MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: How to profit from the Next Big Thing

How do businesses spot the next big consumer trend, and profit from it? Here are ten top tips.

With some signs of light finally starting to appear at the end of the recessionary tunnel, it's time to start thinking about how you can position your business for the recovery. And the most successful leaders will be those who can identify what their market will look like not only in 12 months' time, but in five years' time. So MT asked futurologist and author William Higham, founder of trends consultancy The Next Big Thing, for his top tips on how to spot - and more importantly, profit from - new consumer trends.

1. Look outside your sector
Although you will be focused on your particular sector, your customers rarely are. They will be subject to influences across all consumption points: from health to leisure, software to sofas. So a trend that occurs in one sector can quickly spread to another. Look for trends in other industries by studying magazines, websites and polls in sectors that typically spread trends or that have influenced your own in the past.

2. Find free data
Research doesn’t have to be expensive. If budgets are low, hunt for statistics on government websites or press releases on corporate websites; interrogate your own customers or customer data; read magazines and attend trade fairs for other industries; talk to experts; and encourage your staff to look for trends on your behalf.

3. Keep your eyes open
Information on a new trend can come from anywhere, so be vigilant. I’ve spotted new trends while reading newspapers or blogs; on the phone to colleagues; at trade fairs and conferences; in shops, festivals and nightclubs; even at dinner parties. Note down, photograph or film whatever it is you see on your smart phone. Then when you have more time, sit down and consider the implications for your company.

4. Consider the implications

Just spotting trends is not enough. You need to spend time determining what the implications of a trend might be for your industry and your company.  Run SWOT analysis on a new trend to see if it likely to be a Booster or Barrier to your company. Consider not just what a trend might mean next year but, if it grows and spreads, what might it mean for your market in five or even ten years. If it is a micro trend (e.g. increased mobility or communality in a single sector), might it indicate the emergence of a new macro trend (a greater demand for mobility or communality generally)?

5. Test the temperature
Whenever you hear about a new trend, consider whether consumers will actually be open to it. First, does the trend conform to classic consumer behavioural drivers? Might it enhance the consumer’s prestige, make them richer and so on. Secondly, is the current socio-economic and technological environment appropriate. A trend for luxury won’t take off in a recession, nor will a trend for tradition when everyone is thinking about the future.

6. Ignore fads
Trends last, but fads don’t. Although a fad can inspire operational marketing tactics, basing long-term strategy on a fad is highly dangerous. Beware ‘trends’ that are based around just one product or emanate from just one magazine, journalist or consultant; those that are taking place within a notoriously fickle group such as teens; that do not conform to classic consumer behaviour drivers; that are difficult or expensive to take up: they may well just be fads.

7. Ignore irrelevant trends
It is vital to determine if a new trend is likely to affect your company, your industry or your territory. Study what factors are driving it and what segments it is affecting, and if those are present in your area. If they not, and are not likely to be, ignore it and start looking for more relevant trends.

8. Time it right
Like comedy, trend forecasting is all about timing. To launch trend-related products or marketing too early is as bad as doing so too late. Calculate how fast a trend is likely to take off. Look at what factors might accelerate or decelerate a trend. Trends move faster in fast-turnover sectors like personal technology and fashion. They move faster the more they conform to classic consumer behaviour drivers; the easier and cheaper it is to trial them; and the more visible they are, either in consumers’ everyday lives or in the Media. 

9. Brainstorm
To determine the potential implications of a trend and how to adapt your strategy accordingly, run brainstorming sessions among your management teams. Include experts on the topic (from inside and outside your organization) and representatives from any departments it will impact: from R&D to Finance.

10. Create an innovation culture
You can only gain from spotting a trend when you successfully integrate that information into company strategy. This is as much about convincing others of the importance of a trend as it is about being ‘right’ about that trend. Ensure your company is open to new trend-led strategies by establishing an innovation culture. Encourage innovation among your staff. Establish regular trend briefing sessions. And introduce a formal trends procedure into all relevant departments.

William Higham is founder of trends consultancy The Next Big Thing and author of ‘The Next Big Thing: Spotting & Forecasting Consumer Trends for Profit’ (Kogan Page, 2009).

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