Now that we’ve covered the why of spotting trends, it’s time for Tip 2: 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.
Example? How many marketers do you know who could give you an articulate answer if asked about, let’s say, the Future of Marketing? How many business execs do you know who are capable of explaining the main ten, or 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 kick-ass plan of attack based on their understanding of the New Consumer? (No, Steve Jobs doesn’t count! 😉
To stick with consumer trends: 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?”Now, where to begin so that in a few weeks time, your answer will blow away your colleagues?
Don’t hide: an open mind is a joy forever
Crucial to broadening your point of view: be curious and be open minded. 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 realize 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.
In other words, think and act like an entrepreneurial journalist. How?
Look cross-industry. Sticking with your own industry will not only severely limit your sources of inspiration, but will also make you miss important changes in consumer expectations. Every industry has its own ‘innovation competence’, whether it’s fashion leading the NO-FRILLS CHIC trend, the food and beverage sector leading the SNACK CULTURE trend, or hotels and restaurants dictating the ACCE$$ IS THE NEW LUXURY trend. The innovations they’re bringing to market not only excite consumers, they also shape their expectations. In other words, consumers will come to expect other industries to also start offering them the benefits of NO-FRILLS CHIC, of more choice in smaller doses, of luxury as a transforming experience. And they don’t care if you’re in real estate, financial services or telecom. Last but not least, if you’re obsessed with what your competition is doing, you will always end up copying them. To become a trend setter, you need to look where your competition isn’t.
Think like a (paranoid) CEO, even if you don’t get paid like one. Stop being ‘just’ a specialist and aim to become a generalist. Yes, we all need to be a specialist in something. However, we also need to be generalists, to understand the big picture and how we and our companies and products fit in.
You don’t have to like every trend. You are in this for your customers. Who may have different needs and desires than you do. Never dismiss anything too quickly. Just because YOU would never use a certain innovation, doesn’t mean others (your customers included) won’t buy it either. Many of today’s success stories, from the camera phone to the Airbus 380, were dismissed and ridiculed from the day they were imagined, announced or conceived.
So instead of dismissing, ask questions. Non stop. Why is something happening? Why was it introduced? Why do consumers like it? Or why do they hate it? Look beyond the sources that appeal to your personal tastes. Read a random magazine every week (buy one you would normally never read), or visit a random blog, written for and by people whose passions don’t match your own.
Try stuff out. The proof of the pudding is always in the eating.
Get rid of taboos, prejudices, dogmatism, negativity. All of this will block your ability to pick up new ideas, to understand your customers, and will thus cost you money. (And it make you a less pleasant person, too.)