News & Views

More than a passing fad

A mix of icons representing social media, politics, the environment, and gender.

If the world we’re living in right now has taught us anything, it’s that some forces are beyond our control. The same is true for the world of marketing. Brands don’t exist in a vacuum. They, too, are constantly shaped by forces beyond their control: social, technological, economic, environmental, and political (STEEP) forces.

STEEP forces influence how people think and behave, which subsequently shifts our culture in big and small ways. Consider these examples from recent history:

  • The iPhone revolutionized how we access, produce, and communicate information with each other.
  • The legalization of same-sex marriage reflected a significant shift in how many of us express ourselves and our values.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered the way we live our daily lives — from how we shop to how we work, learn, and connect.

Insight into how people drive and react to these cultural shifts can help marketers determine where and how to position their brands now and in the future. But how exactly do you do that?

Trend analysis (sometimes referred to as “trend forecasting”) is a practice dedicated to monitoring trends in today’s culture, analyzing their underlying STEEP forces, and distilling them into actionable marketing insights. It involves researching what’s happening now, what it means about people’s values and behaviors, and how it impacts brands in the short and long term.

The recent surge in data and analytics has bolstered trend analysis further, as more of our attitudes and behaviors can be tracked digitally — from the TV shows we watch, to the political officials we vote for, to the socks we buy. For brands, this unlocks opportunities to evolve and innovate. Here are three ways trend analysis can benefit your brand:

1. Informing your brand identity. Continuously monitoring the attitude and behavioral shifts of customers, peers, and competitors toward your industry and the wider world can reveal key insights about the state of your brand.

  • Do your brand values still resonate with people today, or do they want something different?
  • Does your identity still stand out in the marketplace, or has it become lost in a sea of sameness?
  • Is your messaging diluted with jargon, or does it speak authentically to the needs of your customers and industry?

Depending on the answers to these questions, it might be time for a brand refresh.

2. Refreshing your marketing strategy. Innovations in media, technology, and entertainment — in and outside your industry — can alert you to new channels through which to promote your brand. Pay attention to the trending publications, apps, networks, or influencers that are breaking onto the scene or gaining a wider following. If they align with your brand, they could be worth incorporating into your marketing strategy and partnerships.

3. Uncovering new audiences. The customers you have today may not be only customers you have next year. You may think, for example, that your brand only resonates with older generations, when in reality there are younger generations that are expressing more interest in your industry. Using trend analysis to keep abreast of different demographics can reveal entire groups of people who are looking for a brand like yours, but you haven’t spoken to yet.

Entering the sphere of trend analysis is actually quite easy — and free. If you’re unsure of where to start, we’ve compiled a list of trend resources that we’ve found particularly insightful:

  • Cassandra offers free newsletters and a podcast
  • Stylus has free newsletters, webinars, and a podcast
  • Trendera offers free newsletters and reports
  • Wunderman Thompson has free newsletters and reports as well as a podcast
  • sparks&honey hosts free Culture Briefing livestreams on Facebook and LinkedIn. They also have free reports.