How Do You Forecast A Trend?

Trends are all around us. We see them in what we eat, where we live and how we connect with each other. And whether we’re aware of it or not, they dictate the products we want and the services we crave.

Smart phones. Co-working spaces. Green juice. We know the trends that define our daily lives. Yet what we often fail to notice is the interconnections. Co-working spaces emerged to fill the new needs of a “creative class”, while holding a green juice became a status item in a world where wellness carries more social cachet than wealth.

So how do you forecast a trend? It’s part art, part science, part math and part magic. The process combines intuition, experience and hard data to separate micro trends from macro trends.

Micro trends start with early influencers and moves to mass adoption within one to two years. A macro trend, by contrast, spans at least five years and impacts a variety of industries from technology to finance. Macro trends operate on a continuum and evolve from season to season, year to year – examples include the maker movement and the wellness boom.

Trends are tracked through local patterns. When you see the same topics being explored by a subculture in Nigeria as an artist in Sante Fe, you have a pretty good signal that you’re looking at a macro trend, rather than a fad. To be sure, instincts are validated using quantitative measures – retail data, brand perception metrics and historical evidence. Once confirmed, research and data is combined into a story – a macro trend.

The Anatomy of the Trend

One of the most overwhelming influences in the past twenty or so years has been the emergence of the millennial and corresponding trends. Rarely has a group been so analysed, debated and discussed – and, as they reach their peak spending years, this is unlikely to change for some time.

As career opportunities changed, the economy faltered, and scientific advancements leapt ahead, marriage and childbirth became less of a priority. Millennials get married later in life and are on pace to stay unmarried at rates higher than previous generations, while millennial women are reproducing at the slowest pace in US history.

One example of how millennial lifestyles have influenced movements is in the rising popularity of pets. Although they are having children later, the need for companionship has led to a staggering rise in pet ownership among millennials. Consequently, the pet lifestyle market is steadily growing with American’s spending an incredible $11bn to pamper their pets in 2015. From doggie couture to feline interiors, the commercial opportunities are endless.

As they become parents, millennials are also disrupting the childcare market. Rebelling against the “helicopter” parenting of previous generations, they have established more relaxed views. Maintaining a career is critical and co-parenting is on the rise; in Scandinavia there is even a new breed of stylish, stay-at-home dads called ‘latte papas’ emerging as the counterpart to the UK’s ‘yummy mummys’. Millennial parents also take to social media more than any generation to document their children’s milestones, giving rise to a culture of competitiveness with blogs like The Glow typifying the idyll image of millennial motherhood.

Also growing? Alternative religion. As social and political upheaval make traditional religion less appealing, millennials are seeking new ways to channel their beliefs, triggering a wave of spiritual spending. Enterprising retailers have tapped into this: modern meditation – such as apps like Headspace – and adult colouring books emerged early on to help millennials learn to live in the moment, while New Age shops went from fringe to mainstream. In 2016, Selfridges hosted the Astrolounge, where customers could enjoy crystal massages, palm and tarot readings. Combining food and spirituality, Moon Juice provides ‘cosmic provisions’ tonics and Moon Dusts alongside classic green juices. Niche? Think again. Moon Dust can be found at Urban Outfitters, where an entire section of the site is devoted to ‘mysticism’, while Free People sells crystals for healing purposes.

One thing is for sure, millennials are not like their parents. Or their parents’ parents. They’ve challenged traditional notions of everything from religion, to professions and marriage. And with this disruption, they’ve pioneered previously unthinkable markets, like the sharing economy and online dating. As an incredibly engaged and influential demographic, millennials have impacted numerous trends in recent years, triggering a wave of changes across industries themselves.

As the case of millennial lifestyles show, trends are not fads. Fads come and go fast, and often don’t involve cultural change. Trends are slow-moving shifts in cultural values. They reveal how we choose to live our lives. They affect, but are not just about, the products we buy and the experiences we seek. They are about how we choose to bring meaning to our lives. As millennials enter the next stages of their lives, brands should look to understand their emotions and what’s driving their behaviour, rather than simply look at the demographic data.