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Fashionable firms spot the seasonal trends


Autumn is usually the time when new trends come to the fore – think of fashion weeks the world over – but how can you ensure that your business benefits from them? Learning the art of trend spotting is one way to keep your business ahead of the game …

Many family businesses started out by spotting a new trend. But that alone is not necessarily going to make you or your company more money. Tracking consumer trends is one way to gain inspiration, helping you dream up profitable new goods, services and experiences for (and with) your customers.

So trend spotting should ultimately lead to profitable innovation. In a world that's now fully connected valuable resources are up for grabs.

This avalanche of trends, insights and new business ideas may cause information overload, but it is definitely an exciting innovation overload, too. The only thing that separates you – passionate CEO, marketer, entrepreneur – from being in the know is the time devoted to absorbing these sources, if not adding to them yourself.

And yet, when we ask professionals if and how they spot trends and, more importantly, how they apply those trends to their own brands, we're told they're still having a hard time getting a handle on the basics. So to help you along the way, here are some top tips.

Defining a trend
A trend is "a manifestation of something that has unlocked or newly serviced an existing (and hardly ever changing) consumer need, desire, want, or value."

At the core of this statement is the assumption that human beings, and thus consumers, don't change that much. Their needs remain the same, yet can be unlocked or newly serviced. The "unlockers" can be anything from changes in societal norms and values, to a breakthrough in technology, to a rise in prosperity.

For example, one of the core human needs is to be in control, or at least to have the illusion of being in control. No wonder then, that the online world is so addictive. After all, it puts the individual firmly in the driver's seat.

Have a point of view
Make sure you acquire a point of view about the world around you. The more trends you spot and track, and the more skilled you are at putting these trends into context, the more guidance you'll have. When you have a broad point of view, even tiny observations start to make sense.

For example, how many marketers do you know who could give you an articulate answer if asked about the future of marketing? How many business executives do you know who are capable of explaining the main 10, five, or even three consumer trends shaping not only their own industry but the entire business arena? And how many CEOs can comfortably lay out a plan of attack based on their understanding of the new consumer?

The point of view you want to develop could be summed up by a succinct answer to the question: "What is the short-term future of consumerism?" Being curious and open-minded is crucial to broadening your point of view – but this is not an easy thing to do. We're all set in our own ways, we all have our strict beliefs about what is right and what is wrong. However, closely observing instead of judging the world around you is tantamount to success. Ask yourself "why" whenever you notice something new, instead of immediately looking for shortcomings.

Also realise that you are not necessarily your customer: your professional interests should be broader than your personal interests. You may not be excited by something new, but others are. Ask yourself why they are excited and which existing need has apparently been unlocked.

Weave your web of resources
Stop complaining about information overload and instead celebrate the incredible wealth of trend resources at your fingertips, many of them free or extremely cheap. Surely there's never been a more exciting time for eager trend spotters to be in business, soaking up the insights, reports, and live dispatches from the global consumer arena.

Fine-tune your trend framework
So you have opened your mind, you have woven your web of resources, and you're jotting down as many trends and trend manifestations as you can. Now what? How to make sense of all of this material, and especially the impact and context of various trends? We recommend having a trend framework – a long list of all the trends that you've spotted over the years.

There's a bit more to it, but, in general, switched-on companies and individuals track at least three trend levels: macro, consumer and industry.

Most management consulting firms will be able to help you with macro trends. As far as industry trends are concerned, you no doubt already have someone tracking those within your organisation, whether it's in the form of competitive analysis, clippings from trade magazines or industry reports from market research firms.

Needless to say, all three levels of trends constantly converge, impacting each other, if not overlapping. Just remember that industry trends, which firms are so keen on understanding, are at the mercy of macro and consumer trends, not the other way round.

Embed and apply
Every company should have its own trend "group". Even if that group is just you. The trend group is not some multimillion-dollar affair. It doesn't have to employ a dozen staff. It's more a state of mind. It can be low-cost, unauthorised and grass roots if need be.

Then tackle the support issue. Without backing from at least one senior member of the management team, your trend group may steadily grow, but results – innovations, that is – won't make it off the drawing board.

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