he greatest difference between trend spotting and forecasting is what the latter can do for your bottom line. If you were a restaurant owner ten years ago, wouldn’t you want to know that comfort food was set to become a staple in American cuisine for the better part of the next decade? And what apparel maker wouldn’t have been thrilled to learn early that yoga wear was destined to become streetwear? As LA trend guru Janna Stark establishes in the ebook Seeing into the Future: Trend spotting and Forecasting, the advantages of forecasting a trend easily eclipse those of simply recognizing that a trend has arrived.
Trend forecasting gives you a leg up on competitors, and social listening tools play a leading role in this. Managing and making sense of the billions of conversations occurring across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, forums, and more provides the scale and reach necessary to arrive at meaningful conclusions. In combination with reliable, real-time analytics, social listening tools help you see patterns unfold over specified periods of time within clearly defined parameters that include age groups, locations, and even events and attractions. Tools measuring volume and sentiment reveal whether a product, movement, or activity is generating buzz and appears on the verge of breaking out, and who or what is leading this.
Trend expert Stark credits social media listening tools for their ability to assess macro trends and identify their origins down to an individual tweet or Instagram post, in some cases. The tools teach and encourage you to think and act like an “archaeologist of the future,” sifting for clues. By examining the speed, geographic trajectory, and demographics by which a trend spreads, you can get an early read on whether the trend is destined to be a niche event only, or a global phenomenon. From a marketing perspective, the stakes are therefore global in scale.
Social listening tools allow you to filter and analyze conversations to learn what a particular audience really cares about and what inspires them to recommend a product or experience to their families and friends. Identifying influencers early helps you plug into the zeitgeist—the spirit of the time—and capitalize on where a trend is headed. When part of a greater platform, social listening tools allow you to monitor everything relevant to your brand in a single place and add forecasting to the mix.
Early in her ebook, Stark reminds readers that looking forward and setting strategy also involves looking at the past, because “what goes around comes around.” Consider the oft-maligned fanny pack, resurrected this past year as a fashion accessory must-have. Trends ebb and flow. History repeats itself, and yet each time is unique. Observing the nuances is where you find clues for forecasting the future. Social listening tools paired with traditional monitoring tools let you do a quick deep-dive into trends of the past and compare people’s past and current actions. This historical perspective plays a huge role in forecasting consumer behavior.