How do we know what trends will rule in 2011?

By Debbie Meltzer

Welcome to trend spotting – an essential skill from the business futurist’s tool box.

Once not that long ago, alternative medicine was voodoo practice, organic grocery shopping was hippie hype and location based technology was a concoction of science fiction. While most of us were turning a blind eye, these three micro-trends spiraled into mega-trends and earned a respectable position in the market place.

How did these “outcasts” managed to claw their way into the mainstream? How can we anticipate the next rising stars? How can we track trends and why should we care? 

Trends 2011, debbie meltzer, canimpact

How to track trends?

Global trend guru Gerald Celente thinks we should care; “those who view the world through their profession alone,” he says, “will miss out on the opportunities.”

One of the biggest shortcomings most of us marketers suffer from is a tendency to navel gaze. Granted, we should know our industry, but we can never underestimate the importance of scanning socio-economic, political, environmental, cultural and geo-political trends. And we should never stop challenging business fixtures and clichés like; “thinking outside of the box”

Just exactly what box are we talking about?

As soon as you start thinking outside of the box, you have restricted your thinking capabilities! There is no box. There are no rules,” Gerald Celente.

So it seems, The moment we stretch our neck out and scan our environment in high resolution is the moment we begin to observe patterns. And as soon as we pay attention to patterns we begin to detect trends. From here lies a very definite pathway to driving innovation.

For instance, I work with a client that develops SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions for the hemorrhaging luxury market. Once a pillar of stability, the luxury market is experiencing a seismic shift. Global sales have dropped by 20 per cent reflecting how an era of non-stop consumption turned into an era of thoughtful consumption.

Trend analyzers predict – luxury brands that will make it will be ones that can tap into new consumer trends, adapt new technologies to help automate processes and act on changing forces immediately.

Realizing the importance of trend scanning, my client zoomed out and found that the luxury market was not coping well with consumer shifts and faced difficulties adopting technology solutions. Left out of the technology loop, luxury market wholesalers and retailers were losing out on the potential to accelerate performance and cut costs.

After assessing the market my client did two things; they developed the first real time sell-through solution and then they made it so user friendly that even the largest “technophobe” could cope.

Their solution changed the rules by enabling this business community to act on data the moment a sale came through. As soon as you know in real time what’s happening at Point of Sale, you can key into consumer trends, you can tighten inventory control and you can adjust your production line to meet true demand. Such technology innovations are helping this market stay relevant in 2011 and beyond.

So it seems the best entrepreneurs notice the world around them and identify changes — in particular problems that no one is solving. Paying attention to some of the changes provides a rich source of new business ideas. But how do you key into these sources? How can you tap into the seismic shifts before the market begins to quake?

Enter online tools for spotting mega trends:

A colleague of mine, Dr. Taly Weiss, owner of market trend analysis company Trend Spotting, recently shared some consumer research secrets: “The key is to capture what people are thinking online” she said. She recommends googling queries that begin with:

“I wish I had… I wish I could buy… I must get a new… etc., and examining what comes through. Tali is also part of a new breed of trendologists who are using social media as a valuable research tool for trends spotting.

Recently, I experimented with search and social media tools to trail trends. I found their key benefit was the ability to monitor trends in real time by; location, activity, demographics and more. Some of the free tools proved to be particularly useful. Let’s say, for instance, I want to tap into Tablet PC, fashion week patterns, Foursquare vibes and more… After test driving some of the tools, this is what surfaced:

How can you make use of all this data mining? Savvy marketers are paying particular attention to consumer sentiments, criticisms and product recommendations for developing new products. So it seems the power of trend tracking has been augmented by the free-for-all crowd chatter.

Consumers are transforming faster than we are, and if we don’t catch up, we’re in trouble!