Trends come in all shapes and sizes. The digital space moves so fast that we forget a trend doesn’t just mean something emerging. Something can be both mass and a trend. Trends are important, but it’s not always easy to understand what’s a trend a what’s a fad. That challenge often paralyzes organizations from determining what’s worth investing in and what you should pass on.
I’ve generally tried to use a Trendscape model to help organizations understand what trends are already here and well adopted and which are far out. The Trendscape model has proved invaluable. At the heart, a Trendscape tries to look at 2 spectrums and bring them into alignment:
- The awareness of something
- The adoption of that something
Trends that have high awareness and high adoption are generally here to stay, are in a mature business environment and have a clear line between leaders and bottom feeders. On the opposite end of that spectrum you have low awareness and low adoption. Just because it’s low, doesn’t mean it’s not important or not poised for breakout growth. Remember the first smartphones?
Here’s a current Digital Trendscape to use for both 2014 planning and for inspiration.
Ring 1: These are trends that are generally well understood and have been adopted by a global consumer marketplace. Great examples of this would be eMail and search. From Shanghai to Omaha the usage and application of eMail and search is mature. We have several competitors, multiple uses, robust analytics and it’s generally easily applied into financial models.
Ring 2: These are the trends with high awareness, high acceptance and solid adoption. The big trend for I’m thinking a lot about is the “expression of me.” From Pinterest which helps us express of wants and hopes to Instagram which enables us to create envy from our followers to twitter, which gives us all a voice, we’re seeing all ages and demographics leap to platforms that enable personal expression. The problem with this trend ring is how fragmented and diverse the landscape is. As trend rings become more mature we end up with less players, not more.
Ring 3: Many organizations struggle with Ring 3 trends because they mistake the maturity of the trend collection for the collection being stagnant and devoid of change or disruption. Here’s a great example; take mobile. It’s not like mobile came out of nowhere to be the juggernaut it is today. And now that’s it here, most organizations will talk about mobile in 2 broad buckets: muli-screen usage (often at the expense of TV) and content snacking. Great, so the simple approach to grapple with this trend would be to integrate calls to action in your commercials that ask people to talk out their phones and create more content designed for mobile. This misses the trend. The real trend is the always connected consumer who has fear of missing out (aka FOMO) and is therefore almost always tethered directly to their phone. The phone isn’t a phone; it’s something personal and an extension of them.
Ring 4: In this bucket we have trends that are well understood, but not well adopted. For example, the concept of quantified lives, or as I often say, big data for the little guy, has emerged. Devices like the Nest thermostat, Automatic (tracks your car driving habits) and the Jawbone UP are becoming more and more understood. When your parents can understand the concept of these devices and your parents are asking if they should get one and you already have one, you know you’re in Ring 4. When your grandparents start asking about them, then you’re in ring 2
Ring 5: These are things that are clearly the tip of the spear, adopted by the most digitally fit and may have zero sticking power. Yes, you read that right, these might never evolve into a Ring 1 trend. Organizations that can spot a Ring 5 trend as one that will become a Ring 1 trend, are the ones who stay ahead and set the space. Most organizations, especially those in the CPG vertical, are gun-shy about investing in this area. They generally take the “fast-follower” or “wait and see” approach, which of course leaves them flat footed when a trend quickly moves from Ring 5 to Ring 1. In this ring you have something like the concept of “disposable content.” Think SnapChat. While SnapChat itself may implode (I tend to think it will), the trend of consumers wanting to take back their privacy and being concerned about their content getting into the wrong hands, is starting to stick.
In today’s very digital world, macro cultural trends have the ability to impact behaviors in every category. My favorite example of this are the restaurants who now encourage you to take out your phone and Instagram/share photos of the food. By understanding the “expression of me” trend they’re connecting with consumers and patrons better than before.
Every organization should have a Trendscape. Your organization might only need 3 rings or it might need 7. There’s no right answer to the number of rings. The single biggest piece of advice I could offer you though would be to think about trends as cultural, not category specific. Too often we only look at category trends, which in my opinion, limits our field of view.