With anything and everything trending on Twitter and with Internet memes sweeping the Web waves faster than we can follow, I can’t help but wonder: Is the business of trendspotting overtrended?
In an age of armchair newscasters, writers and videographers, it’s becoming harder to distill the stuff that will go from small blip to seismic shift in today’s hyperobservant world. If anyone can go on Google and find the latest food trends coming from Asia or what the latest political maelstrom might mean for society, how do those of us who have made trendspotting our business model get to the real science of looking at culture through the lens of now and next?
Perhaps the answer lies in curation, in a professional trendspotter’s ability to take millions of clues and distill them clearly and concisely into something we can hang onto as marketers amid so much clutter. I’ve always been amazed by brands such as Nike that seem to have their fingers so close to the pulse of pop culture that their brand is the de facto barometer for everything from what’s happening in graffiti culture in Brazil to the latest basketball star from some high school in Irvine. Looking at blogs does not a trendspot make—it’s the ability to discern which events will stand on their own and change the way we eat, drink, spend and communicate.
Another signal that the trend business is in a precarious state is the constant, warp-speed shifting of technology. Way back when, we used to say that it was not possible to look at trends more than five years out. Cut to now and it’s almost impossible to call what’s coming in two years’ time, let alone tomorrow.
If you read blogs on topics on anything from fashion to parenting, it’s hard to ignore the fact that just about anyone can summon or introduce a trend into the social vernacular, but I wonder if these same people understand the implications of the latest parenting or hemline trend affecting business, marketing and the culture at large. After all, it’s pretty easy to come up with terms such as “dragon mother” or “helicopter parenting,” but taking the latest and greatest and making sense of them, globally, is something else altogether. In a world in which everyone lives in each other’s backyards thanks to social media, the real trends—the macro trends that reveal clues and insights and bind us with truth—need to be looked at through a global lens. It’s all about uncovering the collective human experience these days, not just looking at micro events such as the artisanal food movement in Brooklyn or the price of real estate in your hometown.
Like most businesses today, the trend game needs to step it up when it comes to actionable insights that lead to big ideas and discoveries. There are simply too many things to watch and look at in our media-obsessed world, but it’s really “seeing” them that matters. My advice to the modern trendspotter is to get totally immersed when it comes to doing research. You have to live where people live, eat where they eat, shop where they shop. I’ve always preached a hyper-engaged model of scouting what’s next, and that’s still true today. Sure, there is a ton to watch online, but to be an agile trend type, you need to go to towns that are not on the radar and see what’s happening in real time, and in the nondigital world.
The whole notion of trends has changed as those of us in marketing and PR are monitoring the Internet as if our lives depended on it. From self-portraits on Facebook to the latest blog posts on what’s happening at cool events such as Coachella, the market for trends is hyper and ripe for those hungry to see the world through the eyes of social media. But the very notion of traditional trendspotting might need an overhaul to find ways to make sense and stand apart from all the chatter happening online and beyond. With everything trending these days, you’ll need more than a crystal ball to see what the future of trendspotting will be.