This is an adaptation of an interview recently done for the Norwegian fashion website Melk og Honning.
What is a “trend”?
It depends. When a climate scientist or an economist talk about trends they obviously use the word differently than s fashion journalist would, but there are still commonalities. All trends are effects of underlying driving forces, whether these forces are about CO2 emissions or teens’ need to express their personality or attitude through clothes, hairstyle and body decorations.
How does social media impact the life of a trend?
I think it is important to distinguish between trends and ‘fads’. Fads are short-lived and sensational. They come just as soon as they go, and often is the status of being an early adopter. The product is not as interesting as the idea behind it so the product can easily be replaced. Examples of fads are weight loss diets and Pokemon Go. Pokemon Go was mega popular last summer, but now you barely see anybody passing time by going “poke hunting”. Yet the underlying technology, augmented reality, has come to stay, and we will see new and advanced adaptations for Pokemon Go. Social trends, like fashion trends arise in response to underlying social conflicts expressed by the young people who tend to hold little real-world power, but dominate on the stage of on social influence. This is why mining the culture of Generation Z is so important for businesses these days. To these hyper connected and amply informed consumers, brands should align themselves with the values espoused by this generation. One example where GenZ exerts its influence is with the notion of gender fluidity. Take for example Milk cosmetics, sold in outlets like Sephora and Urban Outfitters, fronts gender fluid models and unisex makeup. A similar ‘low-maintenance’ youth trend which is doing well with Generation Z is the anti-fashion trend “normcore”. By rejecting the esoteric quirks of Millennial hipsterdom early teenagers now don oversized sweaters and no-nonsense jeans to emphasize that they are in fact ‘very normal’. Because is there really anything more normal than following your dad’s lead and sport ribbed socks in bulky orthopedic sandals?
Social media makes the trend cycle shorter because there are far more impressions that reach the eye every day. YouTube produce more content in 20 minutes than Hollywood makes in a year. And younger generations are indeed more interested in YouTubers than established celebrities. The normcore trend feeds on the fact that a whole generation idolize amateur entertainers with webcams, IKEAs bed sheets and flickering ceiling fans and not airbrushed superstars on red carpets. This shift also helps more people find their own tribe, so that several trends can coexist. The landscape is getting messier, but also with more commercial opportunities.
Who creates trends?
Creating a new trend is a bit like being in the right place at the right time. A new trend typically starts with an idea that responding to a latent conflict or the need for change that has not yet found its expression. The idea then spread from “innovators” to “influencers”, and will stick around if it hits a nerve in the target group. A trend is often first taken up by those who enjoy high social status in communities and so it expresses exclusivity. Traditionally trends are given life by the professional designers and trend hunters pick it up and commercialize it.
How can one predict a trend?
Generally there are two ways, or rather phases in predicting trends. One is about assessing the ecosystem from which new trends spring out organically. The other is about predicting trend adoption. The first is mostly judgment based. The second uses quantitative forecasting and predictive analytics methods. After the Millennials offers both of these services, often in combination.
- You can often discern the embryonic phase of a new trend by monitoring the driving forces and changes in larger systems. Trends that on the surface appear to be separate from other events are often connected on a deeper, less obvious level. The absence of these deeper correlated levels is why so many old SciFi movies got it wrong. In terms of technology trends projections from the ‘60s were pretty advanced, but social and cultural evolutions are often painfully absent from these movies. We are far more demographically heterogeneous and there is more equality between the sexes today than what you get the impression from in movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey”.
- While the first phase is mainly about assessing the fertile environment of new trends and is an important ingredient in product conceptualization, the next phase is about forecasting the speed and magnitude of its diffusion. This involves quantitative approaches predicting product or trend penetration, and it also assesses the relative importance of peer influence on product adoption on a case by cases basis.
How does a trend die?
A fad dies by becoming mainstream. A trend dies when it has outlived its usefulness. Again, Pokemon Go was a fad, but augmented reality is a trend that is likely to stay.
By using generational foresight approaches and predictive analytics tools After the Millennials can discern the evolution of a trend, fad or driving force before they reach important inflection points. The trick is to combine the right tools and envision scenarios that will allow a stakeholder to move on important decisions before it’s too late.
If you want to learn how I can help your company navigate the landscape of new trends and product opportunities, please drop me a line or two!