Sunday, May 16, 2010

Three Major Trends Companies Should Know

By: Derek Howard

Let’s face it - people can be fickle. This is especially true when it comes to being consumers. Our attention spans can be short and capricious. We have a tendency to follow the latest and hottest thing on a whim, craving the newest toy or fashion. A lot of the time, these movements disappear just as quickly as they develop; becoming nothing more than overnight sensations: fads. However, every so often the latest “in-thing” evolves beyond the flavor of the week into a full, blown trend that sticks around and becomes a new part of our culture. Being able to spot these trends before or while they’re growing is vital to many companies.

So the question becomes, how do you spot the difference between a fad and a trend? One man that specializes in doing just that is Michael Tchong. Among his many credits, Tchong is the founder of Ubercool, a business that, to quote their website, is an, “Internet marketing service that develops and produces branded entertainment events that immerse premium audiences in innovative online and offline infotainment.” A major part of how Tchong is able to be so successful at this is by understanding trends and how consumers react to them.

At a recent Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) Young Professionals event, I was fortunate enough to hear Tchong speak firsthand about his involvement with the world of trends. Basically, Tchong is a trendwatcher, but it goes a lot deeper than that. He has an incredible knack for looking into the future and gauging what will stick and what will sink- spotting that elusive difference between fad and trend. Why should businesses care? Well, as he puts it, trends have the ability to change consumer values, fads don’t. This is key for companies. If they can get in on the ground-floor of a sweeping, powerful trend, they have the chance to utilize and grow with the trend rather than be eclipsed by it, which can mean big bucks for those with the right insight.

Even greater than the general trend is something that Tchong refers to as the ubertrend. He sees ubertrends as large trends or movements that leave lasting impressions as they move through our society. Often times, they will create patterns or ripples that leave many similar “subtrends” along the way. Regardless of the detail, ubertrends impact consumer lifestyle and behavior. In his presentation titled “I’m Going to Tweet you Up,” Tchong talked about three of the eight ubertrends he regularly tracks: digitalized lifestyle, unwired and time compression.

Tchong describes the digitalized lifestyle as the marriage of man and machine. These days, technology is everywhere, in all places at all times. It is pervasive and the new norm. Tech is the mainstream and touches all parts of our lives, from our food to our computers. Tchong also sees this as the trend of us giving technology a more human face. Though he joked about the possibility of us one day marrying robots, the serious implications exist. It starts with the things like robotic vacuum-cleaners with cute names and continues from there. One example he talked about was how one company that produces customization for laptops now refers to these computers as “My Lappy.” As Tchong said, the laptop has become a digital pet, not a tool. And that customization is important. Another example he gave was the new HP laptops, aesthetically designed by Vivienne Tam; referred to as digital clutches; the laptops focus as much on the fashion as the function.

Unwired represents, as Tchong puts it, the unhooked generation. We, as a culture, don’t want to be tied down in anyway. Unwired equals freedom to us. This has had interesting effects on society, both good and bad. The greater prevalence of citizen journalists is one side-effect. With the technology available to the average person, more and more people are starting to scoop the media on news events around the world. This, coupled with our love and greater reliance on social networks, could effectively change the landscape of the media forever. However, Tchong believes that unwired has created a few problems. One is that it is turning us into control-freaks. A major part of this problem is our obsession with customization- we want everything specific to our tastes and companies are paying attention. From custom-designed laptops to the ability to track packages and pizza each step of the way, we love to feel in control. Tchong sees each possible customization as a chance to engage the customer. As he said, companies need to decide not if, but when and where they want to apply this ubertrend to today’s mobile consumer.

Tchong ended with time compression, what he called the acceleration of life. Today, we don’t/ can’t/ won’t stop moving. We are a culture of multi-taskers seeking instant gratification. And we’re always busy it seems. A very interesting point Tchong made was how the answer to the age, old question, “How are you?” has changed over the years. It started with “good” or “great” and has evolved to “busy.” As he says, “The state of mind has become a state of time.” True and slightly disturbing. As Tchong puts it, it started with the Polaroid camera and microwave oven and blossomed from there. Though the instant meals of the Jetsons aren’t here yet, instant photography is. Tchong presented studies that show everything from our leisure time to our sleep time is shrinking, year after year. Businesses need to realize this ubertrend and act accordingly. Today’s consumer attention span is short and fragmented. With the average person lingering only 56 seconds on a webpage, companies must not only be aware of how fast their sites load but also how much information can be passed along in such a short period of time.

Tchong ended the presentation by talking a little about innovation. Basically, the core idea behind companies recognizing and utilizing these ubertrends is to remain relevant. Companies should adapt to changes in consumer lifestyle. Simply put, he believes companies need to innovate to stay on top. Judging by Tchong’s ability to predict the flux and flow of culture, I’d say that’s solid advice.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment!