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Starting a trend illustration

Start a Trend with This Essential Ingredient

Janna Stark

Feb 16, 2020

Janna Stark, a trend forecaster, knows how trends evolve over time and what makes them sticky. Here she details examples of brands that have been successful in reading the temperature of their time and how they used that information to launch still-trending campaigns.

Tip: Learn more about trendspotting, trend forecasting, and trend detection.

Let’s Start a Trend

Not just any trend. Not a fad, or a fly by night kind of trend, but a trend that soars, that’s successful not only in product sales or market recognition, but one that becomes part of the cultural conversation. When we’ve seen it happen, it occurs to us, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Then we start looking for the next big thing. Hoping to hit it big ourselves, but when the excitement wanes or the process becomes overwhelming, we tend to push our ideas aside and replace them with more practical notions and seemingly “achievable” goals. Then it happens again, someone comes up with another idea that shakes the global community, and our eyes widen with envy once more.

In a bygone era, trend evolution had a top-down trajectory. Innovators, product developers, and idea people came up with concepts. The good ones stuck and gained momentum. Ideas, as well as a physical product, were then handed over to marketers who with some savvy media manipulation attracted the appropriate consumer base. Well, gone are the days of the top-down marketing trajectory. Bottom(s) up as we say in the fashion industry! It’s time to let the consumer lead.

Easier Said Than Done

The big gun advertisers and marketers don’t want to give up the front line so easily. They are continuously waving cool shiny objects in front of our eyes, hoping to distract us from the critical task at hand, listening to the consumer and letting insight (not hype) drive the creative process.

Let’s get a few things out of the way; AI, VR, IoT, sharing economy, cloud migration, crowdsourcing, FinTech, social media trends, fake news… so shiny!

Don’t jump on a trend because it’s there. To initiate a trend, a new cultural zeitgeist, it is necessary to look at the big picture of how trends evolve. Then, see how that fits into your business and speaks to your audience.

In our current socio-cultural landscape with trust seemingly out the window and new shiny technological advances appearing around every corner, it seems the consumer may want something familiar and safe to hold. Respond to your audiences’ emotional needs and tell a story that connects past and future in a succinct, linear, and comforting way. And while I stand behind my advice to avoid the hype, it should be clear that scanning the cultural landscape both near and far can help you see how changes in society can impact how new ideas are accepted and what becomes a trend.

Let’s Take the Experience Economy as an Example

You don’t have to dig too deep to discover that consumers are currently interested in community building, experiences, and lifestyle over brand-specific messaging. They desire both entertainment and experiences that say something unique about them. They are eager to get offline and go out and meet like-minded people including those who love the same brands they do and are happy to share these experiences via social media.

Savvy companies are figuring out how to change the brick and mortar environment in response to this need. While the giants are failing, smaller players are figuring out how to reinvent the store experience for the 21st century, focusing on authenticity and community while, in many ways, thinking about sales second. Stores are becoming brand meeting places and touchpoints. Whatever your business, there is an opportunity to create a comforting experience for your audience. After all, experiences help shape identity and create lifelong memories. This evolution is a win-win for strengthening brand loyalty and creating a buzz.

Take a look at one of the most innovative viral campaigns in history from 20 years ago. The MasterCard, “Priceless” campaign launched in 1997 and highlighted the priceless human connection between a father and son. The tagline was: “Real conversation. Priceless.” Before social media there was social (a.k.a. word-of-mouth). The campaign went viral without the Internet. Fast forward to today, though the campaign has evolved to include curated “priceless” experiences, the basic premise has remained the same is stronger than ever.

The MasterCard “Priceless” campaign is still going strong two decades since it’s creation. It’s so successful that it is the foundation of all of MasterCard’s campaigns, both domestically and internationally.

Consider This, Consumers Are Looking for the Familiar and the Safe

So, how do you think they feel about the overwhelming choices we have? Personally, it makes me feel very anxious and confused. Bombarding consumers with too many options instead of honing in on what they really want is counter-productive. While our intention may be to simply give people choices, what is actually happening is the opposite. Analysis paralysis due to the paradox of choice is a reality. The danger of this phenomenon is that the consumer may decide to react to this feeling of paralysis by deciding to opt-out of the (consumer market) experience altogether.

If we aren’t able to take a step back from the market-driven race, focusing on trying to keep up, we might be missing the whole point. It’s something I think of as “clutter” (as opposed to choice). Why not decide to be the brand or company that simplifies the clutter? Curate heavily and speak not only to your audience’s emotions but also to their core values., which launched in July of this year, is making an effort to take the reigns of the simplicity trend in the food and household product category. They’ve addressed their customer’s core values of good products that work and simplified their product offering. This philosophy is reflected in all aspects of their visual identity. And, by using the direct to consumer model, they have taken out the middleman, offering consumers great value at $3 for every product on their site. Focusing on quality, simplicity, and value is not a bad trend to take a closer look at in our overly cluttered marketplace.

Brandless website products has simplified their product offering and the consumer experience.

People Want What Is Familiar

If you are looking to create the next big trend, find something that people can relate to. Endear them. Base your strategy on core (global) human truths and values that evoke emotion. Don’t be a storyteller, be a story maker, and most importantly, listen to the people who have already made your business a success with a media monitoring tool or social listening software.