Marketers are always on the hunt for “the next big thing.”
And rightfully so.
But from emerging social platforms to share-worthy content, trends arguably come and go faster than ever. Figuring out what’s a fad and what’s worth pursuing often feels like a gamble.
Despite popular belief, getting ahead of the curve and predicting marketing trends doesn’t require a crystal ball. It’s not a matter of dumb luck, either.
You simply have to level up your trendspotting skills.
In this guide, we’ll break down actionable steps that empower you to uncover and capitalize on trends in your industry before they blow up.
What is trendspotting, anyway?
Trendspotting represents the process of predicting trends before they enter the mainstream, while also analyzing whether or not that trend is relevant to your business.
Social marketers are natural trendspotters. This is especially true considering how much time we spend analyzing data, talking to customers and adapting our strategies.
Trendspotting on social media is equal parts important and challenging given how fickle social algorithms are in creating a constantly changing social landscape.
Marketers and brands who were early adopters of TikTok represent an example of effective trendspotting. Case in point, consider the skepticism of the platform in 2019 versus its rapid approach toward one billion active users in 2021.
Keep in mind that being a trendspotter is about much more than being a sort of “merchant of cool” that has a pulse on popular content or viral marketing.
For example, a specific meme (think: baby Yoda) might represent a passing fad while brands using memes and humor effectively in their marketing represents a larger, long-term trend.
You can almost think of trendspotting as a proactive form of market research. While both depend on monitoring data, trendspotting is ideally an ongoing process while marketing research may be done on an as-needed basis to inform a specific project, campaign or change in direction.
The benefits of trendspotting speak for themselves. Getting in on the ground floor of a new network, marketing campaign or content form means that you have more time to work out the kinks and troubleshoot your strategy.
In short, the ability to identify trends represents a significant competitive advantage versus companies playing catch-up.
Which types of trends should marketers track?
Trends can vary from sweeping changes in your business’ strategy to smaller happenings that are specific to your industry or business. Let’s look at some examples below.
Social media trends
Again, social media is a prime place to spot trends.
Not only are businesses of all shapes and sizes active via social, but so are consumers. If you want an idea of what’s trending and popular among the public at large, look no further than your social feed(s).
Some examples of trends you can identify via social media include:
- Types of content are people sharing and engaging with the most
- Which social platforms and marketing channels are growing (or shrinking)
- Types of ads that consumers engaging with
- Up-and-coming products, brands and influencers
Below are some social-specific trends from the 2020 Sprout Social Index™, Edition XVI: Above & Beyond. These insights are crucial not only for companies looking to refine their social strategies now but also to understand which trends are poised to grow in the future.
For social media and beyond, so many marketing trends are specific to certain industries.
For example, marketing priorities for SaaS companies versus those in the gaming industry are apples and oranges.
If you want an example of companies that rely heavily only on trendspotting, look no further than the beauty industry.
In such a highly competitive field with a social-savvy audience, beauty brands have to constantly fight to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to new platforms, content formats and promotion types. While some brands are haven’t even test-driven Instagram Reels or even TikTok, others like Pravana are already on top of the latest social beauty trends.
Competitive analysis is crucial to identifying industry trends as you keep an eye on how others in your industry are engaging their own audiences.
For example, which types of campaigns are they running? How does their growth compare to your own? This highlights how trendspotting is both qualitative and quantitative as you watch both audience conversations and engagement metrics.
Customer trends are obviously important since they impact, well, your customers.
For example, tracking feedback, reviews and top-selling products can inform you of trends that might influence future promotions.
If nothing else, you can more easily identify what products people like (see Birchbox below) and phase out the ones that they don’t.
“How do you identify a trend, anyway?”
This is important. From adopting a new social platform to running a new campaign, there’s a certain level of investment and risk involved with any given trend.
Part of trendspotting is the ability to do a sort of cost-benefit analysis to ensure that you’re spending your time on campaigns that’ll actually produce returns.
Again, the pursuit of any trend needs to be rooted in data and analytics versus just a gut feeling or trying to jump on a viral bandwagon.
5 actionable ways to get better at trendspotting
If you’re looking to become a top-tier trendspotter, your head is in the right place.
The good news is that trendspotting is a skill that you can actively develop and refine over time. Below are five steps to take to do exactly that.
1. Make a point to talk to your customers more often
Frequent conversations with your customers can clue you in on not only what they want and expect from you, but what sort of features and products they’re interested in general.
Of course, you have to read between the lines when identifying customer trends. Social media is the perfect place to pick your customers’ brains without having to hit them with a survey or questionnaire.
What’s your go-to Trello tip? ✨
— Trello (@trello) November 11, 2020
Polls, product recommendations and other closed-ended questions can likewise spark conversations among your customers to help figure out where their heads are at.
— iMore (@iMore) September 22, 2020
Furthermore, it’s important to put your conversations with your customers into context. This includes questions, comments and concerns sparked via social media.
If you’re using social media management tools like Sprout, you can identify customer-wide trends on social media within a single platform.
2. Set up social listening for industry keywords and hashtags
Piggybacking on the last tip, you can identify up-and-coming industry-wide trends by listening to the conversations of both your customers and competitors.
For example, social listening allows you to pick up on keywords and terms that are used most commonly among your target audience. This includes brands, product names, and sentiment-related keywords (ex: “good” or “disappointing”).
Rather than try to listen to hundreds or thousands of conversations manually, a social listening tool does the legwork for you. Here’s an example of how to identify an industry trend using Sprout:
Through Sprout’s listening report, you can discover related topics frequently mentioned with the terms you’re tracking. This can help you discover the positive and negative discussion that your customers are participating in, even if they’re not mentioning you directly.
3. Conduct thorough, ongoing competitive analysis
Trendspotting often feels like a race between yourself and your closest competitors.
As such, keep tabs on the types of campaigns your direct competitors are running and what their growth looks like.
The idea here isn’t to obsess over what your neighbors are doing but compare and contrast your approach to marketing. You may notice that you pursue totally different trends. On the flip side, you might pretty much be in lock-step with each other.
Either way, you can use tools like our competitive analysis template to help find your greatest opportunities to stand out.
4. Identify your own “trending” content
Remember what we said about trendspotting being quantitative?
If you want answers about which types of content or campaigns move the needle, look no further than your own social media metrics.
Let’s say there’s a particular type of post or content (think: influencers, UGC) that drives a ton of engagement. Conventional wisdom says you should consider creating more of the same. Chances are you can spot trends and common threads among your top-performing content.
5. Actively talk to other influencers in your industry
Lastly, you can’t spot trends if you’re a total island.
From digital events and webinars to Twitter chats and beyond, make sure to participate in industry-related conversations and see what observations others are making.
There’s so much you can learn about your industry simply by following influential players in your space. #DTCTwitter is a shining example of this:
So, let me get this straight.
You run into an interesting new challenge and you can just instantly get insights from some of the leading minds in your industry?#DTCTwitter is an absolutely incredible place to be and I'm grateful to be a part of it.#FBAds #eCommerce #DTC https://t.co/1RnsAU9Oyr
— Milo McMahon (@MiloOutdoorEcom) September 11, 2020
Oh, and don’t forget about reading blogs (like this one), newsletters, and case studies relevant to your business. If you want to be a trendspotter, you need to keep yourself informed.
What are you doing to improve your trendspotting skills?
Keeping track of trends can be downright overwhelming for marketers today.
Trust us. We get it.
By developing a trendspotting strategy using the steps we’ve outlined (and tools like Sprout!), you can make it so much easier to keep a pulse on what’s happening in your industry.
And speaking of trends, make sure that you’re up-to-date on the latest trends of social media by checking out the Sprout Social Index™, Edition XVII: Accelerate.
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