Forecasting trends is risky business. Whether or not trends will actualize as envisioned can be made less uncertain only by the quality of knowledge at hand. One of the most difficult aspects of financial and cultural analysis is recognizing the importance of and advising on the strategic implications of emerging patterns as trends (in culture, for example). In point of fact, within the realm of consulting tied to consumer insights today, the ability to recognize and advise on the strategic implications of trends is the great dividing line from (and a near departure from) what has been traditionally known as "market research" (e.g., reporting on what appears to be happening, as in "the data says").
Though we believe it is still seldom practiced, we think such culturally driven analysis can form the spark of innovation within the fields of consumer and shopper insight both of which claim to uncover the "why" of things, including changes occurring in culture and in turn feed strategic consulting that builds from such methodologies.
To understand more about the process of making sense of cultural trends and advising on them strategically, it's important to acknowledge that many marketers and entrepreneurs routinely jump too quickly to tactical solutions upon catching a glimmer of a behavioral shift in this or that segment they routinely target. Large-scale tracking survey vendors provide annual updates of isolated data points concerning what we might call cultural-level data (e.g., number of restaurant or grocery store visits per week in this or that demographic group).
Because they are one of few sources for this kind of general cultural behavior, clients are tempted to move straight to action based on shifts in the bar graph. But the hasty leap from thin cultural trend data like this to tactical solutions ignores a critical step in both research and analysis: useful analysis on this kind of cultural behavior requires a broad context in order to see what its true implications, its ripple effects, really are within households. This cultural context is critical to knowing how to respond to a cultural trend most innovatively or when to simply ignore it. The fewer contexts one has on a trend like "meal fragmentation," the more likely businesses will simply innovate within the same old set of parameters.
In our white paper, Trends Insights: From Market Research to Strategic Implications, we examine the kind of context required to engage consumers in different ways other than what the market research toolkit currently has.
This paper includes two case examples: meal fragmentation and fresh (and the ongoing redefinition of quality). The case example looks at the identification of the cultural trend, implications of the cultural trend, and strategic implications from the identified trend.
Trends Insights also includes:
The paper includes thoughts on why consumer culture will always redefine your categories and how cultural trend identification can drive true innovation.