< Back
December 1st, 2014
the art of trend spotting
by Myles Ritson

As humans we all have an insatiable desire to know the future – to know gives us the power to pre-empt, to be rich, safe and most importantly to be right.

That’s why conferences with trends in the title are so well attended. We dream that someone’s identified an inevitable approaching wave that we can ride.

Yet it’s no secret inaccessible magic – the identification of emerging proto-trends may be informed by science but it is manifested by art.

15 years ago, Jake McCall wrote of The Mutating Consumer, forecasting that men would become machines. Many applauded his creativity but few had the courage seek out the wave he had predicted. He spoke about computers we’d wear as glasses, robotic implants that would see for us and computers that would transmit human thoughts and emotions.

He knew the answer wasn’t in the data but in the creative space between those data points and coined the process Forensics – collecting clues from unconnected universes and then looking for emerging patterns.

Leading food companies around the world wait each year for McCormick’s Flavour Forecast. I was asked to attend a recent food trends conference and was surprised to see almost nothing presented as new that hadn’t already been in their 2012-2014 forecasts.

So how do they do it? That, like all great recipes, is a secret. While they have a formidable R&D centre in Baltimore stuffed with Grade A scientists, the creation of the trend forecast is done through a fusion of insight, global &, local marketing, culinary and sensory specialists who don’t just collect multi-source data but also love to play in the gaps.

They know their consumers inside out and the understanding of flavour is in their blood, so when they hit a sweet spot they just know they are onto something. Science can take you a long way, but art creates the spark of trends and commitment fans the flame to make them real.

Practical steps to spot trends

1. Think relative growth not absolute

A trend growing in a niche space is just as significant as mass market. Ignore at your peril. Blockbuster turned down the chance to take a major stake in a little company called Netflix and ended up broke.

2. Learn to live with the feeling of not knowing

We use an approach called the Knowledge Web where we draw data together from multiple sources and interrogate it using the Forensics principles. The sources are not all statistically significant – we’ve interviewed sea lion keepers at Toronto Zoo for a project on the DNA of the Canadian Male. They allow us to create hypotheses of what may be happening and then we look for more evidence that we may be right.

3. Accept that the best creativity comes with rigour

You need to collect data points, opinions and hunches – lots of them – before you start to apply your creative interpretation. And then you need tools to help you turn data into hypotheses.

4. Keep the faith

The pattern you spot may be small now, but imagine how big might it become if you stick with it and promote it.

5. Grow lots of eyes and ears

Trend departments, like insight departments usually fail. Two people can see or hear the same information and reach radically different conclusions. Get as many eyes and ears as you can and reward them for bringing you shiny objects.

As featured on Brand Republic http://wallblog.co.uk/2014/12/01/the-art-of-trend-spotting/#ixzz458SHX2vE