Great companies recognize early trends in their customer base and marry them with solutions to build relationships and loyalty. Think of Mark Zuckerberg recognizing college students’ need to connect over time and space, Chipotle recognizing a trend toward healthy hearty eating in the fast-food space or Timberland recognizing the blue collar appeal of their boots with the urban market.
Every company can profit if they can understand what trends are telling them. To begin, it is important to be looking at emerging indicators that shifts are happening. Here are ways YOU can begin trend watching within your budget:
- Use the RSS feed from trend watching websites like Gawker, Iconoculture and Faith Popcorn’s Brain Trust. You certainly wont learn much that is going to rock the world when you subscribe to the same trend watching sites as McDonalds and L’Oreal. But you WILL pick up on what they find significant and then apply that discretion to other things you see.
- Spend time on eBay and etsy. These two sites are the playground of grass roots marketers. Look at the kitsch and the handicrafts to get a sense of the sensibility that will impact future main stream designs.
- Watch the runway shows. Fashion sites now let you see Milan and Paris shows in near real time. Look at the fashion coming out of Japan and Brazil. Even if the trends wont affect your business, look at the colors and the textures and the tone to understand the coming trickle down fashions that will hit main stream in two years.
- Listen to unfamiliar voices. Check out college radio stations, alternative literature magazines, foreign design magazines. I spend time with European and Asian cooking magazines, for example, to see the way food is designed for photo shoots years before they are used the same way in mainstream American ads.
Start making connections. What does everyone dislike? Losing keys? Remembering passwords? Gray cubicles? Which new trend could be applied to those problems? To succeed at trend watching, you have to be a student of the world and then start making insanely creative connections. Anyone can do it. It just takes applied study and practice.
My favorite example: Izzy’s Ice Cream here in Minneapolis who realized one of the hardest things for customers to do was select a single flavor for their cone. Scoopers patiently tapped their toes while customers hemmed and hawed once they had it down to two. Their solution: to create the Izzy’s Scoop. Every single cone gets a small “tasting” scoop of a second flavor for free. Customers LOVE the extra taste – and Izzy’s has a differentiating offering.