I spy with my little eye: The art of trend monitoring

As a former journalist, I’m constantly on the lookout for the latest trends. Much of my ability to spot them comes from two decades inside a newsroom, where the old journalism adage of “one, two, trend” meant you could suggest something was a trend with as few as three examples and not get completely ridiculed (even if the idea ultimately was shot down). Trends inform us of shifting consumer mindsets, changes in the way we work, or industries undergoing transformations. What may start as a quirky anecdote—that 15-year-old named Henry Ford tinkering in a small shop to construct a steam engine—could quite literally turn into the next industrial revolution.

But as news cycles have morphed from daily dispatches to hourly updates, often breaking over social media and viral videos, watching and monitoring trends has become both more exciting and more muddled. That is, as media organizations and businesses attempt to one-up each other in terms of providing the newest stories or products, few have time to ask, “What does this really mean?,” “How might this evolve?,” or “What are the larger implications?”

Which is why I’m thrilled that, here at Leff, we’re helping our clients unpack those trends and understand how they affect their businesses and content, and we’re sharing some of our findings in weekly What We’re Watching blog posts. Indeed, by staying on top of such trends, all businesses—including professional-services firms, banks, and tech companies—can better understand their competitive landscape and, most importantly, position themselves to advance conversations about trends through the lens of their own business.

Through our work, we’ve found the following tips to be useful in getting more out of trend spotting:

Find the right angle

There are plenty of newsletters, websites, and social media accounts dedicated to sharing the big news stories of the week. To further understand and analyze top stories or trends, it’s important to find the angle that applies to you. When the Suez Canal crisis hit, for example, we viewed it not from a “how does this affect global trade, broadly” perspective but from specific angles that matter to our clients: what this means for supply chains, which have been operating in critical condition for more than a year since the global pandemic started, and how consumer behaviors—for example, expecting doorstep delivery in less than a week of ordering a chair made in China—have created new supply and demand issues.

Create nuanced connections

Effective trend monitoring, in its simplest form, answers the question of what a development means for a business or brand. But those “bottom line” syntheses, while good for quick takeaways, often fail to advance the conversation because they neglect diving into the nuances of how life, business, and culture play out. Very rarely do trends beget a tidy playbook; instead, they often create messy processes and failed attempts. Just look at how the shift to online news organizations has unfolded over the past decade: large shops have become mere shadows of themselves, and small, scrappy startups that were once dismissed as rags are now the ones breaking news. Recognizing those complications is extremely valuable.

When we wrote about corporations taking more public stances in response to Georgia’s restrictive voting laws, for example, we linked to stories that dive into the delicate details of how executives can go about speaking up and what risks businesses can mitigate as they navigate a new era of stakeholder capitalism.

Don’t be afraid to be contrarian

With so much content out there—from Reddit threads to TikTok posts—it’s quite easy to find an echo chamber that supports your way of thinking about a trend. But to really analyze how a trend will affect your business or brand, you must look for the naysayers—the folks who think differently, who make you pause and question your logic. Being open to viewing trends through various lenses will bolster the way you approach developments, how your brand may be viewed externally, and your understanding of what may have sticking power.

That’s why we often read and watch a variety of content—from our clients and mainstream media to little-known Instagram accounts, in-the-weeds industry newsletters, and thought leadership from our competitors—to gain a more complete view of what’s going on. After all, sometimes the most important trends come not from what’s in your Twitter feed but from what’s not being talked about.

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As we continue our trend-monitoring endeavors, we invite you to follow our weekly posts and forthcoming reports and comment on what you’re watching, too. By taking a more thoughtful approach to what others are offering up as trends, B2B content can reach a new level of sophistication and value.

Alyssa Abkowitz

As the VP of content at Leff, Alyssa focuses on content strategy and development. Her background in journalism allows her to help clients find distinctive ways of telling thought leadership stories in a variety of formats.

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