TRENDSCOUTING: TIPS AND TRICKS

PART 4 of TRENDS: RESEARCH AND MANAGEMENT COURSE

Everything that we do has to be linked with the future. Even though trend-scouting and trend-spotting activities for a long time have been solely performed by dedicated agencies, now this is evolving into a general competence that is needed in most if not all business planning activities. With the increasing pace of changes, we have to develop new skill-sets to be able to craft strategies that do not revolve around the world of the past.

There is nothing magical with trend-scouting and spotting. It is mostly a matter of solid and consistent principles and practices. Here is a short-overview of essential principles and sources for independent trend-scouting endeavors.

PART 1: TREND SCOUTING PRINCIPLES

CONTEXTUAL EVALUATION

Trend-scouting is not about witnessing a single isolated change and reporting it as a trend. A trend can be identified once we have worked through a number of different data-points. And that means that we don’t stick to the same services or sources for data-input.

Let’s say we are investigating educational trends, this is one of the possible ways to go about it:

-AVAILABILITY AND USERS: you decide to look at how the numbers of online courses (overall number or courses, categories, users) have changed during the last 5–10 years

-BUSINESS ENTRIES: look at the numbers of new businesses entering the education field

-TYPES OF INNOVATIONS: evaluate and classify the available education-related innovations

-PRODUCTS: look for any related products, apps or content

-THE BIG PLAYERS: look up what the big players or respective market leaders are doing and saying in relation to the trend

-SOCIAL: looking at survey material with any references towards how perception of education is changing

-BRANDS AND MARKETING: is the change reflected in brand communication and offers

By looking through these fields and connecting different data points, you can clarify the scope, impact and the potential of the trend. And yes, evidently it is not a linear process.

SURFACE AND DEPTH

Trend-scouting is about uncovering the invisible implicit ties that connect diverse phenomena. That one unifying principle that guides change on different levels we call a trend.

The top level is the easiest to identify and follow — it is all the business and organizational innovations. Macro-dimensions unite all the dimensions that have impact on our everyday life.

The third level is about the changing patterns of consumer behavior and needs that guide that behavior. And on the deepest level we have ideological beliefs about time, things, consumption, organizations and etc.

Once we connect these 4 levels, we get closer to understanding how a trend works and how it fits our present and future environments.

REVERSE INNOVATION

Breaking-down innovation into constituent units is one of the essential exercises needed to determined the true meaning and value of innovation. This is looking at new innovative products, features and models and asking the following questions:

-who is it for?

-what features or elements set it apart from the context?

-what does it solve for the user? what tasks does it help users to achieve? does it answer any pain points that users might have? in what ways does it create added value to the existing product?

These are the essential questions you would be answering before actually starting with a new product concept.

PATTERN-SPOTTING

We have to remember that strong trends occur across categories, industries and sectors and it is important to spot the same configurations in different places.

Once you have identified a trend, go through different industries to cross-check whether they are going through a similar phase. Let’s say that you noticed that subscriptions model is booming in software and app industries. This may be true, but it doesn’t give you much to go on with. At the same time, if you look at other areas (e. g. traditional product categories), you will see subscription services evolving through inclusion of curation and personalization value propositions.

Here are a couple of heuristic questions to help you with the spotting:

-do the innovations found in different industries focus on the same principle (e.g. time saving, personalized, etc.)

-do the identified innovations answer the same consumer need?

-are the innovations becoming more widespread due to the influence of the same drivers?

CROSS-EXAMINATION

This one is about trends and counter-trends. Trends usually originate because of the existing tensions. It could be a tension between different needs, stakeholder interests and positions or ideological perspectives. This tension can be identified or clarified if you are able to identify a trend that is opposite to the one that you are researching. If something is moving in opposite direction or is based on a reversed principle, you might be looking at a mainstream and reactive trend dynamics. If it all sounds vague, just think of the tension between digital immersion and digital detox trends that are pulling consumers in different directions.

VISIONEERING

A trend is not a trend if you don’t imagine the future for it. Think of the following points:

-counter-force: how would the trend evolve if it met a strong counter-trend?

-positive scenario: what will happen if the trend reaches its saturation point?

-getting big: what will happen to a trend if the big players move in and start exploiting it?

-negative scenario: how would the trend evolve and be applied if it didn’t reach mainstream popularity? what changes would resolve it?

-wildcard scenario: what changes in needs, beliefs, changes in macro-dimensions and other trends would render the trend extremely successful or worthless?

Just remember that visioneering is the first step to putting the trend to good use.

PART 2: SOURCES OF INSIGHTS

WATCHING THE CROWD-FUNDING SCENE

Crowd-funding sites feature some of the most innovative and interesting products and ideas. They also have some of the best cases of business storytelling around. And sometimes sites like kickstarter might just show a more futuristic version of the future.

WATCHING THE START-UPS

Industry specific start-up overviews are an absolute must. Looking at the numbers in such reports can give an idea where the money is flowing and more importantly — what ideas investors believe in. That is a strong indication of an existing product-market fit. Next step is to look at and analyze the start-ups themselves while trying to uncover what value propositions they came up with.

WATCHING THE WATCHERS

The first and the easiest thing to do is to start watching everyone who is already watching the trends. And that entails all the biggest agencies producing trend reports and briefings.

There are a number of them and it depends whether you are looking for in-depth reviews or just a constant influx of trend and innovation ideas.

For the former, check out PSFK, Springwise

For the latter, check out TRENDWATCHING, or LSN GLOBAL

WATCHING THE PRODUCTS

New products, publications, apps and software — all of this helps to navigate the complex world of trends. All of the mentioned can provide you with understanding of how the challenges or needs are being solved at the present moment. And the best destination for such a task is PRODUCTHUNT. Just pick up a keyword and start your research. Or, alternatively, browse through already compiled thematic products.

Check out: producthunt

WATCHING THE CONSUMERS

Even though consumer sentiments and attitudes isn’t something you should rely on too much (just because they do not point out fresh ideas, only reactions to the existing environment), they do point to major shifts and trends that have already reached the early majority.

Check out: NIELSEN, TNS

WATCHING THE COOL

Cool-hunting might lead to relying on fads too much, but coolhunters and coolhunting sites are still a great place to be introduced to a number of diverse ideas. One or two ideas won’t solve your trend riddle, but more industry related examples will help you to imagine different possibilities of how the investigated trend might evolve.

Check out: coolhunting, coolhunter

WATCHING PEOPLE

There are two main groups of people to follow: experts and opinion leaders. Yes, let’s treat them as two separate groups that we will turn to with different goals in mind.

Let’s stick with experts for getting a clear understanding of the present state in the industry, but let’s not expect them to be unbiased visionaries of the future. For this function we will turn to opinion leadersi. The important criteria while selecting which opinion leaders to follow is to make sure that those leaders appeal to poly-social groups, i. e. groups that belong to different social circles. This will insure that the ideas put forward by the opinion leader will be more relevant, less niche or obscured by personal stake or interest in a particular field. By following these criteria, you might even identify the true trend-setters that popularize the trends created by someone else.

WATCHING THE AWARDS

And finally — AWARDS. Any kind really. Some of the technology, innovation, digital focused award shows will show an inclination towards future-oriented visions and that is more than good for us, trendscouts.