How Can Anyone Forecast Trends?

With SXSW in full swing down in Texas, there will be many articles published about “trends” coming from the conference that we should all be aware of. Adweek is focused on Politics, blockchain, and cannabis. Texas Monthly sees libraries.

This begs the question: How does Campos (or anyone, for that matter) forecast trends?

From the outside, it can seem like guess work. How can someone know what consumers will want a year from now, or which developments businesses should scale earlier rather than later in their life cycles? Well, we don’t claim to be clairvoyant, but there is a way in which we can do just that.

Our trends team has built a platform that monitors a range of resources on the latest consumer and business products, marketing and advertising shifts, demographic and attitudinal changes, and news stories. We look to traditional media (international, domestic, and local), niche publications, white papers from leading think tanks, advertising campaigns, reports from syndicated resources, social media, crowdfunding sites, government agency findings, public opinion polling, startup accelerators, and more.

Some of this research backs up the trends we forecasted in the past, but the real fun is in taking these seemingly disparate threads and figuring out which ones bind together to form emergent trends. TrendWatching, an organization that (you guessed it) forecasts trends, describes it this way: "The secret to spotting trends and being ready to act on the opportunities they present you lies in identifying points of tension between what people want and what is available to them.”

We launch our annual trends planning with a pair of workshops early in the year: one focused on consumer trends, and the other on business trends. We collaborate with our whole staff, encouraging everyone to come to the workshops with several good ideas in mind. That might mean exciting new products, interesting new business strategies, striking news stories, or anything they think might constitute a trend–and nothing's too crazy to consider. Because Campos performs client research across a range of bellwether industries (including consumer packaged goods, education, industrial, healthcare, and more), we bring to these sessions diverse perspectives that help identify trends that cross multiple sectors.

For our workshops, we use a human-centered design (HCD) technique from the LUMA Institute called Affinity Clustering. (If you’re not familiar with LUMA or HCD, check them out here.) Participants are given a stack of sticky notes and asked to write each idea on a stickie as it comes to them. The more the better at this stage. A lead on our trends team works their way through the ideas one at a time, asking participants to elaborate on what they've written, and then sticking the idea up on the 50 linear feet of white board in our "think tank" space (we used it all).

As more and more ideas go up on the white board, we begin clustering them into groups based on shared characteristics. The clusters represent our first, nebulous iterations of possible trends, which any practitioner would find overwhelming. An important next step is to determine which of our ideas are drivers of or market responses to trends—as opposed to actual changes in consumer or business behavior. We then use another HCD method, Visualize the Vote, to prioritize which trends we think are the most compelling.

From there, the team returns to deep dive online research of each possible trend. Some won’t quite add up, and some may feel a bit stale, but some just click. The winning trends are the ones that unearth an abundance of recent data on what’s driving them—and multiple marketplace examples of how they are manifesting. The final criteria of truth: Every winning trend must conform to a compelling sentence: “Consumers or businesses are now [doing something new] because of [drivers].”