How about: “A statistically significant change in performance of measured data which is unlikely to be due to a random variation in the process.” That won't get the creative juices going. So consider the following definition, which we (trendwatching.com) came up with years ago and which still holds pretty well:
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 deep 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.
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 firmly puts the individual in the driver’s seat.
Just give it a try: apply the above definition to your daily spottings and observations of how consumers behave, and how that behaviour is forever changing, and you will find that many seemingly unconnected business success stories will start to make sense. Successful innovations often satisfy existing, dormant needs in new and attractive ways.
* P.S. Need to brush up on your knowledge of human needs? Re-reading Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs never hurts.
It’s hard to find two people who share the same language when it comes to trend watching. Here are a few common misperceptions. Not complete by far, so add your own:
Predicting next year’s colours. Trend watching is about more than spotting the next colour, fabric or hot designer. Sure, black may be back, and miniskirts may re-conquer the catwalks in 2009, but the consumer arena is infinitely more complicated than that. In other words, fashion in all its variety, excitement, and pioneering business models is just another part of the world of consumer trends. In no way does it define consumer trends.
Gazing into a crystal ball. Trend watching isn't about ‘hard-core’ futurism, either. Better leave gazing into a crystal ball, predicting what's going to happen 15 to 20 years from now, to futurists and scenario planning departments. Trend watching is about observing and understanding what’s already happening, the major and the minor, the mainstream and the fringe. In our case in the consumer and business arena.
Declaring the pizza cone an emerging consumer trend. We still get asked a million times about how to distinguish between trends and fads. A pizza cone is a fun product, but it won’t dramatically change the consumer arena. At most, it’s yet another manifestation that consumers want convenience no matter what. The latter is the trend. The product isn’t.
Applying all trends to all people. Don’t fall for this one. One massive mistake both trend spotters and brands make all the time, is to assume or pretend that a certain consumer trend will affect or be embraced by ALL consumers. No. Remember, in life and in trends: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The above HSBC ad illustrates it well. Whatever catches your fancy while spotting and tracking trends, please remember that not everything applies to everyone, and that virtually every trend has its anti-trend.
Furthermore, the new doesn’t always kill the old. E-commerce may be booming, but real world retail is far from dead. Has the latter changed? Sure. But take one look at excited shoppers and TRYSUMERS spending hours in Apple’s flagship store in New York and it becomes clear that both online and offline retail have many years of innovation and opportunity ahead of them. In trends, always try to figure out what the ‘AND’ is, not just the ‘OR’, and your trend (and opportunity) spotting skills will improve immensely.
Those who watch trends have to possess some rare kind of intuition. Not true. This isn't brain surgery, nor is it rocket science. Observing the world around you, with an open mind, is something many professionals have unlearned, but not something they aren’t born with. If you want to spot trends, you can.