#Futuretrends, trends, trending, trend forecasting, and futurist – these are all words you would have come across if you have spent any time online in the last 3-5 years. The notion of trends has, of course, been around for much longer than that, but hashtags, famous futurists and trend talks and conferences have gained rapid popularity in the past ten years. So, what’s the big deal? Is it something worth taking notice of or is it just another short-lived sensation equal to one-hit-wonder and overpriced vegan ‘meat’?
A trend analyst tracks and looks for patterns that indicate shifts in consumer behaviour as a response to what happens in the world. Those consumer shifts, in turn, impact industries in a variety of ways that change the world. When the world changes, consumers respond to it and initiate change, and so the perpetual and continuous cycle continues, causing an ever-changing world, which trend analysts track and analyse. The next step would be for analysts to take all of the quantitative and qualitative data and start to project or forecast how changes might influence a specific industry or a particular business.
If the previous paragraph has done nothing but confused you, you are not alone. It can be confusing to make sense of all these changes and influential variables, which is why it can be hugely beneficial to consult with trend analysts, insight developers, or futurists.
Let’s look at an example to help clarify: consider the healthy food trend. Several things have caused us to reconsider what we eat and be more health-conscious. Some of these causes, or drivers, are increased public knowledge about pesticides, GMO modified foods, and the carbon footprint of foods, here the spread of awareness due to the internet has played a big part. Other drivers are the health and wellness trends that influence the foods we eat, celeb chefs and cooking programmes, and our private lives being made public through social media (how well does a plate of fresh food look on Instagram?). These drivers have all caused consumers to change their behaviour around food. These changing mindsets have initiated changes in a variety of areas – think healthy fast food, healthy ready-made meals, cookbooks, appliances, and eateries that have all started catering to these shifting consumer needs.
It has to be noted that there are always different kinds of shifts or trends, so for the above-mentioned example, not all consumers will resonate and adopt the healthy eating trend. We are, after all, still human, and we respond very differently to external stimuli – another reason why it can be very valuable to consult with experts. Skilful analysts will be able to identify the different shifts and help your brand narrow down the variations that are most pertinent to your target market.
So, isn’t trend analysis just market research? The answer is both yes and no. Trend analysis does look at market research, but it also looks at the world at large. You might be in a trend presentation and think, “what does space travel have to do with my fashion business?” Everything is interlinked in some way. We do not live in a world where industries and industry sectors are siloed; your consumers are consuming all kinds of information that will impact their decision-making in some way or another. This is where trend analysis differs from market research. Market and trend research goe hand-in-hand and using the two specialities in tandem could help brands communicate, plan, and develop much more effectively, and can support future-proofing your brand.
Marketing and market research often focuses mainly on past data and the present, trend forecasting centres around making decisions for the future consumer. The most effective use of trend analysis for brands includes the research, analysis, and forecasting work, but it also includes identifying and aligning the most relevant shifts to your particular business, cause, or markets.
A myriad of trend forecasting companies exists with most of these based in North America and Europe. It can be extremely beneficial to follow and use the information synthesised by these companies, but what does that mean for your local brand? Local analysts might be better suited to help you unpack and make sense of this information.
One of the best ways to understand the value of tracking, analysing, and understanding trends is a rudimentary example that I frequently used in my Trend Analysis lectures. We have all had those moments when we see, listen to, or watch something where you think “that’s just so me”, but what exactly makes it “so you” and how does that change over time? It is the job of the trend analyst to track what makes it resonate with you and to conceptualize, with the help of other departments, how a brand can reflect that back to the consumer so that your product becomes that thing that’s just “so them”.
The world we live in changes daily, I dare say hourly, and with this, the humans in it. Utilising the area of trend analysis can significantly contribute to branding, marketing, product development, strategy, and creating unique brand equity. So, the next time you hear the words “trending”, know that the notion exists far beyond the latest colour handbag or the most used hashtag – it is both a science and an art that can help all brands map the way to tomorrow, and beyond.