10 Trendspotting Tips

As New Year approaches, many a CEO’s fancy turn to trends. From Debenhams to Thomas Cook, the dangers of ignoring consumer trends are increasingly clear. But not every company can afford a trendspotting consultancy. So how do you keep on top of trends? Here’s my Top Ten Trendspotting Tips. 


Go hunting

Obvious as it may seem, Dr Google is often your best starting point. Just searching for ‘trends’ in a sector can uncover some great data. Explore websites of research companies, consultancies, and broadsheet and financial newspapers for reports and articles. The key is to identify the unusual. For instance, after years of decline, the ‘00s saw a rise in sales of record players and board games. Just an oddity to some: but to trendspotters it was early signs of the Digital Detox trend: a reaction against technology now impacting customers across Entertainment and Leisure.


Harness the power of three

Consumers don’t adopt a new behaviour for no reason. They do so because an outside influence alters their aspirations, expectations or needs. So take a three-pronged approach. Study trends across the PEST categories to determine what those influences might be. Observe consumers for indications of which influences are actually having an impact. Then explore how that might change their needs. The way the Recession led to changing attitudes around value, own label and ‘peak stuff’ is a great example.


Consider your audience

Not every trend will impact your target audience, so focus on those that will. But remember: trends that start in one demographic frequently spread to others. Again it’s about attitudes and needs. Does a trend chime with your target’s changing attitudes? Could it solve their needs or reduce a pain point? E-commerce started among the young, but its convenience meant it quickly reached the traditionally time-poor 30-50 cohort. Also, a trend may not affect current customers, but could turn non-customers into your new customers.


Look outside

Every CEO needs to keep abreast of their industry trends. But that’s not enough. Because if you know them, your competitors will too. Plus threats and opportunities today often come from other sectors. Would Lego or Apple be so successful in the film, video game and phone markets if they’d just looked at trends in their own categories? Take a look at other industries, especially where customers share similar needs or aspirations to yours.


Be more Swiss

Great trend predictors are dispassionate. You may not want a thing to happen. It may be bad news for your company. But if something looks like a trend and barks like a trend, you’d better get ready for it. In the 1960s, oil was in plentiful supply and no-one dreamed that could change. But by imagining ‘the unthinkable’ – supply might decline and prices rise –  trend pioneer Shell was able to stockpile enough oil to see it sail safely through the 1970s energy crisis: something its competitors failed to do.


Play consequences

Shell proved the power of thinking ‘what if’. It’s like a game of consequences. If A happens, what might that mean for B? If technology X is impacting one department, could another be next? And what happens if you combine it with technology Y? It’s a great game to play with colleagues or board members. I predicted the decline in teenage drinking this way. Data showed Millennials were increasingly worried about job and college performance and social media profile: and had parents partying into Middle Age. Fear of consequences plus the traditional desire to ‘rebel’ against one’s parents made alcohol a lot less attractive. 


Think ‘consumer impact’

Talking of technology, the key here is to predict its consumer impact. Customer expectations are on a steep curve: today’s best practice is increasingly tomorrow’s table stakes. When Amazon started free one-day delivery, consumers quickly demanded it from everyone. So if a new technology arises and enables greater convenience, transparency or fun, consider how quickly your customers will expect it. 


Get help 

Don’t do it alone. Keeping on top of trends is time consuming. And you’ll get more insights by bouncing ideas around with others. Enlist your employees’ help, and reward them for every insight they provide. Google has built employee ideation into company culture: running employee polls on new directions, encouraging direct emails to senior management, and hosting all-day company-wide meetings to solve single innovation questions.  


ABC: Always Be Checking

Bingeing on trends once a year isn’t enough. Keep up to date by subscribing to regular emaIl newsletters from a range of disciplines and sectors. Most research, consultancy and media companies are happy to send these out regularly in exchange for a little personal data. Organise regular internal innovation and insight meetings, rewarding great ideas. Ask external agencies or suppliers for regular trend updates.  


Be trend-hungry

One easy way to pick up on trends is just to open your eyes and ears. Waiting at the doctors? Scan a random magazine to see what consumers in other sectors are up to. Sitting next to someone from another industry at dinner? Ask them what’s worrying or exciting them. You never know: it might be impacting you in a few months. I first heard about both ‘food miles’ and music streaming from random conversations in hotel bars. The trend, like the truth, is out there.