Tapping Minitrends

Posted on December 13, 2010 by Marian Salzman

This is the 11th in a series of 12 posts expounding on the 2011 forecasts in the annual trends report from Salzman, president of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR and an internationally respected trendspotter.

How does a trend get legs? Some trends start small and grow elephantine as if by force of nature, like the rise of women in power and the strength of Asia, both unstoppable trends here for the long term. Others, especially the ones that really spell opportunity for innovators, can need nudges—as well as that special brand of foresight that always looks prescient in retrospect. The people who succeed in today’s fast-paced world are those who have their eyes on the future and on such opportunities.

Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes, the book by Mark Penn, worldwide CEO of Burson-Marsteller, who writes a weekly “Microtrends” column in The Wall Street Journal and was the pollster who identified soccer moms in 1996, is perhaps the definitive source on minitrends, but he didn’t see that the U.S. election was one big trend: Change. That said, minitrends are exactly what communications people can tap to generate news, to be in and of newsmaking.

A trend’s growth factor depends, like all things do, on timing: Is the right technology in place in the right hands for a tech trend to take off? Or, if it’s a new product or service, has it hit the price-point sweet spot in such a way as to get a handle with the right number of the right people?

Here are some minitrends I’m calling out for 2011:

The rise of African consumers. The continent of Africa has more than 1 billion people, with 35 democracies (compared with nine a decade ago). And as an “emerging market,” investment bankers are bullish on it, citing the IMF’s forecast for a growing GDP in sub-Saharan Africa—home to 84 percent of the continent’s population—at 5 percent this year, accelerating to 5.5 percent in 2011. Havas Worldwide, Euro RSCG Worldwide PR’s parent, has invested in South Africa, such as with a sports and entertainment marketing arm, and, indeed, South Africa is increasingly seen as an entry point for doing business on the continent in various industries, but the trend will be pan-African. MIT’s Technology Review reported that cell phones are one technology that have migrated well to Africa despite the poor infrastructure and political instability that have been barriers in the past. The report described customers using them for applications including digital banking and payments. Leading to another minitrend…

Money-transfer services. This is mobile banking, aka mBanking or SMS banking. A BusinessWeek report (in 2007) quoting forecasts from Nokia Corp. estimated worldwide mobile subscriptions to grow to 5 billion by 2015, when two-thirds of the people on earth will have phones. Clearly, while mobile banking spells convenience in the developed world, in the developing world it can mean the difference between banking and not banking. TMCnet has cited reports that emerging markets will collectively compose about 60 percent of the mobile banking market share in 2013. Gavin Krugel, director of mobile banking strategy at the GSMA, “goes a step further,” says Mint.com, claiming that ‘…one billion consumers in the world have a mobile phone but no access to a bank account.’” The GSMA Development Fund has started Mobile Money for the Unbanked, and its intention is to deliver banking services to those who live under U.S.$2 per day.

Mobile health care. Our colleagues at Havas Health, Larry Mickelberg in particular, tipped us off to this trend. Vodafone, which Technology Review cited as having big expansion plans for Africa, estimated in 2009 at the Mobile World Congress that there are 2.2 billion mobile phones in the developing world but only 11 million hospital beds. The U.N. Foundation reports on its initiatives at the intersection of mobile tech and health care. In South Africa, for example, Project Masiluleke’s AIDS hotline through SMS showed a 350 percent call volume increase (click on the report’s Current Impact & Future Needs link). This all demonstrates—as I said in a previous trend—the strong benefits for traditional businesses that adopt social-good profits into their mission. For health nuts in the developed world, medical apps for smart phones—did you know you could track your blood pressure with your iPhone or Android?—are the latest craze.

A smarter way to read. Mobile readers are, of course, here to stay, with reports that the iPad tore out of Apple stores at a rate of 8.8 per hour on the recent Black Friday. Estimates are calling for about 7.1 million iPads to be sold this year, doubling in 2011 and nearly tripling in 2012. E-readers are already great ways to read magazines and newspapers, but new free apps such as Flipboard, which put people’s SoMe shares into magazine format (flipping pages) for easy readability, make these devices smarter and more ergonomic all the time. Jeff Bezos told TechCrunch that dropping the price of the Kindle—whose sales beat hardcover book sales at Amazon by a rate of 143 to 100—to $189 saw sales triple. So even though conversations might continue about people “preferring” real books and magazines to e-readers, great interfaces such as the New York Times app—and one the Times touted, Reuters News Pro—make reading even complex articles onscreen perfectly comfortable. There’s every gain in portability, too; they don’t even have to be removed from carry-on luggage in the airport security line.

Photo Credit: creativecommons/Global X

Small-scale solar. Even though the recession has hit big solar projects in the developed world, in emerging markets I forecast small-scale solar energy growing in leaps. Renewable Energy World magazine is strong on technologies such as micro-inverters, which eliminate the need for a central inverter in a solar installation. Given that in 2009, it was reported that nearly 44 percent of the population in the developing world lacks electricity, it is also estimated that by 2020 developing countries—especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America—will represent huge markets for solar. The challenge of making such installations cost-effective, experts argue, lies also in getting these countries to adapt (and funding widespread initiatives to this end) to energy-efficient lightbulbs and other efficient appliances so that outdated household gear doesn’t put undue power demands on a system that indeed promises to change the face of the developed world’s energy-use patterns.

As ever, technology is a key driver in minitrends; the developing world and mobile tech will prove to be a new direction for opportunities in the near future.

“Mad as Hell—and Only Getting Madder”

“Talk to the Hands”

“Net Gain”

“Public Mycasting System”

“Booting Up”

“Yes, We Can…Reinvent Ourselves”

“Reinvention, Part II”

“Separated at Worth”

“Gender Bender”

“Who’s in Control?”

Wrapping Up

Photo Credit: creativecommons/Global X

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    What Others Are Saying

    1. John Vanston, Ph.D. December 15, 2010 at 3:52 pm

      I read with great interest your recent post regarding several “minitrends” you see as important in the new year. I recently wrote the book MINITRENDS: How Innovators & Entrepreneurs Discover & Profit From Business & Technology Trends, http://www.minitrends.com/book, in collaboration with Carrie Vanston. In this book we define Minitrends as emerging trends that will become significantly important within the next two to five years, but that are not yet widely recognized. They are of a scope and importance to provide great professional, financial, and personal opportunities to those who are alert enough to recognize them, perceptive enough to realize their importance, and clever enough to take advantage of them. Clearly the Minitrends you call out in your article are important ones for entrepreneurs, innovators, decision makers, and investors at all levels.

    2. Pingback: 2011: The Year of the Brain (and Other Trends) « Euro RSCG Worldwide PR

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