How Influencers Shared the Self-Love Trend and Shaped the market
Over the past two decades, a number of books and theories have shaped how marketing teams think about trends. While capitalizing on trends can represent big growth opportunities, I find that applying trends is mostly a theoretical exercise among marketing and R&D teams — widely considered and broadly discussed, but not specifically applied to initiatives like crafting longer-term strategic plans or optimizing short-termer commercial campaigns.
Generally speaking, there are three schools of thought regarding how trends shape the market:
- Connectors & Mavens. Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point (2000) layered an engaging narrative around Rogers’ diffusion of innovation model in a way that people still reference almost 20 years later. The idea is that niche, influential groups are instrumental in helping a trend reach the mainstream.
- Mental Availability. Using data to expose a series of marketing myths, Byron Sharp penned How Brands Grow (2010). Among other principles, Sharp simplified the thinking about marketing to an idea he calls mental availability. What’s old is new again — the people or brands with the biggest, best megaphones to drive the conversation can stay top of mind and curate the conversation.
- There Is No Code. Professors like Jonah Berger, Duncan Watts, and Scott Galloway have worked to debunk Gladwell’s tales of virality. According to Berger, “influentials” (as they were called in the pre-Instagram era) are no more likely to spread a trend than a random group of people. Each author offers his own set of alternative principles, but I like Galloway’s advice: be conversational, insightful, and controversial.
The rise of social media has given this discussion new challenges and also new opportunities. Some of these ideas were proposed before Instagram or Twitter existed. Do trends still flow from an early adopter group to a mainstream group? Do the people with the biggest megaphones still shape the market? Or has technology democratized the conversation and destroyed the patterns?
Do trends still flow from an early adopter group to a mainstream group? Do the people with the biggest megaphones still shape the market?
While I sense Galloway and others could be right, I know that teams crave good mental models for thinking about trends. I wanted to look closely at one trend — self-love — in order to see if data could suggest the best model for discussing trends and creating business strategy.
Self-love is a trend growing among younger people that encourages them to pay closer attention to their personal and emotional needs. The food, health, and beauty industries are monitoring this space closely, as it has broad implications for how they develop innovation. The volume of conversation online for self-love (and related terms) has been rising over the past few years, representing a clear trend worthy of a deeper look. We viewed self-love through the lens of the three schools of thought to see which was the most useful to marketing teams.
- Connectors & Mavens. Rogers’ model suggests that trends begin with a small group of innovators and move their way to larger audiences. Social media data shows that as the overall volume of conversation has increased, unique groups of key authors “passed the baton” from year to year. In fact, only 2 key authors have maintained their leadership in the conversation as self-love moves from early adopters to the mainstream.
- Mental Availability. Sharp’s idea reminds us that the people with the biggest megaphone can shape and grow the market for a trend. There is an inflection point in the trend’s popularity during the spring of 2016. In April, self-love was starting to decline. At the same time, Glitter Magazine made a strategic choice around self-love and began posting content at nearly double the rate of any previous author. Their efforts seemingly resurrected the self-love trend and helped it grow. Glitter’s strategy to get involved with self-love was well-timed and created a ton of mental availability, positioning them at the center of the movement right as the trend reached a big audience (something critical for any publication’s success).
- No Code. Few clues suggest that influencers were at the heart of this trend’s rise. None of the prolific self-love authors mentioned above created content that went viral. Posts from the likes of Tyrese Gibson and Iyanla Vanzant were popular but don’t correlate with the rise in conversation. Instead of shaping the movement or boosting it during significant self-love occasions like New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day, heavily retweeted posts from these celebs lag behind by a few months.
To efficiently and effectively use trends, few people can rely on a team of analysts or fully integrating software. Instead, marketers need good heuristics that help them make good, quick decisions in the face of uncertainty. From this exploration of self-love data, perhaps we can combine elements of Rogers’ bell curve and Sharp’s mental availability — along with a healthy skepticism — in order to effectively shape the market with a little bit of luck.
- Consider that a trend will often be incubated by one audience but accelerated by another, suggesting clear implications on how to shift your communication strategy as audiences change and the trend matures. Revisit your strategy regularly or you’ll risk losing your audience as they migrate to other relevant ideas and conversations.
- Remember that the loudest voices can shape the market and even resurrect trends. Ambitious, trend-focused campaigns need enough resources to grind out tons of content if they want to stand out. Consider how writers, influencers, and community members may all need to come together to provide the volume needed to shape the conversation in your favor.
- Create controversial, insightful conversation. If one of your goals is to “go viral,” it must start with an evaluation of your brand and if it has the right assets and equity to be both approachable and a little edgy.
How do you think about trends in today’s data-driven world? Do you still rely on the Tipping Point model or have you evolved to other ideas? Leave me a comment and let’s start a conversation.