When I was a student at Syracuse University, one of my professors said something that stuck with me. She said, if you want to be good (great) at advertising and marketing, then become a true student of popular culture. That statement resonated with me and has shaped how I view media, from the perspective of a consumer as well as that of a marketer. To this day, before bedtime my wife reads Business Week and Fortune while I read Rolling Stone, Spin and Entertainment Weekly -- that's my line into the world of "what's going on" because I'm simply not hip anymore. It's where I start my regular trend-spotting exercise.
Trend-spotting is an interesting component of our business. Trend-spotting is the science of identifying where things are headed in popular culture before they get there. It's actually unfair of me to call it a science when it's just as much art as anything else. Trend-spotters are the ultimate professors of popular culture -- but the Web is a powerful tool in that arsenal and just about anyone can be an amateur trend-spotter. If you get good at it, it can have a significant impact from a strategic perspective, and positively inform your clients' business for years to come.
A great place to start is with search. Search is an active database of trends in action. Google Trends is the most logical place to start, and Bing has its own trends platform, but there are a host of other tools like TrendyBing that give you access to the 30,000-foot view of what's going on in search. Reading search trends gives you insight into what people are trying to uncover and the topics that are garnering their attention at the current moment. Trending these searches over time will help you identify fads, failures and long-term directions that may affect your creative messaging. One of the best ways to maintain resonance with your target audience is to be topical, so integrating data and insights from search is a great place to start.
Beyond search, there are a host of digital tools and publications that you can peruse, but one of them (which not everyone likes but I find fascinating) is Cool Hunting. I used to read their site, but they came up with an iPad app that I find far easier for my puny little brain to comprehend. I find publications like Cool Hunting to be interesting because they integrate the best of fashion, design, architecture and music together and highlight products and occurrences that align with what's "cool." One of the most overlooked tools of the trend-spotter can be other trend-spotters in the marketplace. There are very few people who can see it all before it comes, so why not rely on the aggregate of the information to allow the best to surface? After all, your goal as a marketer is not necessarily to be first, but to understand what impact these changes should have on your messaging.
Of course you can only go so far by reading magazines, perusing publications and tracking search. You have to do some of the work for yourself. Transforming your own daily life into that of a trend-spotter can be an onerous task, bordering on the impossible. It's not feasible to be 100% self-aware and an objective third party all at the same time. These two states of mind are combative; but what you can do is follow some basic advice and open your mind a bit:
1. Be aware of the world around you and look at people. People-watching is one of the greatest ways to spot trends, but in doing so you have to turn off that cynical, natural human inclination to judge. You need to just observe and take notes.
2. Get out... out of the office, out of your house. Get out of your comfort zone and try to engage with different kinds of people, places and things. Try to observe new places and new avenues for learning and attempt to see the inputs that shape others outside of your typical surroundings.
3. Listen to yourself. Pay close attention to what excites you and try to observe your own habits. A great way to do this is to go through an average day and keep a running log of what you do, when you do it and how you do it. You'll be surprised at some of the things you discover.
4. Attend conferences from other industries that may seem interesting to you. See what's new and interesting -- and most important, see how others are viewing their own business.
5. The last piece of advice, the one that I read in an article and really liked, is, try and spot trends -- then assume the exact opposite of that trend. It's a standard brainstorming exercise to pick up certain messaging and then apply polarized thinking, and it works here as well. Identify a trend, then see what happens if everyone acted in the exact opposite manner.
Trend-spotting is an art and a science. Many companies invest millions of dollars a year into this engaging area of our business, but creative thinking requires that everyone can be a little bit of a trend-spotter in their own unique way. Go out today and try it, and you'll see the strategies you develop may be fresher, more exciting and potentially more effective as well.