How to spot emerging consumer trends

We were looking at trends in green fashion over the summer and it got us reflecting on a quote that’s often attributed to William Gibson.

“The future’s here, it’s just unevenly distributed”

I take this to mean that what we think of as the future has its roots in the here and now. If that holds true, and we can find it, that would be a pretty cool way of spotting potential growth trends.

What do we mean by the future?

There’s the stuff of science fiction, those ideas that seem outlandish or impossible (teleportation, travel to other galaxies). Then there are the ideas that are closer to being realised (many of which were the science fiction of the previous generation) such as driverless cars or thinking computers.

We have a single word, ‘future’, which hides the reality of the millions of smaller advances that are happening all around us. The ‘future’ is a snapshot in our minds of what life might be like some time far away from now. But the reality is that the signs of the future are all around us already. If we know where and how to look for it.

The future is made by enthusiasts. Those people passionate enough to push the boundaries of what’s possible. This can be in anything, from cooking to make-up, from AI to home automation. It’s the scientists, the inventors, the hobbyists, the free-thinking enthusiasts and the people that follow them who create the future. And they’re doing it now.

How do we find the green shoots of today before they become the future of tomorrow?

For an idea to become popular it needs an audience, it has to connect, excite and inspire. Social media creates spaces for ideas to bubble to the surface, for them to be shared and developed. Its relatively low cost and ease of use, make it the ideal tool for sharing new ideas to see if anyone else is interested. It’s the only really viable tool for finding your initial tribe and building this into a larger audience. This all leaves a trace that we can follow.

Sure, we’re looking at weak signals, but that’s the point. When we were looking at green fashion we found the edges of the conversation were where the innovation was happening, where the status quo was really being challenged. This is where the early signs of difference and change were emerging, not where the mainstream default to their normal behaviour. It’s these edges that show how traditional markets could evolve over time, given the right circumstances.

To take one example, in the fashion category some people want to live a greener life by reducing their personal consumption of fashion. This is expressed differently depending on the country where it’s happening, influenced by cultural norms, history and narrative. The converse of this is also present, where people aren’t looking to reduce what that they buy, rather they want to buy better.

Working at the edges

Social media research can help you discover the edges of any category, where new behaviours and attitudes are being formed. This is the petri dish where people are experimenting. It can show you the likely ways in which any future change could happen. These emerging trends can then be observed over time to see which gain traction and which remain niche. This can then help decide how to develop your strategy to take advantage of the right trends. Adapting the passion of the edges to appeal to the mainstream. Giving them what they don’t know they want yet.

If the mass market starts to move towards a greener lifestyle, we’re pretty sure we know where and how this is likely to go.

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