The world is full of contradictions. I mean, one day we're told red wine is a killer, the next that a glass a day keeps your heart healthy. One day dance music is cursing through the veins of what seems like everybody on the planet, the next EDM is heralded as dead and buried. One day, Conservatism is hot, the next, well, let's leave politics out of this, shall we…?
No matter where you look, opposing voices are pushing and pulling us, vying for our minds, our eyes, our data, and our hard-earned cash. Seemingly we get comfortable in one trend and before you know it, what was cool is trash, what we devoted ourselves to has made us irrelevant all over again. Life – am I right?
So, with opinions constantly waxing and waning, interests peaking and petering out, how can we ensure that we remain relevant, don't lose our edge, and continue to appeal to that customer base we've been cultivating over the years?
'Currency' isn't called that by mistake – if you're current then you have currency to appeal to those that follow the latest trends, those that want the edgiest products, those that favour what's on point right now.
Trends vary wildly from one industry to the next, but make no mistake, every industry has them. Whether it's the pastel shades and minimalism of streetwear, the retro feel of modern dance music (what's old is new), or the elevation of the humble avocado to superfood status in what we eat, trends are rocking out all around us.
To miss them is to miss an opportunity, a sale, or a customer connection. But, and it's a big one – make sure you can sort the wheat from the chaff – one man's trend is another man's fad. Don't fall into the trap of investing heavily in what appeared on the surface to be the latest craze only for it to sink before your very eyes. Be confident that what you're chasing is worth the effort, and then, once you're certain, go for it. There's no half and half with trends, you're either in or you're out. Getting it right, investing sufficiently, and playing the game fully, are surefire ways to stay relevant and market-leading.
If you're wondering how you begin with all that, you're not alone. Our advice is simple: become an expert in your field. Research, research, research. Ask leaders in your industry, discuss with your customers, keep an eye on your competitors. Take that knowledge and use it. Only by being an expert can you truly understand the history of your industry, and as a result, where it's most likely to turn next.
You know, sometimes you're walking down the street and you glance up from your phone (it happens sometimes, apparently…) and walking the other way is this glorious vision of simplicity and well-crafted beauty: faded blue jeans, white tee, and a pair of pumps; hair not overly coiffured, sunnies unpretentious, understated. This person is everything that Beiber ain't. So what just happened? This person is about as anti-trend as you can get, and yet, there's something sparkling, right?
Hang on a minute, I hear you cry. You've just told me to walk the bleeding edge of my industry, and now you're telling me to look back at the past? What gives?
Well, turns out, that's not actually what's going on here. Staples are well, staples, for a reason, and understanding the staples of your industry is just as important as understanding the trends. You see, the two things are not mutually exclusive. A staple became a staple because it will never not be on-trend, it is always current, always a shining beacon of what is awesome in your industry.
If you're in finance, then security and data protection are your staples. If you're in music, then Stevie Wonder is your staple. If you're in food, national dishes and comfort food are your staples. If you're in fitness, the bench press is your staple. If you're in fashion, you guessed it, faded blue jeans and a white tee are your staples.
Every industry has them, those ideas and items and products and perceptions that have been tried, tested, and have never given way. These are the best trends you could ever ask for because they're never off-trend. Find them, research them, and make sure they're a part of your strategy, because without them, you're never going to be perceived as the expert your customers require you to be. If you're not an expert, then simply, nobody is going to trust you, and if they don't trust you, well, they'll go elsewhere.
If you've heard the phrase 'overnight sensation' once then you've heard it a million times. The truth is that barely anything or anybody goes from zero to hero in the course of twenty-four hours. Trends aren't breakthroughs, rather they're a pattern of increasing predisposition towards something over time, and staples, well, they're what all trends hope to become; true breakthroughs though are seemingly hard to distinguish from fads in the very early stages (haters are gonna hate), but given enough space to germinate, they have the potential to totally revolutionise an industry from top to bottom, and disrupt every adjacent industry in the process; rarely, and I mean incredibly rarely, they have the potential to disrupt the entire world.
The most obvious, and most heavily cited example, is of course Apple's iPhone. One day mobile phones were the vanguard of business communications, with their clicky keyboards, their black and green one-line screens, and their terrible wifi; next they are essential to the very existence of almost everybody on the planet, responsible for disrupting computing, communications, printing, TV, design, health, banking, music, travel, and even, dare I say, humanity's perception of reality. Jeez.
For the breakthrougher (not a word), breakthroughs elevate them to Nobel Peace Prize territory, and they'll be heralded as the expert in their industry forever. For everybody else, we're left to pick up the pieces of our businesses and either bend to the will of what just happened, or sink without trace. Due to that, breakthroughs are incredibly unstable, and like anything unstable, have to be treated with maximum caution and consideration.
Knowing when to go for it with something as atomic as a breakthrough is more art than science, but getting it right can have unforeseeable, and incredible, consequences.
One thing is sure though – going for the jackpot before you've mastered the trends of your industry, and indeed its staples, is a fool's game at best. Time it just right though, and you'll be revered in history for eternity.
Exhausted yet? I know I am! If there's one thing to keep in mind after joining me on this journey, it's this: becoming an expert on what's hot, what's not, and what never went away, are integral to success. Research your industry, work out its formula, and then use that to inform, educate, engage, and delight your customers. And after that, break some rules, redefine the staples, or create your own trends – who knows where it'll take you.
Here at Umlaut we analyse trends, staples, and breakthroughs across multiple industries, to ensure that we are as informed as we can be about the industries in which our clients operate. It may seem beyond the scope of a humble design and marketing agency to be so involved in the worlds of its clients, but we see that knowledge as invaluable in ensuring that we take our clients down the correct path, that we provide them with the expert advice and designs that their customers expect, and that we can tell their story effectively.