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Learn how to spot trends early and create more compelling marketing campaigns in our latest article.
As a marketer, you’re essentially in the business of trends. At any given point, you’re making, chasing, or amplifying trends.
Pursuing trends can be tricky. If you’re too early, you can end up over-investing in something that eventually fails to take off (remember 3D TVs?). If you’re too late, you risk drowning out in the noise, or worse, coming across as unhip and out of touch.
While there is no exact science to spotting trends, there are plenty of tools and tactics that can make your job easier.
In this post, I’ll share a few of these tactics. You’ll learn:
Rule number one of trendspotting: keep your micro and macro trends separate.
A micro trend is the difference between OLED and LED TV demand during the holiday season. A macro trend is figuring out whether people will even have TVs in five years.
As a marketer, you deal closely with micro trends on a day-to-day basis. While this can help you run sharper short-term campaigns, it can also blind you to the broader changes taking place across culture, technology, and your industry.
Keeping a keen eye on macro developments is crucial for running a better business, and, by proxy, better campaigns. Spotting large scale macro changes - such as the emergence of NFTs or AR/VR - can help you retool your business with the right skills early.
While there’s no fixed recipe for spotting macro trends, I will share some of the ingredients in later sections below.
Micro trends don’t simply pop into existence. More often than not, they emerge from a broader macro trend.
For instance, the pandemic and the resulting work from home trend drastically shot up demand for web cameras and office chairs. This increased demand was a direct result of the work from home trend.
If you were selling computer accessories, you could have deduced that given the shift to working from home, products that help create better home offices would be in demand.
Drilling down this way from a broad trend to a narrow micro trend is a great way to zero-in on underserved audiences and untapped channels. Start off with a known macro trend, then work your way down to specific products, channels, and ideas that you can use in your campaigns.
AnswerThePublic.com is a good place to start your search. Simply plug in a broad trend and you’ll get a list of questions that can be the springboard for dozens of micro trends.
For example, plugging in “virtual reality” shows me this:
Each of these questions can help you drill down to smaller trends. For instance:
Use this to spot underserved markets. Maybe once you start digging in, you find out that there is a mismatch between available media space and demand for virtual reality content - a gap you can help fill.
Want to know what’s going to be popular in the next few weeks or months?
Simple: follow the people whose job it is to make things popular.
Influencers, for better or for worse, shape trends (and the resulting demand). Get a bunch of powerful influencers onboard, and you can convincingly change a season’s dominant fashion colors and favorite song.
Of course, there’s tons of noise in this signal - influencers frequently promote ideas in bad faith. But despite the low hit rate, any trend-focused marketer should have a keen eye on her industry’s leading influencers.
If a sufficient percentage of influencers start repeating the same idea (organically or otherwise) and reinforce that idea over time, it can very well jump from stray thought to confirmed micro-trend.
While Twitter, Instagram and TikTok are obvious favorites for tracking influencers, keep an eye on Substack as well. Substack’s audience is much smaller, but its email-focused, paid nature makes it highly engaged.
When it comes to consumer trends, few can compete against the treasure trove of data online retailers have. Amazon, Alibaba, Walmart, Etsy, etc. know what’s in vogue much before any industry trend analyst.
Keeping a close eye on these retailers can help you spot an emerging trend - and all the sectors it affects, directly and indirectly.
Many of these retailers frequently release trend reports as well. This report from Amazon, for instance, highlights the emerging trend of “social exercising”. If you’d spotted this trend early, perhaps you could have pivoted a fitness brand’s marketing strategy in time.
If you adopt this approach, it’s important to connect a micro consumer trend to broader market changes.
For instance, on Alibaba’s Top Ranking Products page (a great source of micro trend analysis), you’ll find strong demand for furniture and home accessories. Coincidentally, this demand coincides with a peak in lumber prices and home sales across the US.
You can deduce that desperate homeowners and builders are shipping in furniture from overseas to fulfill local demand.
If you were handling marketing for a furniture brand, messaging that addresses this supply gap would likely be successful.
This is just one example of how digging through online retail trends can help you improve brand messaging.
There are broad macro trends and there are shorter micro trends that might last a few weeks, months, or seasons.
But what about something that trends for a day or two and vanishes a week later?
You can call these “nano trends”.
Nano trends are usually in reaction to a current event. They typically trend on social media for a few hours or days, inspire a bunch of memes, and aren’t talked about again.
For instance, when there was a power outage during the 2013 SuperBowl, Oreo jumped in almost immediately and came up with this viral tweet:
The power outage - and this tweet - trended all weekend, earning Oreo tons of engagement and free association with an iconic brand (SuperBowl).
Tapping into such nano trends can be wildly effective, but it has to be done fast. If this tweet was sent out a day after the power outage, it would be late - and unfashionably so.
Essentially, to take advantage of nano trends, you have to adopt a “startup” approach to content creation. Any content that requires multiple edits or approvals will likely take too long to go live. But with a startup-like approach, you can churn out content, tapping into trends daily or even multiple times a day.
This startup approach should focus on:
Of course, you first need to figure out whether a nano trend is worth tapping into. While social listening goes a long way, you also have to trust your gut.
Fortunately, if you adopt this startup approach, you’ll create enough content that even if a few pieces don’t hit, you can still average out better results by simply out-producing your competitors.
One of the best sources of insight about upcoming trends is a brand’s existing consumer base.
Knowing what your followers are talking about can help unearth new insight, fads, and obsessions. It can also help you take corrective actions in case your current marketing strategy isn’t yielding the right results.
There are two aspects to social listening:
The first goal of social listening is to understand what your customers are feeling about a product or campaign at any given time. If the sentiment is positive, your goal should be to amplify it. If it's negative, you need to address it quickly before it goes viral.
For example, Coca-Cola frequently retweets and responds to people who profess their love for Coke.
Simply knowing what your customers are saying at any given point can help you amplify your messaging or mitigate a disaster faster.
Brands don’t exist in isolation. Customers who love your products will have a variety of likes across music, cultural icons, and ideas.
Social listening can help you lean in on these tangential conversations and discover ideas and trends you can tap into. Maybe your customers talk a lot about a hot new fashion brand that you can collaborate with. Or maybe they’re all using VR headsets and would love a custom virtual brand experience.
Trend reports are usually the last place to spot new trends. By the time an analyst has identified, analyzed, and synthesized a trend into a succinct report, it’s likely already gone mainstream.
Consequently, marketers often tend to ignore trend reports. There’s a widespread belief that these reports are for industry laggards, not pioneers.
Ironically, this also makes trend reports extremely valuable. If something is ready to be accepted by industry laggards, it also means that it is likely to stick around. Thus, you can invest more heavily into the trend and still retain a lead on newcomers.
In other words, don’t look at trend reports to find new trends - there are plenty of better sources for that.
Rather, use trend reports to confirm the durability of an existing trend. If a trend is being shared in the mainstream, it is also likely ready to be accepted by the mainstream. This way, you can pivot your marketing strategy more strongly and get even better results while still retaining your edge.
As a marketer, you need to have one ear to the ground. Knowing what your customers want and what your competitors are creating is the first step towards crafting a competitive marketing strategy.
Use the tactics I outlined above to spot trends early. Tap into social channels, track retail sales, and look for trend confirmations in mainstream research reports.
When you finally do find a trend that’s ready to pop, make sure to swing into action quickly. By using an agency management tool like Workamajig, you can streamline your workflows and produce content much faster - just in time for emerging trends.
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