How we spot what is ‘cool’

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As strategists, our job first and foremost is to be a virtual soothsayer into a consumers’ world, writes Peita Pacey, strategy director at OMD Sydney.

We are often asked by clients to help them identify relevant trends which they can tap into to ensure the future success and growth for their business. With data abounding, we can these days access an extraordinary amount of information to keep us abreast of the “latest”.

The latest craze, gadget, band, product or designer who is setting our consumers’ world alight, all in real time. It allows us to speak to our consumer in a relevant and engaging manner. But the real challenge is to be able to differentiate from what’s merely ‘trendy’ and what’s a true ‘trend’, and then applying that to our clients business.

So what is a trend anyway? According to (and they should know) “a consumer trend is a new manifestation among consumers – in behaviour, attitude, or expectation – of a fundamental human need, want or desire”.

A fad however is a more transient way in which to serve that underlying consumer need. As Bruce Cohen in Industry Voice defines it, “Fads are driven by an emotional need to purchase, based on hype and idealistic product perceptions”. It’s a quickly embraced, short-lived, enthusiastically followed behaviour of a mass population, and generally deemed ‘cool’.  They follow a typical lifecycle of insider discovery, media hysteria, and finally mainstream acceptance.

Trends have longevity and can fundamentally change the way a community works; their effects are felt for years, whereas fads can cross cultural borders with rapid uptake. Think gamification (trend) vs Pokemon (trendy). Think casualisation of formal fashion (trend) vs the platform sandal (trendy). Think binge drinking (trend) vs SubZero alcopop (revolting). Think pop music (trend and cultural shifter from the 1960s onwards) vs Justin Bieber (hopefully a shortlived blight on the music landscape).

A great example which encompasses this is the phenomenon that is Tinder. The basic human need to belong, coupled with advances in technology has developed the ability to connect socially online. The trend we see is the expectation that these instant connections will spill over into our offline lives. Facebook was the first articulation of this which has then evolved into Tinder; a perfect example of a fad which allows this trend to be a part of our daily lives. What will come after Tinder we are yet to see but the one guarantee is that the basic human need to connect will continue as long as we do.

Another great example of a trend is peer to peer consumerism. Driven again by technology and our basic human need for discovery and community, we see the success of businesses such as Kickstarter and Air BnB.

People often refer to Hipsters or Emos as being a trend. But for me, they are a fad-based articulation of the trend of identification through individualisation, driven by the basic human desires for acceptance and community. Because after all, we’ll still want to fit in once we get sick of the beards. Same way we did with tattoos and piercings back in the ’90s and noughties.

The question we should really be asking is how should trends be considered when it comes to a brand’s identity? Because really, authenticity (the key to success for any brand these days) comes from using a trend only when it fits in with a brand’s DNA. If a brand puts caring and wellbeing at the core of its DNA, then it would make sense to see how it could use the trend of connected objects within NPD strategy. Or if a brand puts innovation at its heart, why not tap into the trend of Pretail with the consumer desire to shop for products and services at concept stage?

So the next time your client asks you to find the next Loomband opportunity, try to identify what the real trend is that they could tap into to place their brand in the heart of your consumer, because no one really wants their legacy to be Justin Bieber.

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