[ What are trends and why we should keep an eye on them? ]

We enjoy reading and listening about new trends. They are all around us. We search for them in fashion, in cookery, in music and in pop culture. We notice them in new technologies, applications and hot travel destinations. And no wonder. People love novelties, being up-to-date and surrounding themselves with things that attract the attention of others. But are the trends we imitate and follow really trends? What defines a trend and makes it meaningful? And why i sit so important to be aware of it (especially among people working at the meeting point of business, new media, technology and consumer behavior).

Common – though not necessarily correct – understanding of a trend

The difference between a trend and a fad for many people is sometimes imperceptible. These terms are often used interchangeably, which is greatly influenced by the media distorting and skewing the true meaning of this phenomenon.

It is enough to visit a few web portals to see that the vast majority of this word is used in a rather shallow sense that generates additional clicks. Usually in the context of lifestyle, fashion, technical innovations or viral events with a short period of popularity.

Tik Tok new, terrible trend [The Wired].

Upside-down bikinis: the trend made popular by Love Island [The Guardian].  

A new athlete wellness trend just dropped [The Verge].

However, in this sense, we can talk, at most, about a component of trends or their manifestation (significant trends are often absorbed by dozens or even hundreds of such elements) and we definitely impoverish the value that the observation of trends can bring to our organization.

In a slightly different way, the term is used to describe a new product – something that is just being developed or has appeared on the market and has taken over the wallets (and often also minds) of consumers. In this sense, the word trend refers to building a new product category, developing specific innovations in given market sectors – the so-called development (e.g. in the automotive industry, electronics or furniture design)

This word is understood differently by economists, sociologists or historians who use it in statistical terms, showing a certain direction of changes taking place in a given part of the market or in a given group. In this perspective, it is mainly used to predict something that is likely to happen.

How to know when we are dealing with a real trend

In the old English, trend meant “to turn”. At the moment of its inception, it was irreversibly connected with the change. And it is precisely this approach – as a manifestation of something that is yet to happen and a signal of changes that may redefine our work, free time, social relations or culture – that is closest to us.

The trend understood in this way can be attributed the following features.

Fad is not a trend

  • It is about something short-lived that disappears as quickly as it appears (usually up to a year).
  • Usually it is associated with a limited environment and does not go to the mainstream and other market sectors.
  • It is usually heavily promoted and advertised – it loses its momentum when the market stops investing in it.

The trend is made by people and it involves changes

A trend always rises from the human needs or problems we face. It is looking for solutions to specific challenges, an attempt to protest against the mainstream. It is a response to processes, products or views that have been present among us for too long and have become worn out, bored or simply exhausted in the world. The trend is always related to change and leads to a new view of reality in whatever form we consider it – social, cultural, spiritual, material or technological. It is a search for answers to what is starting to distress us in our reality.

The trend is characterized by a long duration and development

The real, leading trends describe important phenomena and changes that take shape over the long term. We are talking here of years and decades rather than weeks or months, as is the case with temporary fads. Such phenomena, before they “let off” for good, they usually smolder gently, signaling the coming changes, and then explode with redoubled strength.

Trends can be defined by vectors along which individual visions, innovations or technologies move, with which we have been fascinated for a certain – though still short – time. For example, in terms of new technologies, these may be:

  • NFT
  • Metaverse
  • DAO
  • or web3

One day they may indeed become a shaped trend, but from the perspective of a change analyst, it is too early to explicitly place them in this category. In the methodology of the trend observation process, they are still – weaker or slightly stronger – signals in the early phase of their maturation; one of the hypotheses to consider. Or they are part of a large, already formed leading trend. While they may shape our future on many levels, they might as well be gone in a year or two.

The trend is characterized by high reach and replication

Trends are never just a local phenomenon, but they make their presence felt at different latitudes. This is an accelerating change that is becoming more and more dynamic and occurs on a large scale. Usually strengthened by global forces (including social, environmental, economic, cultural, legal and technological). Neither national borders nor individual areas of the market constitute barriers for it. The true trend is also spreading and putting down roots, also in other sectors of the market (the so-called trend convergence).

The broad replicability of the trend, manifested by its presence and practical application in many industries, areas of our lives and on different continents, is one of the most important evidence that the trend has “legs”. In such a case, it is definitely worth analyzing a given phenomenon in the context of a strong trend.

The trend concerns the future

The issue with which many people have a problem in the context of understanding the concept of a trend is its time horizon, but also the dynamics of its development and the application of trends and their analysis for a specific purpose, e.g. for the purposes of the functioning of the company. This problem is well illustrated by the sentence from an article on trends published in a popular business magazine for management:

“It is important to be able to recognize [trends] when they are happening and capture their potential to make changes”

The problem with this passage is fundamental: it describes the present, not the future. Meanwhile, the real trend is the starting point that can help us think more broadly about the future and our strategies or plans for it. It only minimally concerns the present and its challenges.

Why should we follow trends?

Does this understanding of trends mean that we should not be interested in what the market or our industry is currently living in and what everyone is talking about?

Yes and no.

When observing trends, what counts above all is mindfulness and the ability to separate temporary fads from the permanent change that appears on the horizon. The mere fact that something comes to the fore and demands our attention does not mean the potential value of a given phenomenon for our business or brand. The market has seen more than once attempts to hook up to a temporary fashion that disappeared as quickly as it appeared. Such a superficial understanding of trends is unlikely to contribute to the development of our organization and will bring us more problems than good.

It is worth focusing not on what is up-to-date, but on what is just becoming known. Paying attention to any differences and new phenomena in this approach can actually give us an insight into future scenarios and consumer expectations. Properly noticed signals will allow us to take the right business steps ahead of the competition and act when it is the best time to do so. In this understanding of trends, we can go beyond building temporary reach and generating additional likes and focus on what is most important for the organization – creating innovative services and products based on real market observations and business needs.