In a recent interview, Random House CEO Markus Dohle said he is “convinced that publishers have to become more reader oriented in a marketing and trend finding/setting way rather than in a direct to consumer selling way.” The tricky part: How can publishers be trendspotters? In this two-part series, we will try to address that question. This month, we aim to give you an overview of the world of trends research: What exactly a trend is (hint: It’s not a fad); what trend researchers’ day-to-day work is like; and which methods they use to discover the Next Big Thing. We also provide a brief list of trendhunting resources websites. Next month, we’ll focus on specific tools that publishers can use to hone their own trendspotting skills and grasp what’s going on now and what’s coming next.
Piers Fawkes is the founder of PSFK, a Manhattan-based trends research and innovation company that publishes a daily news site, provides trends research and innovation consulting for companies like Apple and Target, manages a network of freelance experts (the PurpleList expert network), and hosts idea-generating events, like “salons” in major cities around the world. “PSFK is a go-to source for new ideas for creative business, and we tend to find those ideas through trend analysis,” Fawkes told PT. The company’s website posts on new trends and topics up to thirty times a day and is read by 750,000 “creative professionals” each month. PSFK also publishes reports and recently released a book, Future of Retail, which was created using Blurb and published via Amazon’s CreateSpace self-publishing software (“We can’t wait a year to publish a book about retail trends,” said Fawkes on the decision to self-publish.) Fawkes is also the author of a forthcoming book on trendspotting, tentatively titled Gather: How to Find Your Next Good Idea, which will be traditionally published by Palgrave/Macmillan next year.
Fawkes explained that PSFK begins the process of trends research by gathering “what we call data—new ideas.” The company has a small full-time team and a network of freelance writers. To begin investigating a “brief” (for example, social media or sustainability), they read. “We find articles around the web that give us data points,” says Fawkes. “If we see an article on Engadget or Daily Candy or something else, we put all those ideas into a private blog. At the end of the process [which can take as little as 24 hours or up to four weeks], we’ll have about 600 to 800 data points around that one brief. From that, we conduct pattern recognition, look at clusters of similar themes within the data, and identify things that are going on within that data and responding to the brief. Those tend to be trends: new ideas taking place and new things taking place.”
Next, PSFK talks to “tastemakers,” who tend to be journalists, people who run new businesses, or “creatives”—designers, artists, and so forth. “We talk to these people about our findings and get their response. From there, we define the trends.”
Missing from the trends research and discovery process are the consumers, and that is a conscious choice, Fawkes said. This sentiment seemed surprising at first: We often write about how publishers need to tap into consumer data to find out what regular readers want. But those we spoke with stressed that consumers are bad at predicting trends. While some companies, such as Trendwatching.com, use “spotters” around the world to identify trends, these people must apply for the position. Trendwatching.com has over 750 spotters in more than 100 countries.
“Consumers are followers, not leaders,” asserts Gerald Celente, founder of the Kingston, NY–based Trends Research Institute. The Institute, launched in 1980, is made up of 25 experts who “specialize in early detection of danger and opportunity within and across the socioeconomic and geopolitical landscape.” They help companies develop in-house trend tracking systems and promise to “prepare any organization to profit from trends on an ongoing basis by teaching them how to forecast, analyze and track trends for themselves.” Celente, who has appeared on The Today Show and Good Morning America, isn’t afraid of controversy; he protested against “Obamageddon” on Glenn Beck, and in 2009, he issued a call for tax revolution. But the Institute’s quarterly Trends Journal also predicted gourmet coffee in 1988; “technotribalism,” or social networking, and the “buy local” trend in 1993; and internet TV in 2005.
“Publishers are in a very precarious situation,” Celente told PT. “They mistake trends with fads, they react rather than proact, and they jump onto what’s big. Another really stupid thing they do is put together consumer panels. Why are you asking people who don’t know? They’re doing what is, not what’s going to be. I’ve sat in on a lot of market research panels and they come up with a big zero when it comes to forecasting.” His recommendation for publishers, and anyone else in business, is “making connections between fields. One of my sayings is, ‘Opportunity misses those who view the world through the eyes of their profession.’ It’s desk vision. . . . You can’t absorb [trends] through osmosis, you can’t just concentrate on one field or another, it’s a multidisciplinary system that takes into account the complex global matrix that actually determines and defines the trend.”
“Consumers can help you optimize a product, but they don’t help you see change or help you see the future,” says Fawkes. “If you ask the consumer what they want, they want things cheaper, faster, thinner, but they don’t help you make the evolutionary leap. A consumer panel is not going to help you create the iPhone. They’d say they want a faster phone made of gold and diamonds for five bucks.” They can provide feedback to make existing products better, they can “react” if they’re given something to react to, “but they are not going to help you find a new idea.”
In the November issue of Publishing Trends, we will focus on specific resources that publishers can use in their quest to be trendspotters. In the meantime, here’s a list of trendhunting resources and websites.
- Daily updates and weekly mini-documentaries on innovations in design, technology, art, and culture.
- Sampling of trends recently covered: Phaidon Press relaunched its website with new sections highlighting current trends in the areas Phaidon publishes in and spotlighting editor-selected content and stories from around the web.
- In addition to consulting services, PSFK’s website covers new ideas in everything from branding to home and garden and features daily selections of important headlines.
- Sampling of trends recently covered: IKEA’s new cookbook represents recipes visually; consumer psychologists speak on how to connect with millennials in the workplace; Mozy, an online backup service, investigated the ways that technology is affecting the educational process; the “third revolution in online retail” is “flexibility on a scale that’s unimaginable within the context of a physical space.”
- From the Intelligence Group, a youth-focused consumer insights company. (Their fall “Trend School” takes place in LA on Oct. 26 and NYC on November 2.)
- Sampling of trends recently covered: Really new methods of storytelling include Sent, “the world’s first novel told by e-mails”—subscribers receive one e-mail daily, The Mongoliad, for which subscribers receive new chapters, accompanied by photos and video, weekly, and My Darklyng, an online serialized YA novel with an accompanying world of social media.
- “Daily dose of micro-trends, viral news and pop culture.” Trends are crowdsourced by 37,714 trend hunters around the world. Trend Hunter PRO organizes data into patterns for subscribers (which include Google and Pepsi).
- Sampling of trends recently covered: “Mangification“–manga infiltrates airports, classic fairytales, and manicures; “shocktivism“–activists are using provocative marketing strategies like body modifications for charity, gory toy campaigns, and social awareness e-cards; “DIY Healthcare” includes fertility monitor pods and “body check balls.”
- Free monthly trend briefings are sent to subscribers; you can also buy trend reports and purchase access to a trends database as part of a premium service.
- Sampling of trends recently covered: “Maturalism“–consumers increasingly appreciate brands that push boundaries, part of a larger trend known as “brand fabric.” Examples include an “extreme” version of Marmite, a bookstore that serves wine, and Ben & Jerry’s partnership with same-sex marriage campaigners to make “Hubby Hubby” (the gay marriage-supporting version of “Chubby Hubby”).
- Check out their Trend Briefing for October: It’s 15 trend watching tips (for example, know the difference between “macro,” “industry,” and “consumer” trends).
- “Scans the globe for the most promising business ventures, ideas and concepts that are ready for regional or international adaptation, expansion, partnering, investments or cooperation,” using an international network of 8000 spotters.
- Sampling of new business ideas recently covered: Medical comic books for kids explain serious diseases; Madrid company 24symbols offers free e-book streaming and sharing with ad support; FT Press recently began selling condensed business classics and essays as e-books.