It's that time of year when everyone pulls out their crystal ball and starts looking into the future. As marketers, communicators and thinkers, we pay close attention to trends reports and spend a lot of time reading (or writing) them.
After all is said, done and read, I often find myself thinking: what trends should I put value in? And how should we as marketers metabolize them, and subsequently, act?
Understand what trends do and don't tell you. Trends and what happens in culture manifest as incredibly different things. A trend is an educated guess that points to a destination.
Culture is the imprecise, dynamic, people-led actions in between that get you there.
It's the difference between knowing that you're taking a road trip versus the actual twists, turns, detours and time it takes to travel
Here are a couple of real-world examples from 2021: We knew and read about trends published on the need for work-life balance, trying to limit screen time and methods for achieving escapism while travel was constrained.
What we didn't know was that this would manifest in the behavior of audio rooms as marked by the meteoric rise and fall of Clubhouse.
Both TikTok and Quibi responded to a macro trend toward snackable, short-form content. But culture drove the use of one and not the other.
Verzuz, on the other hand, is an example of a cultural phenomenon that exploded in popularity outside of predicted trends. Starting as an Instagram Live session, it now features some of the world's most important artists, draws an incredible community, and spans most platforms and formats.
Verzuz is a cultural occurrence that could not have been predicted or defined within a macro trend.
As we move into 2022, many reports have the metaverse and/or multiple metaverses held up as an end point.
Another trend that marketers are paying attention to is the rise of blockchain-enabled technologies (Web3). NFTs are a manifestation of this, and they form a large part of the discourse.
As marketers, we talk about them without really knowing all the details. But culture will lead the way the adoption of these technologies matures, who ends up using them and for what purpose.
We should know about trends, read them and form our own educated opinions on which trends matter to us. But ultimately, we should be more prepared to interact with culture.
If culture is messy, fast-moving and somewhat unpredictable, then what should we do as marketers?
Participating in culture begins by understanding our place in it. We should understand and listen to our audiences regularly — more than once a year when the trends are reported.
Those of us who are in charge of media should plan for flexibility, allowing us to be able to adjust platforms and shift our media dollars to where the cultural conversation is. We should hold a set of criteria for when to interact and when not to. We should ensure that we’re set up to be nimble and fast-moving, understanding at times that speed beats perfection. After all, participating in a cultural conversation means being there in real-time.
Having an educated view on trends is important for a marketer, but knowing when to meaningfully and authentically interact is better.