Spotting trends: an expanding business!

Anticipating trends, even predicting them: THE skill we'd all like to have! What if I told you it wasn't that complicated? Do I have your full attention? Shall we get started?

How do we spot trends?

It's a basic question. And one thing is certain: to detect trends, a good monitoring process is essential. It must be both wide enough to have a global view, but also sufficiently specialized to delve deeply into the area of interest. It is also important to know how to distinguish trends: is it an emerging trend or an exploding trend? The approach is not the same, nor are the issues at stake. A weak signal, or even an emerging trend, hinges on the very concept of the right time to market.

To detect trends, in my opinion, two approaches must be considered:

  • Data-driven: we analyze data to highlight a curve, a weak signal, or patterns that will allow us to make projections and predictions. But data-driven also means tool-based. Depending on the sector in which you operate, you need to identify/know who holds the data and assess whether they give access to this data and, if so, in what form. Example: Google Trends for Google searches, Facebook IQ for Facebook data, and so on.

In my opinion, in the long term, all brands and companies will have a "trending" section highlighting the interesting patterns obtained from their data for various uses, some of which are already mainstream (product recommendations, the best sales, etc.).

This data-driven approach can be applied both upstream and a posteriori. For example, you can isolate a set of data and analyze it to detect the weak signal or, conversely take an idea or an intuition and see if it is verified by the data. When I wrote my article on the rise of social audio apps, I had been reading about the appearance of such apps for a while. I thought to myself that something was happening. A quick check on Google Trends encouraged me to dig even deeper. So, data-driven but also intuition-verified.

Side note: the little Google trends graph you see on the right is actually a great Chrome extension - download it here for free - that gives you access to Google Trends without opening a new window and gives you a trend curve for each of your searches! 

  • Powered by people: keep in mind that one can make a given data say almost anything; therefore it is necessary to consider who will analyze this data. Someone who necessarily has a "market awareness", a knowledge of the market and the expertise or curiosity to go digging into a subject. A good analyst must be able to question their analysis and their convictions, and thus be able to consider their opinion, and call on experts when needed. We are moving towards a world increasingly driven by data, data that the advent of the IoT will cause to explode: as a consequence, it is necessary to know how to call upon collective intelligence and collaborative approaches to extract the right insight.

My process for spotting trends

If you've read the above, you already have an idea of my habits. I often start from an intuition, based on a regular and intense media monitoring & analysis (about 3 hours a day), then supported by data or by confirming my point of view with experts. A Twitter user recently shared a post that resonated with me: "You don't master the things that interest you, you master the things that obsess you." Personally, I try to dig out insights that aren't necessarily obvious or visible to everyone. Above all, I'm not satisfied with the flagship service, but I look for an alternative to what's within sight.

  • While I love Google, I have an even greater passion for alternative search engines and resources that allow for an OSINT (open source intelligence) approach to obtaining information through a public information source.

  • In addition to the apps that hit the App Store and the Play Store, I'm also going to look into Testflight, a free tool offered by Apple that allows you to test an iOS application before it goes online. Some smart people recently launched Airport, a kind of App Store listing the applications and games available on Testflight. It's a great way to preview what's about to be released. Which brings us back to what I was telling you, there are many different types of trends. You can look at the apps that are doing great... or at the ones that are about to be released... and then connect the dots ;-).

  • I check the patents filed by the tech giants because I assume that they are often a step ahead. Recently, a Substack newsletter that precisely lists and analyzes the patents filed by tech giants has been launched. 

  • I'm very interested in new approaches related to curation and how to make contents emerge. If services such as Flint or Nuzzel are well known, others are more recent: Listory or the rather original project by The Pudding, a newsletter called "Winning the Internet" made of links most frequently shared in other newsletters. Currently, it is supplied by 105 newsletters qualified as the best on the market. In short, it's all about a curation of the best curators.

  • In a previous article, I told you about my passion for Reddit. Here too I track down the subreddits that are being created, those that are growing at a rapid pace. Tools like Redditlist or RedditMetrics are particularly useful, as is the subreddit /r/TrendingReddits.

  • I'm interested in creators, entrepreneurs, VCs, people who are curious about innovation. I really like to use tools such as FollowerWonk to detect keywords in Twitter bios. Searching for "passionately curious" or "obsessed with" brings me to particularly interesting profiles. Then I like to find out who influences whom. There are tools to map the interactions of a subject or an account. Here is a graph of my account over the last 21 days made with a free tool called Mentionmapp. It shows the five accounts that currently influence me as well as the five accounts that most influence my top contacts.

  • I also write to keep up with trends. Since I started mapping emerging ecosystems (social audio, social commerce, newsletters), I am regularly approached by entrepreneurs who are building a tool in the ecosystem and ask me for advice, or even to test their beta.  It’s another way to see what's going on behind the scenes.

A growing number of trend services

All this brings me to my latest hobby: the increase in tools and creators dealing with ... trends! In some ways, this isn’t new, there are already established players, often consumer / consulting firms specializing in trends that you’ve probably already come across. Here are a few of them:

Traditional players

Often, these services are expensive and thus used only by large groups. This is probably one reason why we have been seeing so many creators from the Passion Economy popping up over the last two years or so, specializing in trends with services starting at $29 per month.

First, there are those who have developed their own software or algorithm (which often leverages Google Trends and other data available on the market) and offer you a newsletter on a subscription basis with a twofold quantitative/qualitative approach and a more or less detailed analysis of the trends they have detected, depending on your subscription level.

New category of players

Observations: at first glance, all these tools look alike, especially in their branding, their positioning and all of them are rather blurred regarding the back-end and the way their tools or algorithms are designed. And yet, each one has its own specialty.

  • Beyond being a rich and particularly actionable newsletter, the strength of Trends lies in its community aspect. Trend hunters, often serial entrepreneurs, are very active in a dedicated Facebook group where they share ideas and make calls for projects. Alongside the weekly newsletter, the weekly community digest is a great success and is brimming with insights. I have personally subscribed to the service; I really appreciate the strong connection with one of the senior business analysts, Trung Phan, who is in charge of the newsletter's editorial content and acts as one of the brand’s community builders. 

  • I spoke with Mike Rubini, founder of Treendly and asked him how he distinguishes himself from his competitors. According to him, it's very easy to launch a trend newsletter because the barrier to entry is low: everyone can get up in the morning and start writing, but building technology is quite different. He also explains that for him, it is a question of democratizing the process. While his competitors only allow subscribers to browse the trends they spot for their customers, on his platform, it is also possible to actively search for trends one is interested in and monitor a keyword over time through alerts and build their very own private library of trends. Furthermore, a beta function is available to forecast the performance of a trend over the next six months.

  • Rob Sullivan, founder of Profecia, operates on Substack. He explained to me that he has been a subscriber to Glimpse and Exploding Topics in the past. While he found both services to be useful and pretty cool, he felt that they were restricted to Google Trends, and they didn't detect trends early enough. He wanted to go beyond that by looking at Reddit in particular. He works with a talented programmer who helped him develop a Python script to capture growing queries and graph them over five years to determine which ones have the most exponential patterns. These patterns often prove to be predictive of growing interest in a topic, which is why he likes to monitor them. That's why his newsletter is called "Under the Radar." For $29 per month, he offers his subscribers the ability to send him personalized queries. He studies occurrences with low search volumes (1,000 to 5,000 searches per month) while favoring a very qualitative approach with guest posts and expert interviews. 

  • Trends Everywhere is the newest on the list. Basically, as I explained earlier, it's a chrome extension that gives access to the Google Trends graph from one's SERP. However, recently, a waiting list page appeared on their website stating the forthcoming launch of a pro service. To be continued ;-)

Then there is a second category of creators who favor a qualitative approach. This category should grow in the coming months, trust me.

  • Dru Riley is currently buzzing on Twitter. His service, was ranked first on Product Hunt a few weeks ago and the service is positioned as a short and synthetic newsletter made of bullet points — "5 minutes of reading for + 40 hours of research" can be read on his baseline. When I asked him how he spots trends, he explained to me that the trends come from conversations, reading and researching other topics, a process that involves deep research, talking to people, drafting and revising.

  • The same goes for David Mattin, who edits New World, Same Humans. He is no novice in this field, as he was previously research director at Trendswatching, a well-known trend consulting firm. Their methodology is totally qualitative, and Mattin has transposed it into his newsletter, New World, Same Humans. Essentially, it's about looking out to the world of innovation – new products, services, tools, platforms and more – in a structured way, by applying a simple framework that asks two questions. First, what change has happened in the world around us to make this innovation possible? Second, what basic human need does this innovation seek to serve? Mattin also explained to me that trends are only part of the subject of his newsletter. New World, Same Humans is concerned with understanding the forces, ideas, people and innovations shaping our shared future and to do that, it makes use of a number of ways of looking at the world. Recent instalments have covered the Anthropocene, the nature of equality in contemporary societies, and the search for general artificial intelligence.

One might ask the question, “why?” Why are these trend services exploding? Right now? The ambient uncertainty perhaps? Technological acceleration? Probably human nature, curious to know what's next, to determine what might become the big trend and to take advantage of it, financially or otherwise. But beware. As Neer Sharma tweeted, there are three ways to react:

  • be ignorant

  • pile in

  • build for the counter-trend

Sometimes the third option, although not the easiest or the most obvious, may well prove to be the most promising in the long run.

Marie Dollé

Other articles I wrote related to TrendSpotting:

Capturing the Zeitgeist

The Mind of A brilliant Trend Seeker

OSINT : How to find anything on the Internet