The folks at Trendwatching.com have a great primer on trend-spotting and -tracking, especially for consumer trends. Here’s my condensed, paraphrased version (be sure to read the whole, entertaining essay if you’re interested in this).
1. Know why you’re tracking trends. It’s probably to help you dream up profitable new goods and services, i.e., “profitable innovation.” Successful innovations often satisfy existing, dormant consumer needs in new and attractive ways. Trend-watching isn’t futurism; it’s about observing and understanding what’s already happening, the major and the minor, the mainstream and the fringe.
2. Have a point of view. Be a generalist, looking for context. Develop a view of the future of consumerism. Look across industries for insights. Ask why something is appealing to consumers, instead of being judgmental.
3. Weave your Web of resources. “[C]elebrate the incredible wealth of trend resources at your fingertips, many of them free or dirt cheap!” Examples of info sources: Web sites, blogs, books, news, newsletters, Google Alerts, trade shows, customers, “eavesdropping, chat rooms, conversations…”
4. Fine-tune your trend framework. Three levels:
- Macro trends. Categorize them using the STEEP approach: Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political
- Consumer trends
- Industry trends
The three levels of trends affect each other. “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.” Look for connections among the trends you’re tracking — the matrix. Come up with creative names for the trends, which makes them memorable and interesting.
5. Embed and apply. Create your own, in-house trend group, with executive support. Tap a network of colleagues as trend-spotters. Have weekly or monthly discussions and distribute the results. Ultimately, the goal is to turn the trends into innovations for your company:
- Influence or shape your company’s vision
- Come up with a new business concept, venture or brand
- Add something new for a certain customer segment
- Speak the language of those consumers already ‘living’ the trend: show them you get it (via marketing, advertising, PR)