What colour is your Fidget Spinner? Can you stack and spin? Have you stepped up from standard to stainless steel? These are the big questions buzzing around primary school playgrounds right now. But what’s it all about? What is a Fidget Spinner? Why is it relevant in a marketing blog? And have we just forgotten about Pokèmon Go?
In an industry that mines and defines the zeitgeist, it’s vital we stay up to play with the latest noise. But what’s real? What’s a fad? And which are the fashions worth following? These are the big questions that keep marketing people awake at night.
Fashion? Fad? Or futility?
Fashion is described as a popular or latest style of clothing, hair, decoration or behaviour. Think high-waist pants, smashed avocado, ‘mindfulness’ and the lob (that’s a long bob for the uninitiated). Fashion is a multi-billion dollar money-go-round that keeps shoppers shopping. It’s second only to big oil in wastefulness because any given fashion wears out long before clothes do.
But it’s bigger than that. Fashion is about personal identity. People spend money to look and feel good. Often with the paradoxical goal of standing out within the in-crowd. Fashion is socially constructed through cultural hegemony: the people with the power set the agenda and everyone piles in so they’re not left out. Fashion and brand are intimate bedfellows.
While fashions rise and fall over time, a fad is a bit different. Think jeggings. A fad or craze is any form of collective behaviour that quickly develops within a culture, generation or social group. This is the deal with the Fidget Spinner. It’s also the story of the Macarena, the Rubik’s cube and planking. Fads are also made popular by an in-crowd – but they flash in the pan and fade very quickly.
Futility is that thing where a brand chases a fad and ends up looking like a try-hard. And that’s where Pokèmon Go deserves a mention.
If that’s fashion, what’s a trend?
Unlike fashions or fads, trends have a basis beyond social construction. A trend describes the general direction in which something is developing or changing. Often led by innovation in technology, trends describe a current that’s driving the zeitgeist. The easiest way to tell the difference is to scratch the surface and look for the reason why something seems popular.
One example is Pokèmon Go. The combination of super-fast internet connections and super-cheap cell phones made an augmented reality experience the global game-du-jour. But Pokèmon Go wasn’t a trend. It came, it went: it’s fad. But our ability to overlay digital stuff in a real-world setting is a trend worth watching. Apply similar thinking to channel marketing and Snapchat probably feels like a fad du jour, while mobile-first digital engagement is a serious trend.
Dial that thinking into marketing decisions and it’s worth taking the time to understand trends. If you take the time to ask the questions, the signposts are all there. Understanding trends is all about asking why. Why is this a thing? Why are people doing it? What made this a thing? If you can’t find an underlying reason, chances are there’s nothing in it. If you can, you’ve spotted a trend.
Don’t follow fashion. Track trends.
That’s the bottom line. And there’s plenty of trends to track. Better yet, you’ve already heard many of the buzzwords. You use augmented reality whenever you turn to Google Maps. If you’ve nailed the 'Thanks for joining us' email you’ve started on marketingautomation. And if your business combines your data with someone else’s to better communicate, you’ve made your first small step toward harnessing the power of big data.
Thinking brands, Authenticity is a trend that’s driven by customers having a billion social soapboxes to call out poor behaviour. Customer centricity is similar. And the current explosion of Craft-everything is a natural human response to look for ‘real’ when so much of their world view is fed to them through Facebook.
Be open. Be interested. Be careful. And be quick.
The ability to dance through the opportunities and minefields of a fast-changing world can give any brand a commercial advantage. It’s about being open to new opportunities, being interested enough to scratch the surface and look for trends, being careful not to jump at the latest craze and being quick enough to ride the popularity wave – but only where it genuinely fits with your brand.
Like anything, there are as many negative trends as useful ones. (Here's five to get you started). But if you stay open, interested, careful and quick, there are plenty of wins in understanding trends and following fashion. That’s what I reckon, what do you think?
- Michael Goldthorpe is the managing partner at Hunch.