When speaking of forecasting, what we’re really talking about is predicting behavior. The ability to see into the future offers outsized rewards to those who are good at it. When hockey great Wayne Gretzky was asked to explain his success, he said the secret was to skate to where the puck was going, not to where it was. Anticipation and early perception were rightly seen as being critical. 

In sales and marketing, anticipating consumer behavior is a holy grail. 

“Before a product, idea, or lifestyle choice is brought to a consumer’s attention, someone has to understand, ahead of the curve, that there’s a receptive audience,” says LA-based trend master Janna Stark in the ebook, Seeing into the Future: Trendspotting and Forecasting. Success in trend forecasting is contingent on projecting into the future and predicting where a market will be months and even years from now. If the view is murky, the decision-making will be no less muddled.

If you were in the auto industry, wouldn’t you have liked to know 15 years ago that SUVs would soon overwhelm sedans in terms of marketplace popularity? And now today, for even higher stakes—pitting all-electric vehicles versus hydrogen versus hybrids—you’d stand to gain by knowing what the experts were saying and what role consumer sentiment might play in determining the outcome. 

The Who, What, and Where of Recent History

We’ve looked at the connection between successful trend forecasting and social listening tools. This time we take a more expansive view, by including traditional media tools that present their own unique strengths in tapping into the zeitgeist and helping us become “archeologists of the future.” Here too metrics will allow us to examine the speed, geographic trajectory, and demographics by which a trend is spreading and give us an early read on whether the trend is destined to be a global phenomenon with global implications.

As with social listening tools, there’s a need here for us to take a historical perspective, in the knowledge that the past often repeats itself. Finding patterns and assigning a value to them is a key component in trend forecasting. The source material exists in the databases of traditional news media and is made available on the internet. The who, what, when, and where of the past 100 years will all be found here. Plumbing the archives for frequency of mentions, reach, audience, and sentiment is made possible by the analytics tools found on a modern media platform. 

That same platform should also include an influencers contact database. By exploring the published articles and ideas of the people presented here as experts in your industry, you can get a good handle on the issues of the day and the challenges that need solving in the near future. You can then take what you learn here into the field with you and run these ideas past real people. 

Using Keywords As Signposts 

From your reading and conversations you should be able to formulate a list of keywords you want to monitor more closely. You may choose to have the most important of these pushed to you in the form of alerts. You can also use your keywords to construct the newsfeed your team sees at work. Everyone will become more cognizant of what’s happening in your industry and become trained to look for patterns and early indications of future trends by using keywords as signposts.

Add more conversations to the mix—lots of them, from light and casual to more in-depth—and it won’t be long before your spidey sense tells you that you’re getting the hang of it. Add the findings from your social media listening and soon enough people will be seeking you out for industry forecasts and predictions of the future.

To learn more about traditional media tool trend forecasting as well as the value of social media listening tools, watch the webinar Secrets of a Trend Forecaster Revealed: How PR and Marketing Can Shape the Future.