Is buying trends a waste of money?

15 Oct 2010|Added Value

Trends are often misused by marketers. Too commonly they are taken at face value, wrung through an ideation session and spat out as undifferentiated, category generic innovation. Worse still, this usually happens late in the game, when all of the smaller, more nimble and edgy competitors are already onto the next big thing.

You could bet that there’s not one FMCG marketer who hasn’t been in some sort of workshop to brainstorm ‘Health and Wellness’ ideas, only to find at the end of the day there’s only so many ways you can market a low carb product. At best, the approach is a hit and miss exercise.

Or take the shift towards consumer generated content and two way brand conversations.  Marketing media are filled with sorry stories of brands that have unwittingly jumped on the social media bandwagon to their peril because they haven’t truly understood the trend underpinning the technology.

Ideating off ‘mega trends’, as they’re often referred to, is sort of like shopping in the end of year sales; by the time you get there all the good gear’s gone, but there’s still a pile of stuff that either doesn’t fit or everyone else owns.

But, if you learn how to use trends, to understand and interpret them for your brand, you will not only unlock differentiated, ownable and meaningful action but get a glimpse into how your category could play out in the future.

This future scenario allows you to see how you’d be placed to compete if you did nothing, and what you might have to do in order to survive, to defend and to lead.

Where are the best trends for your brand and how can you unlock them?

Working with trends is not an exact science. They are constantly evolving and there’s no right or wrong trend for a particular brand to leverage. But be warned that biggest does not necessarily mean best – bigger, more residual trends are more likely to lead you down a path of sameness, while other seemingly niche but emergent trends can unlock true distinction and differentiation for your brand. And there are more of them out there than you might think!

Open your eyes to culture

To find the most relevant trends and truly activate them you must become a keen observer what’s happening around you. Look beyond consumer behaviour and instead to culture and everything that’s big and meaningful to the world your brand lives in, extending beyond obvious and traditional category boundaries.

Part of Apple’s genius is that they always look further than the immediate world of technology they functionally compete in. They find inspiration in other cultural contexts in which their brand exists such as how things like leisure and home life are evolving, how people are expressing themselves creatively or perhaps how the meaning of community is changing. This allows them to create trends rather than just react to them.

Find the sweet spots where cultural shifts align

It’s not the big, slow moving shifts that occur in culture that are most interesting, but rather where these shifts accelerate, align and collide – this is where exciting trends are born from.

For example, a trend manifesting itself today around artisan expertise is driven by a meeting point between changing attitudes towards both nature and community – a growing desire for production that respect nature aligning with a societal shift from mass globablisation to a collection of smaller tribes. The trend comes to life across different categories in the form of products like ‘craft’ beers such as James Squire, the old school paper packaging of Lawson’s bread or swanky retail concepts like Thomas Dux or the new Coles stores.

Like solving any problem, finding relevant trends is not about starting from scratch but rather, drawing upon as many trend sources as you can and understanding if and why they are relevant to your brand’s world. At any one time you should be able to identify heaps of trends that apply in some way to your brand or at least have the power to change the face of the category in which you compete.


Once you’ve got a bank of relevant trends, it’s time to play! Instead of looking at them individually in isolation, combine the trends and mix them up to create future scenarios of what may be if you or your competitors were to act upon them.

This means more than just innovation. Using trends in this way allows you a point of view on your brand’s potential future positioning, enabling you to prioritise action in terms of what you need to do to stay ahead, to renovate or to defend.

Go forth and conquer!

The world around your brand is always changing and being aware of trends is not enough. Every brand has the opportunity to help shape the future, but to do this you need to be on the front foot.

  • Keep close to the pulse of culture, what’s changing and where
  • Look beyond traditional category boundaries to understand the different roles your brand plays, or could play within a broader cultural context
  • Know how to spot where and when relevant changes in your brand’s sphere align or collide; these are where big, exciting trends are born
  • Play with what the trend means to your category and to your brand to inform action!

Adopting this approach to trends enables you to create the future, rather than just play catch up. 

By Dennis Wong, Project Director atAdded Value Australia.  He’s fond of craft beers.

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