With all the things on your plate right now, is focusing on the future really the right use of calories? Or will the forecast just change again? Valerie Jacobs, Chief Growth Officer, gets it—but insists that a constant focus on tomorrow needs to be built-in, not bolted on.
Over the years, there’s been a notable shift in the conversation around trends. They seem to have gone from a place of interest and inspiration (and dare I say, at times, entertainment) to a messy minefield populated by TikTok fads, viral memes and a very flawed understanding of what actually makes for a trend. (To be clear: a trend requires actual adoption, seen through human behaviors, over time.)
So yes, there’s good news: brand-builders and marketers now have more awareness of and belief in trends as an input to resilient strategy. But the bad news: there is still a gap. Arguably an enormous one.
“Most are bombarded with data and trends, not knowing how to wade through the onslaught of information.”
When Google (and other search engines) arrived decades back, it brought with it the ability to “search for a trend,” versus the more long and layered work of sensing at the edges of culture, then tracking consumer adoption (or not) of ideas, attitudes, behaviors and lifestyles. Compound this with generative AI tools like Chat GPT and Mid-Journey entering the fore, and one can now effectively generate a trend report on demand.
But a report is just a report. Anyone can access the trends. It’s quite another feat to know how to act upon them.
The Value of Trends to Brands
We’ve had a trend forecasting practice built into the very DNA of LPK since 2005. And as these emergent technologies have changed the way we work, our philosophy has continued to evolve. Typically, we see our clients grapple with change in two ways: they’re either stuck in a quagmire of TMI, or are quite literally “future-fatigued,” and therefore actively ignoring the fast-arriving future.
“At their best, trends can serve as jet fuel to hit big business goals.”
We find that most brand-builders and innovators are bombarded with data and trends, not knowing how to wade through the onslaught of information and turn it into anything meaningful. This is painful for organizations because, at their best, trends can serve as jet fuel to hit big business goals:
- Staying relevant to consumers
- Answering their emerging needs with innovation
- Spotting the next opportunities for growth
- Preparing for disruption (hello, 2020)
Proof in the Pandemic
It’s now impossible to talk about the value of trends without giving nod to COVID-19. To me, the events of 2020 shouldn’t have caught anyone by surprise. After 20 years in trend forecasting, I can tell you we’ve dodged pandemic bullets before—not to mention similar versions of social turbulence and volatile political seasons. But all of it at once—in a single year—would have seemed implausible. Most businesses were caught without plans for the chaotic landscape that emerged and, debatably, still persists. In many ways, it is this very realization that has made Futures Thinking top-of-mind for executives. The feeling that we don’t want that to ever happen again is a powerful one.
Convinced of Why, But Unclear on How
We’re no longer in a time where people need to be convinced that they should consider how the future might unfold. But we’re still faced with the conundrum of what to do with trends. And moreover, how to do it.
At LPK, we have a philosophy of preparedness over prediction. Said differently, we help business leaders transform trends and insights from mere information to actionable strategic and proprietary intelligence. We call it Future Fluency:
It is the result of moving through the stages, ascending from information to knowledge to wisdom. The base of this pyramid is simply information in its raw state, existing as data and trends (or inputs). This information must be curated and synthesized, then translated into insight and foresight: a blend of outputs that serves as proprietary and actionable intelligence. Only then can the knowledge be utilized to create strategy: making choices.
Future Fluency requires practice (repeating the process, iterating on it, tracking your choices and adjusting). In other words, building a higher-order skill of anticipation that becomes inherent in your mindset and reflects the wisdom gained over time.
The Advantage of True Fluency
But what does “being fluent” mean? Fluency means that you can use a language easily, naturally and accurately. The accuracy develops over time and involves consideration of word choice and a strong orientation toward conveying the exact meaning of the language when communicating. And at its most elevated, a strength in understanding the nuance of a language—what is both explicit and implicit. Becoming Future Fluent embraces this same set of passages: becoming “articulate” first and then, over time, developing an intuitive ease of application. A sixth sense.
“Ask questions that account for a world of change, knowing the work created now will otherwise miss the mark in the future.”
Agency as Teacher + Translator
And while Future Fluency is a skill we believe can be honed over time, it does take time and practice. That’s why we believe that having a partner in those efforts is so important. And not just a team that can “own trend forecasting,” but a team of people with a high degree of rigor, creativity and tenure who can make sense of the trends:
- Place them in historical (longitudinal) context
- Broaden their overall context (multiple industries, categories, environments)
- Speak to their possible evolutions
- Analyze their potential implications
Over two decades, what started as an in-house capability has become “internalized aptitude,” a way of thinking and working that’s inherent to every LPKer and every LPK process. This constant exposure to the future means we’re asking questions relative to a brand or business that account for a world of change, knowing the work created now will otherwise miss the mark in the future—whether it’s 18 months or 5 years from now. Questions like:
- Forget what consumers desire now; what will they desire next?
- What categories might emerge?
- What experiences or services will be in demand?
Landing Trends Directly on the Business
Further, there’s always been a desire from businesses that we work with to “land the plane.” This could mean a variety of things: from a desire to tell them “how big a trend will be” to the perfect time to act upon one. Or even more basic questions: how do I actually use this for my brand or business? These translation leaps are an additional step in the process and require the same level of rigor and creativity.
At the same time, the questions are actually the wrong ones to be asking. The first step is to use the insight and foresight to inspire the creation of a strategy and, within it, a tangible consumer proposition: this could be an offering, services, products, businesses, categories, etc. This then needs to be articulated in consumer-facing ways and tested. In other words, you can’t size or time a trend per se, but you can test, iterate and track consumers’ responses to a “futuristic idea.”
“Being prepared trumps best-guess predictions every time.”
Greeting Tomorrow with Optimism
Implicit in all of these efforts is a healthy dose of both optimism and realism that a better tomorrow is out there—that we, as brand-builders and innovators, can actually design for a future we want. A sense that being prepared trumps best-guess predictions every time.
For those who dare to take this path less traveled, embracing change can begin to feel far more natural and even welcomed. Because in the work of becoming Future Fluent, you’ll regain a sense of preparedness and a confidence in what might unfold next.