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Trends come in all shapes and sizes. The digital space moves so fast that we forget a trend doesn’t just mean something emerging. Something can have achieved mass and still be a trend. Trends are important, but even more so the ability to distinguish between a trend and a fad. That challenge often paralyzes organizations as they try to sort real investment opportunities from interesting distractions.

Myself, I use the Trendscape model to help companies understand the difference between what’s ready for primetime and the far-out anomalies (some of which might be worth watching, waiting out the “you can tell the pioneers they’re the ones with the arrows in their back” phase, others destined for footnote status at best).

The Trendscape model has proved invaluable. At the heart, it looks at two spectra and brings them into alignment:

1. The awareness of something
2. The adoption of that something

Trends that have high awareness and high adoption are generally here to stay, are in a mature business environment and have a clear line between leaders and bottom feeders. On the opposite end of that spectrum you have low awareness and low adoption. Just because one or both are low doesn’t mean it’s not important or lacks breakout potential. Remember the first smartphones?

Here’s a current Digital Trendscape to use for both 2014 planning and for inspiration:

Ring 1: These are trends that are generally well understood and have been adopted by a global consumer marketplace. Great examples of this would be eMail and search. From Shanghai to Omaha the use and applications of eMail and search are mature. There are numerous competitors, multiple uses, robust analytics; the metrics are, generally speaking, easily applied to financial models.

Ring 2: These are the trends with high awareness, high acceptance and solid adoption. The trend I’m now thinking a lot about is “the expression of me.” From Pinterest which helps us express our wants and hopes, to Instagram, coaxing envy from our followers, to Twitter, which gives us all a voice, we’re seeing all ages and demographics leap to platforms that enable personal expression. The problem with this trend ring is how fragmented and diverse the landscape is. As trend rings become more mature we end up with fewer players, not more.

Grapic illustration - Consumer Trendscaping

Rule the Rings: Your path to a predicative model for venture analysis.

Ring 3: Many organizations struggle with Ring 3 because they mistake maturity for the trend’s being stagnant and devoid of change or disruption. Here’s a great example; take mobile. It’s not like mobile came out of nowhere to be the juggernaut it is today. And now that’s it here, most organizations will talk about mobile in 2 broad buckets: multi-screen usage (often at the expense of TV) and content snacking.

Great, so the simple approach would be to integrate calls-to-action in commercials that feature people talking about their phones and sharing content designed and created for mobile. But this misses the trend. The real trend is the ever-connected consumer who has fear of missing out (FOMO) and is therefore tethered inasmuch as is humanly possible, to a phone. The device is no longer “a phone,” it’s become a personal extension of being.

Ring 4: In this bucket we have trends that are well understood, but not well adopted. For example, the concept of quantified lives or, as I often say, big data for the little guy, has emerged. Devices like the Nest thermostat, Automatic (tracks your car driving habits) and the Jawbone UP are becoming more and more understood. When your parents can understand the concept of these devices and your parents are asking if they should get one and you already have one, you know you’re in Ring 4. When your grandparents start asking about them, then you’re in ring 2.

Ring 5: Here you have the tip of the spear, adopted by the most digitally fit, they may have zero sticking power. Yes, you read that correctly; these may  never evolve into Ring 1 trends. I said *may.* Organizations that can spot a Ring 5 trend as one that will become a Ring 1 trend are the ones who stay ahead and set the pace. Most organizations, especially those in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) vertical, are gun-shy about investing in this area. They generally take the “fast-follower” or “wait and see” approach, which of course leaves them flat-footed when a trend quickly moves from Ring 5 to Ring 1. In Ring 5, you have something like the equivalent of “disposable content.” Think SnapChat. While SnapChat itself may implode (I tend to think it will), the trend of consumers wanting to take back their privacy and being concerned about their content getting into the wrong hands, is starting to stick.

In today’s very digital world, macro cultural trends have the ability to impact behaviors in every category. My favorite example of this are the restaurants that now encourage you to take out your phone and Instagram/share photos of the food. By understanding the “expression of me” trend they’re connecting with consumers and patrons better than before.

Every organization should have a Trendscape. Your organization might only need 3 rings or it might need 7. There’s no correct number of rings. The single best piece of advice would be to think about trends as culturally, rather than categorically specific. Grouping by category can be limiting. The way you organize your Trendscape will have a very real impact as you map the future.

Adam Kmiec spent many years running global digital strategy for the Campbell Soup Company. Read more of his ramblings on “All Things Media” at www.TheKmiecs.com.


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by Brandon Gutman
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Brandon is an expert connector and seasoned business development professional. As Principal of Brand Approved, he's led the advisory to become the bridge between brand marketers and best of breed service providers that are reshaping the industry.

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