Following the Industry vs. the Consumer Perspective.
When it comes to driving innovation in an organization, there is only one certainty. And that is uncertainty. Because as we all work to decode the beliefs and values that shape consumer behaviors, we are faced with more change, more complicated demands, and more market volatility than ever before.
Culture is Constantly and More Rapidly Evolving
Yet we are tasked with doing more with less. And the expectation is that our ability to anticipate the future needs of consumers will be critical to driving growth for our organizations. As a result, many innovation and insight teams are rethinking how they approach understanding consumers. We are all looking for ways to be more agile, more efficient, and more accurate. Which is why it is more important than ever, to ask ourselves – is our organization following “White Rabbit Trends”?
A White Rabbit Trend is a Trend That’s Been Created by Looking at the Consumers’ Emerging Needs, Solely Through an Industry lens
It begins with an assumption driven by our industry experience. For example, say we were a bakery. We would only look at consumer’s needs in the context of baked goods assuming that trends outside this context are not relevant.
As you can imagine, this leads to the identification of trends that fit within a preconceived framework that is familiar, and similar to patterns identified by our organization in the past. And while not always the case, a White Rabbit Trend is often something we have seen embraced by others in our industry, seen in the media or that has been identified in an industry report. White Rabbit Trends are often macro-trends that others are reporting on and we gravitate to them because we are reacting to changes in our category. In other words, we look to find incremental ways to innovate by following the industry, because we worry we are late for the big party.
The problem with White Rabbit Trends is they are often, what everyone in our industry is talking about. But the allure of popularity puts you at the risk of parity. And the baggage that comes with an industry perspective is that it can often skew what is truly relevant to consumers. The industry reality is rarely the consumer reality.
Compare this to a consumer-led approach
In a consumer-led approach, we do not assume what is relevant to a consumer. We let the consumer reveal what is relevant to them. As a bakery, the goal may be to arrive at innovation for baked goods, but by starting more broadly, to understand the consumer’s relationship with food in general, and the emerging needs that are increasing in importance, we may arrive at needs that can be expressed through baked goods, that has not entered the baked goods marketplace yet.
This type of insight cannot be found in industry reports or by walking down a store aisle. But it is critical if we want to lead the market, versus following a white rabbit trend down a hole, that only leads to a crowded marketplace.
Let’s use another example. Take the trend of the ketogenic diet.
There was a time, that keto was emerging in culture, and those that identified it early enough were able to capitalize on it. After all, identifying a trend early means you can align your brand and your organization with something that will gain power over time. It is not just about being first. It is about carving out and owning a cultural artifact early, so you can reap the rewards as more people commit to it and it gains social capital.
But that time has passed keto. CNN claimed this craze had well entered the mainstream in 2018. Yet, if you look at industry news, trend reports and product launches happening right now, the industry is pushing the keto narrative.
But keto is a white rabbit trend. If you look at the culture of keto, keto is not just a trend that has reached the mainstream but consumers are already starting to find it limiting. So, it will either evolve or disappear. But if you are tasked with innovation to steal share from those that have already invested in keto, you need to identify the emerging, consumer-led trend that is relevant to a large enough portion of the population and growing in relevance in consumer culture. Growth is key.
Our prediction is that companies that do not fall down the keto rabbit hole and recognize that it isn’t about the diet, it’s about an LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) lifestyle that will catch the next wave of what consumers are looking to do when it comes to food.
When we look at a trend that we are thinking of actioning on, we need to ask ourselves a couple of simple but important questions to determine if it is a consumer-led trend.
First, where does it sit in culture? Is it still a part of the early majority of has it moved to close to mainstream for your organization to gain competitive advantage.
Second, while it can’t be too big a trend, it also can not be too small. Is it relevant to a large enough tribe or microculture of consumers to prove that it is an emerging movement that will likely grow?
Third, was it revealed to us by consumers naturally, or did we “force it out of them.” Did our bias impact the identification of the trend, or was it a “eureka” moment where the consumer revealed a need that was both unmet, but emotionally meaningful to them.
If not, it may be an industry-led trend.
This subtle, but critical nuance in understanding the difference between what is industry-led versus consumer-led can impact everything. And it can be immensely powerful in helping us understand whether we renovate or create something net new, how we package a product, right down to whom we target the product to at launch.
The reality is, our jobs are hard. We are tasked with predicting the future and trying to find a way to be certain that it will work in a world where 95% of new products fail.
The question we need to ask ourselves is will we find more certainty by looking at what the industry has done in the past? Or should we be seeking out new ways to decode what consumers are doing in the present?