Do You Have a Future in Trendspotting? 9 Ways to Tell

Posted on January 3, 2018 by Marian Salzman


Just as a matchmaker might possess a second sense about which people will fall in love, as a leading trendspotter, I’ve developed a methodology to foresee how a culture will react to a new idea, product or experience. Yet, some key character traits make people good trendspotters regardless of their chosen careers and interests. In this updated excerpt from “Agile PR,” we tell you how to know whether or not scanning is in your DNA:

 1. You’re a voracious and eclectic reader. At the heart of everything a trendspotter does, pattern recognition is typically based on a systematic survey of newspapers, magazines, websites and other media for indications of important changes that occur through time. Trendspotters’ reading lists include anything and everything, from perusing Go Fug Yourself while getting a pedicure to scanning The Atlantic over breakfast to devouring The Economist during lunch, from noodling the latest postings on when you get your coffee to sleepily reading the local paper on the train back to Hometown, USA.

2. You have a sharp wit. Trendspotting is a fast-paced art, and although the science of it requires thoughtfulness, the art is selling your perspective in 140 characters or less, including that branded hashtag. Trendspotters can summarize enormous cultural shifts within brilliant tweet-like expressions.

3. You’re nerdy for data. Anybody with the skills, patience and interest to dive into reports and stats produced by bodies such as the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the various arms of Pew and the thousands of academic institutions now searchable on the internet will have a leg up in the trendspotting game. Diving into all this data definitely won’t earn the swagger points of hanging out at SXSW or CES, but for the keen-eyed trend sleuth, they can turn up some fascinating insights.

4. You have the curiosity of an anthropologist. The best way to find out what people are doing is to watch them doing it in real life. Rather than asking what people are wearing to parties and what they’re drinking, for instance, just go and see for yourself. This approach requires skilled observation and a great familiarity with the context in order to grasp cues and interpret what they mean, but even a minute or two can be enough to identify a look or behavior that’s out of the ordinary. Somebody who appears to the unseasoned eye as an out-of-touch outsider behaving eccentrically might actually be the alpha who is onto something that will spread like wildfire when others catch on.

5. You’ve got a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Trade shows, fashion and retail shows (including the big fashion weeks in New York, London and Paris, plus the MAGIC show in Las Vegas), auto/motor shows (Detroit, Geneva, Paris, Shanghai), advertising and PR creativity shows (e.g., Cannes Lions, D&AD) and buzzy magnet events such as Sundance and SXSW pull in hordes of people at the cutting edge. Attending such events might not yield any trendspotting scoops (everyone else will be looking for scoops, too), but it’s a surefire way of catching up and staying caught up. Ideas- and innovation-focused festivals like the Aspen Ideas Festival and Fast Company Innovation Festival are making it especially easy to sniff the wind for what’s next. Consciously or otherwise, attendees will be eating, drinking, thinking and talking about what’s new and hot. Conferences that are considered essential to attend vary from year to year—for example, in 2018, CES will be more influential than ever while the significance (and expense) of the Cannes Lions is suddenly questionable.

6. You’re a scenario planner and big-picture thinker. Often, the most seismic trends flagged by trendspotters began as bits of random information that were then placed into a bigger strategic context of implications and opportunities. For example, if the statistics shout loud and clear that growing numbers of 18- to 29-year-olds are either not leaving their parents’ homes or are returning to live there after college, this is a trend, but not a particularly newsworthy or insightful one. A trendspotter would delve deeper, combing through statistics that also show that millions of twentysomethings have delayed entering the workforce by staying in school, taking nonpaying internships or seasonal work, joining AmeriCorps or finding other creative ways to stay busy in the absence of actual employment. They will explore how decades hence these trends will have influenced delayed adulthood and new parent–child dynamics, spawned new businesses, art movements and social enterprises and resulted in financial, social and psychological issues. 

7. You have intimate knowledge of your audience. My method of trendspotting requires me to know my consumer inside and out. It’s not the stuff that’s splashed on the front page about said consumer, but the stuff he’d whisper in your ear if he were your lover. It’s the ability to get that intimate, “insider” intelligence that makes a good trendspotter a great one. 

8. You manage risk well. A big part of this business is risk management. While you’re gaming around the what-ifs, you have to anticipate the worst, plan for the best and have three or four backup options at your disposal if you want to survive.

9. You know how to write a sensational headline. A trendspotter has the ability to attract media interest, bringing trends to life and to the forefront of newsmaking. This pursuit is not at all about personal promotion. Rather, you must think in terms of furthering the interests of your employer or clients. (When I popularized the “metrosexual” man a decade ago, it was for the purpose of creating a marketplace for SAB Miller’s Peroni. Same goes with my “sleep is the new sex” concept, which reverberated with tired people around the world—and The New York Times. I dreamed it up primarily as a way to market flat beds for an airline client.) Excellent trendspotters have developed an instinct for a “hook,” something that will resonate with the media, always hungry to latch on to the next big thing.

Read up on the pleasures and pressures of a lifetime of trendspotting. And to stay up to date on the trends we’ll be monitoring in 2018, follow us on Twitter at @HavasPRUS.

[photo credit: Scott Swigart]

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