Trendspotting in a more connected world

10 Feb 2007|Added Value

I remember a time not too long ago when traveling to Europe or Asia meant being transplanted in an entirely different landscape filled with new foods, products, advertising, you name it. There was newness everywhere and it was an incredible source of inspiration. I always felt like such an adventurer, scouting for the next big thing to share with my peers. Trendspotting tended to be focused around identifying stuff that was emerging, hot, different or just timely. It was easier.

The world is a much different, much smaller place today…

Now, when I land in Munich or Barcelona (or even Seoul) so many of the same products and advertising exist, creating a host of new challenges in spotting trends that are emerging or unique. There are a bunch of shifts at play causing these changes, including more global trade, the mainstreaming of the wired world, and the social networks and instant sharing this allows. The landscape for trendspotting is growing a lot more complex.

So, as marketing and innovation strategists, what do we do about it? In a recent conversation with a trends expert I respect—Kathryn McEntee—we talked about how one needs to think about trendspotting differently as we grow more digital and more connected. It’s been top of mind since. Some of the questions I think are important to discuss:

How does a more connected world change our ability to isolate trends within a culture or audience?

Pre-internet, one could identify what was emerging and new because it was easier to isolate what was happening within a unique community. The cultural, social, and consumer influences causing that community to change were relatively isolated.

Today, changes are occurring on many more levels—they’re also happening on a global and digital scale. As the landscape of change broadens, we need to continue to open our minds to the global, macro shifts influencing a community, and use that as one of the filters for understanding how trends are emerging at a more granular level. It’s through a comparison of global/local influences that we can find important patterns in how people behave and what they find meaningful that ultimately allow us to identify trends with mass potential.

How is the mainstreaming and cycling of trends changing among audiences that are increasingly connected?

Information is more easily shared, so one might assume the mainstreaming of trends happens far more quickly. Another way to look at it is that trends morph at lightning speed (I guess that’s not that fast anymore, but you know what I mean) and defy traditional bell-curve adoption patterns.

Overall, we need to pay more frequent, consistent attention to what’s happening in the market to monitor these changes. In major industries—especially those tech or youth oriented—it is no longer okay to apply last year’s trends report to today’s strategies.

What’s the importance of subcultures in today’s connected world? What’s different about how they emerge?

There are so many more opportunities to connect in our digital lives. It doesn’t require face to face contact, or an admissions form, or even that you excel in something. It relies on people noticing you.

Youth (like David Lehre) understand this better than anyone. But, big companies of all kinds are also acknowledging the importance of social networking today in creating new communities of interest (and ultimately, helping acquire customers). For example, Cisco is acquiring a social networking firm called Five Across, and Yahoo! just launched a beta of Yahoo! Pipes allowing people to mashup and share digital content that was overloaded on launch day. Subcultures are the real source for trendspotting in the digital world because of the connections the environment allows.

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