Businesses typically work to identify these consumer trends and use this knowledge as inputs to the innovation process or otherwise try to embrace or respond to them. In some cases, they are able to become first movers or actually shape consumer behavior (act as trendsetters) by owning a certain trend at the right time and with the right proposition.
But trend identification is not an exact science. Evaluating a specific trend's relevance (and even existence) takes systematic observation and non-traditional research methodologies. Even if a trend is identified and understood, businesses must reflect on some key questions before it can be used as a guiding light for evolving a brand:
Answering these questions will help a company define the relevance (if any) of a specific trend to the innovation process and ultimately its brand.
One response is to embrace the trend -- which Ikea, for one, has done well. The housewares giant understood early where trends of "do it yourself," "simplicity" and "modern look and feel" intersected, and made them the basis for its products, price points, and overall consumer experience. It has been so successful that Ikea has actually become the "trendsetter" in its category, with special emphasis on the "do it yourself" part of the equation.
McDonald's is another, having embraced the "healthier lifestyle" trend by reshaping its menus, being more transparent about its products, and even moving toward a palette that is dominated by the color green. McDonald's still makes most of its money off Big Macs and fries, but it has gone through an evolution based on its views on how consumers are changing.
This doesn't necessarily mean, however, that every brand should adopt new trends in such a transformational way.
Consumers are complex. Their needs are not uniform. Certain segments will not follow a certain trend. And they will embrace trends differently based on product category or even specific consumption occasions.
This means that every trend has an implicit "anti-trend" associated with it. The healthier lifestyle trend, for example, has its counterpart in self-indulgence. The trend toward luxury brands, products and services is opposed by that for more generic yet serviceable offers. The other side to eco-friendly consumption is the refusal to pay more for green goods. There are opportunities for brands on both sides of the spectrum.
While "anti-trend"-driven consumer needs may seem counterintuitive, the reality is that numerous brands have been very successful in following them. Going back to fast food, it is clear that Burger King has achieved success by following the anti-trend; the chain is all about the big, "all American" fast-food eating experience versus the healthy/good citizen approach that McDonald's has taken. And both are doing pretty well with their chosen course.
It's important to pay attention to trends, but observations and responses need to be systematic, avoiding oversimplification that leads to superficial analysis or hasty reactions. After understanding the trend, you must understand if it is a relevant one for your category and brand. If it is, use it as one of the inputs for the innovation process. If it isn't, study how following the "anti-trend" can make your brand stand out from the crowd.