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The True Value of Trends Insight is Knowing When and How to Apply It

Trends are an easy bandwagon to join; however, companies need to consider if they are right for their brand and its goals before hopping on.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas Series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Amber Davis will be speaking at IIeX North America (June 12-14 in Atlanta). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX NA. Click here to learn more.

It’s easy to be dazzled by trends, and saying ‘no’ to adopting the latest for your own brand can be tough – especially if it appears to be giving your competitors an edge.

Jumping on the bandwagon can be fruitful — although it can be about as ground-breaking as using hackneyed idiom in strategy advice. The key is knowing when that jump is appropriate for your brand and its goals.

Festivals, for example, have become a feeding ground for brands cross-industry.

From fashion, beauty and retail brands helping festivalgoers create the right ‘look’ – think Coachella sponsors Sephora with its Beauty Bar offering the “hottest new festival make-up trends”, or Hewlett Packard, which created a lounge where visitors could selfie themselves to oblivion in a blackout photo booth capturing 120˚ photos with customizable lighting effects. In each instance aligning the brand with such an event makes sense – a specific need for a specific audience is served.

Of course, that is not always the case.

The reputation and value of trend research has morphed in the past 10 years, with many businesses now viewing it as mission critical when developing new products and brand strategy. But excitement over leveraging the zeitgeist can sometimes get in the way of truly understanding its defining values and conditions. If one wants to sell resistance and rebellion, for example, one may need to point to something to rebel against (nota bene: in most cases, wigs and ergonomic bottle shapes are not compelling enough).

Identifying trends is as much about looking outward as it is inward and should be a ruthlessly exploratory experience – inspiration can and should come from neighbouring industries as well as one’s own. A skincare brand, for example, can benefit from looking to sportswear for inspiration, while also keeping an eye on food trends.

Retail is an industry in the midst of a far-reaching exploratory moment, driven by a plethora of factors – from the growing preference for experiences over things, and an increased desire for less clutter, to the realities of tech innovations that continue to streamline the three-dimensional world. The result of this kind of exploration can be seen in the expansion of the sharing economy into more varied categories. California-based Wags Lending, for example, works with pet stores to lease pure-breed dogs to its members, while Bloomerent enables couples to share bridal flowers.

It’s a shift that can be applied to businesses across categories, from fashion to perishables, though only when serving an actual lifestyle need, rather than merely playing “me too”. Time-sharing lingerie, for instance, may be a tougher sell than renting contemporary art.

When considering how best to innovate around a trend, whether it means launching a new product range, store concept or even engaging an emerging demographic, it’s important to consider two things:

1) Is there a brand appropriate way to execute?
2) Are you acting out of the fear of overlooking an actual consumer need or just missing the bandwagon?  

On the theme of inspiration, here are my three top reads:

The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, by Kevin Kelly – by situating contemporary technology and innovation in a larger history – a continuum even – Kelly’s analysis soothes some of those keeping-up-with-the-times anxieties that can lead to a ‘me-too’ way of thinking.

The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space by Wolfgang Schivelbusch – this book offers up a model for thinking through the far-reaching implications of the emergence of time-space-paradigm shifting technologies. When thinking about the potential impact of autonomous vehicles, for example, on say, retail, medicine, publishing, dating, the service economy or anything else, the past offers some interesting possibilities worth considering.

The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, by Albert Camus – in its own way this book offers a reminder of the base emotions, anxieties and desires that underlie a lot of consumer choice – whether rational or irrational.

If you’re interested in hearing more about the use of trends insight, come and hear my talk at IIeX NA: [Lowe’s Showcase] Retail 2030: How an Unusual Partnership Applied Innovation to Long-term Strategy – Tuesday, 13 June, 11:00-11:20am.

This year I’m particularly excited to hear from Grant McCracken, author and cultural anthropologist. Aside from being one of the most elegant writers on consumer behavior, some of the ideas he brings together in Dark Value have really rattled – in a positive way – my thinking around choice and price.

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