale these reports, webinars, and posts as if they’d magically give us an edge. I’d even go so far to call it our version of xstasy – trend xstasy. (Comparison made without any drug addiction knowledge, but I find it makes the point quite well.)
In the 80s and 90s, only a tiny number of global giants thought it interesting to look at market and consumer developments beyond sales projections. Fast forward to today, every company has a specialized Research & Development, Consumer Insights, or Market Intelligence department – or any version thereof.
💡 FUN FACT 💡
In the 80s, IBM went so far as to set up a department of anthropologists, to better understand and anticipate consumer behavior across cultures and regions. Anthropologists are just the right people for this, too, because they are trained in the art of observing and listening without initial judgement, and translating the strange into something more familiar.
Why this matters
Trend research and forecasting is more than a business in itself, though. It matters because it helps organizations take a wider look at what is happening across markets, industries and consumer groups. This knowledge is then used to make decisions on what platforms, technologies or topics to invest in.
For an organization’s lasting success, trends have an even greater importance when it comes to organizational resilience (which I dive into here).
Trends are a tool to open up and shift our perspective. Yes, you can use them to see what competitors are doing to engage audiences in new ways. And sure, trend research is a good first step to understanding changing media consumption and consumer behaviors.
But above all, trends should be utilized to first inspire, second contextualize, and finally, create opportunities – and a better (business) world.
It’s all about perspective
Many reports and research are commissioned with a set business objective in mind, oftentimes in the name of new products or business opportunities. Scanning the business horizon and going down different rabbit holes, with no set goal in mind, can yield surprising insights and ideas – and be much more inspiring.
When looking into trends or reading the various reports published on a regular basis, it’s important for us to let go of our business mindset. With that I mean our industry, our role, our job. Basically, our way of viewing our business.
Like anthropologists, we need to look at things from every possible angle, not just our own. We need to step out of our thinking and “make the strange familiar”.
What we learn needs to be contextualized, translated into something we can begin unpacking and working with. What saddens me most is when I see brands blindly adopting trends without taking the time (yes, it needs that) to understand the underlying drivers of new behaviors or technologies.
Let’s take TikTok as an example. Many argue that it has been driven by our youth growing up with advanced multimedia (video) and technology (mobile devices) realities. Digging deeper, we recognize that the decreasing cost of mobile bandwidth, an increasing number of server facilities and capacities worldwide, as well as a natural desire to inhabit spaces that are grown up-free also play a role. So does the counter movement of the past decade’s over-curation, material status and hyper-perfection.
Looking at the platform’s rapid growth from this perspective suddenly opens up new strategic priorities. It’s no longer just about being on TikTok with appropriate content to engage new audiences. It becomes much more about understanding what’s important to a consumer group that is quickly growing of age, but not yet strong enough from a purchasing power perspective.
What’s more, we an take this trend to better understand what role data privacy has in today’s youth’s values. Things that are heavily discussed in media do not always accurately depict our non-business realities. Another thing to look out for, since we spend so much time in our own industry bubbles (the reality-warping effects of feed algorithms).
Trends should trigger curiosity-driven, open-ended explorations
Just like we approach brainstorming with an open mind and free of judgement, trends need a similar approach to provide us with the greatest benefits in form of unimagined connections and new business context.
When you read your next trend report, I hope you’ll look beyond the obvious and begin scanning the wider webs of connections with keen, unfiltered curiosity.
Cover image: Karina Tess via Unsplash