Get Savvy About What’s Next

Posted on December 12, 2012 by Marian Salzman

[Originally published on the blog of the Council of Public Relations Firms.]

Great trendspotting creates great consumer marketing campaigns, terrific innovative new products and savvy newscrafting. I know: The most famous brands in the world have hired me over and over for my trendspotting methodology, ensuring that their multimillion-dollar (sometimes billion-dollar) ideas, products or services are edgy, relevant, newsworthy and ahead of their time. My methodology? It can best be described as pattern recognition with a nosy flair.

From the beginning of my career (can it really be more than 25 years ago?), I plunged in headfirst, talking face to face with trendsetters and recruiting them to work alongside the brands we consulted with, to provide upfront and personal feedback. I married what we learned from these dialogue-interviews with routine quantitative studies, always searching for numbers that popped from the datasets, to help start to paint a story of new directions in consumer attitudes, beliefs, values, and brand and media preferences. Then and now, it is about identifying when and where to anticipate change—and to invent desire.

For 2013, we’ll see a lot of change, and I and my team at Havas PR have chronicled more than 150 trends we’re predicting in our latest annual trends report, What’s Next? What to Expect in 2013. It launches today, 12/12/12, at 120MBooks.com (the site of our agency’s brand-new publishing arm).

In launching a savvy, sassy must-have e-book of artful scientific (and even trendy) trends in electronic formats only, my goal is to provide a roadmap of what to expect in 30 newsworthy categories. (Another trend: Content is king, but print dropped dead and most of us have not been on shivah calls to the paper industry.) The most fundamental truth of what’s next (besides death and taxes and extreme weather; don’t miss the chapter “What’s Next for Weather?” since we all suffer from weather fatigue … or the “What’s Next for Fatigue?” chapter, for that matter) is unprecedented change. Those who stay ahead or on top of these changes and can surf them and communicate them to a broader group (think the consuming public) will be the winners within their industries and the world at large.

When businesses can spot what’s next—and predict the velocity of future shifts—new giants spring up seemingly out of nowhere. Martha Stewart spun the domestic-artist trend into a brand that encompasses publishing, product development, home building, television and multimedia. The Kardashians have profited from the Famous for Being Famous trend. Lady Gaga appeals to young people’s desire for individuality, but her real trendsetting is codified in her Born This Way Foundation, a nonprofit focused on youth empowerment. Gaga is empowerment—she captured and customized this trend and rode its wave, very much the way her role model, Madonna, captured and customized trends and rode them to perfection. The rest of us envy what they seem to have in their DNA, a genuine “knowing.” The late, great Steve Jobs had it, too. But most of us must learn how to spot trends and use them to our advantage, the ultimate offense for thriving in the face of change.

My own trendspotting of the now ubiquitous “metrosexual” concept (aka “men who are just gay enough”) launched not only the 2003 Word of the Year of the American Dialect Society but also everything from grooming products for straight men to mankinis and designer lingerie for men. (Then: Pop culture made the occasional male butler famous—take Mr. French of “Family Affair.” Now: Male caregivers have become increasingly more visible since we entered a multiple-year mancession.)

My style of trendspotting is more grounded in the academics of the social sciences and incorporates how to generate ideas that make consumer marketplaces and marketspaces and partner with mass media to spread them. Because trendspotting is both observational (participant/observer, ethnographic) and active, a trendspotter needs an audience to validate and spread the trend, which happens when an idea is fundamentally sound or the trendspotter’s track record inspires confidence that there must be something to the sighting, no matter how wacky it sounds at first. (I remember presenting the concept of “the prime crisis” in 2008, including a white paper on its implications, and being told, “We’ll see” and “I hope you’re wrong,” right up until The New York Times wrote that JPMorgan Chase was suspending all home equity lines of credit for homes purchased after 2001. Suddenly my “insane” trend was an everyday reality for me and many others.)

Today, trendspotting has evolved to the newscrafting passion du jour and the force that drives most of us some of the time. First you identify a trend, watch it and codify your observation with some granular insights that make it more real. Then you name it (the sexier the name, the easier it is to spread the idea) and work with influencers (those who seem to broker power in the working world and online) and the media to validate it by featuring it in prime-time news. Getting the word out ensures that there is a commercial demand to participate in moving the concept from early adopter to mainstream.

Always think, How do I spell ka-ching, or at least develop the possibility of some nice financial reward, if I (you) spot the right change and figure out how to take it or make it public and exploitable?

For a special tutorial on what’s next, we’ve arranged for our new book to be free by invitation today only. I encourage you and your staff to go to 120MBooks.com and click on Buy Now, which will direct you to Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble and other eBook stores, where you can download this 132-page roadmap of what’s now and next.

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