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Trends & Reactions: Finding Opportunities for Growth in Cultural Shifts


Change happens. It’s just the way it is. The world today is not the same as it was a decade ago or even a year ago. Over time ideologies evolve, culture shifts, and attitudes change in response. These trends may take years—or decades—to firmly establish themselves. But, when they do, the new beliefs and values change people’s behavior and the trend is fully normalized.

Look at recycling as an example. Historically, if you had any sort of trash—paper, plastic, glass—you threw it away. But today, after years of public awareness campaigns, state and local mandates, and cultural influences, it's a normal part of most people’s trash routine to recycle.

On a much shorter timeline, we have reactions, which are cultural responses to a moment in time. Like trends, they result in changed behavior. But, often, this is temporary like mask-wearing, social distancing, and an increase in outdoor dining options.

So, we have a dynamic culture where trends are constantly establishing themselves. Then, we have reactions responding to specific moments of time. This means reactions and nascent  trends are constantly intersecting with each other. And when they do, the intersection will either:

  • Amplify the trend, causing the trend to accelerate and normalize

  • Redirect the trend, causing the trend to change in nature or change course

  • Neutralize the trend, causing it to dissipate or slow down (which may later cause a redirection)

Wherever we find amplification or redirection, we want to look for areas where the trend and the reaction might converge. This is where the reaction leads to a strengthening of the trend and the reaction is no longer a response to a moment in time but instead a new normal. In this, we find opportunities for innovation within our organization and the industry. 

Running shoe brand, On, found an amplification of a trend that led to a convergence. This pushed On to accelerate the release of their first-ever streetwear sneaker during Covid. On realized that the lines between fashion, sports, and outdoor gear are getting blurry and that all of those things are borrowing from each other; in other words, they saw a trend.

In a FastCompany article On co-founder, David Allemann makes the point that “Performance used to borrow from fashion. Now it’s been the other way around, and we see that in how outdoor gear has been adopted by fashion brands and how almost every brand now has sneakers, because it’s driven by a generation who is blurring the boundaries between work, home, sports, and play… That shift is accelerating and also very difficult to turn fully back, and people probably don’t want to turn it fully back.”¹

With Covid, the majority of white-collar workforce have moved to officing from home (a reaction). This is amplifying existing trends in where we work and how we dress, creating a convergence where On found an opportunity.

Trend Spotting

Trends tend to be hard to spot. Good news, though. In this case, we aren’t trying to identify trends before they establish themselves; we are just looking for existing and nascent trends that might be relevant.

To help, here are 5 things you can do to identify existing trends:

1. Look around

Often, innovation in one industry means that customers are open to leaning into a new trend. You may find that those trends will eventually impact your organization. You can also look at what industries are thriving and which are only coping.

Ask yourself, what types of innovation are you seeing in other categories and which are thriving?

2. Listen to the top

Unfortunately, much of what drives trends are big market voices (individuals or movements). In understanding the influencers and icons of the market (and their real interests in the topic) we can start to imagine how their contributions might play out over time. This might be a good indicator of the beginning of a trend and how sticky it might be.

Ask yourself, what are popular, and emerging, trends in the organizations I follow?

3. Notice behaviors

A person’s behavior is an outgrowth of a belief system. The more people with the same behavior, the more it might indicate a set of ideologies shaping that behavior.

Ask yourself, what am I noticing (through internal analytics or customer feedback) about our customer’s habits?

4. Review the data

Look to see what data is out there that shows more insights into those patterns of behaviors within your industry or adjacent industries. Googling it is a great place to start. Look for scholarly research, government reports, and industry analysts.

Ask yourself, are the behaviors I am anecdotally noticing supported by existing research and data?

5. Talk to customers

Find 6–10 people in each of your audience segments and interview them to find out what is driving their behaviors. (Note: To avoid bias, this is normally done by an outside agency vs. your internal team.) Look for what they are saying, thinking, feeling, and doing. Those insights will lead you to ask better questions and give directionality to strategic questions.

Ask yourself, do I only know how my customers act or also what they also think and feel?

  1. This example was taken from a FastCompany article.