Beta V Meta: the trend-wrestle marketers must square up to (or just 3D print a cupcake)

To "court" a trend or "create" one. Marketers must decide to chase commitment-phobic beta-living consumers to join their conversations - or look to meta trends and become the conversation. Successful trend navigation is a wrestling match, says Helena Bloomer, managing director of consumer PR firm DeVries Slam.

Wrestling kittens: a trend too far?
Wrestling kittens: a trend too far?

Brand marketers spend millions of dollars and countless hours searching for the latest trend, delving into the underlying factors, analysing the potential effect on consumer behaviour and purchasing decisions and then racing to capitalise on it before the competition.

Trends are increasingly capricious mistresses and should be viewed with caution when seeking to court or create

Undeniably an understanding of the zeitgeist is vital for a brand’s ambition, that of being seen as culturally relevant by their audience. Yet trends are increasingly capricious mistresses and should be viewed with caution when seeking to court or create.

While fads, trends, fashions, have always come and gone, one minute bruising rockabilly quiffs and edgy riffs, the next androgynous austerity and emotional angst, in today’s digital age they flutter through our hands faster than Lee Ryan’s latest love affair. The proliferation of information and instant gratification the internet provides has fractured our conscious, creating a population of professional attention deficit disorder humans.

A beta way of living? Commitment phobes rule

We are more fickle than ever, a curious mix of marketing savvy and a desire to be unique and yet easily influenced by herd behaviour and its shepherds – or influencers be they editors, bartenders or celebrities.

This has given rise to a trend in itself commonly known as Beta Living. Now we’re not just thinking short-term and bite-size, we’re thinking Beta. We’ll try something out and if it doesn’t work, we’ll jump ship straight to the next.

Now we’re not just thinking short-term and bite-size, we’re thinking Beta. We’ll try something out and if it doesn’t work, we’ll jump ship straight to the next

Welcome a generation of commitment phobes and the brands that understand them; renters browsing, living with singletons voraciously Tinder-ing, while sharing small plates at the new Lanes of London, and working off the calories when they feel like it at PayAsUGym, then relaxing with a single downloaded episode of Girls, not the box set in case they change their minds.

For marketers this can mean a constant monitoring of what’s trending and what’s lost favour to work out where to play. This requires a commitment to real-time marketing, enabling your brand with the ability to hijack the news agenda, the agility to turn a trending topic to your advantage and nimbly engage in a dialogue of the moment.

A great example is W Magazine; selfies are hot news, so how better to own a point of view and at the same time cement your fashion credentials than by releasing a guide by the supermodels - enter Karlie Kloss and others showing you how to snap the perfect selfie.

For larger brands, this can often mean organisational change to engender a short and faster approval process, better agency-client trust and a proactive culture of smaller creative risk-taking bets as opposed to all day brand senior-level strategising.

But beware, you must join in on your audience’s terms and provide a relevant point of view or intriguing addition to the debate. A play book denoting tone of voice and what you do and don’t comment on is essential.

Meta trend architects: social totems

Other brands look up at the more lofty meta trends for influence to help them create. They don’t attach themselves to the popular topics, they become the popular topic. They place themselves firmly at the heart of the conversation.

They become the architect of a trend, the creator of a new movement, either with game-changing launches and startling campaigns, or by changing the paradigm entirely.

For example, a new way to experience better sound, as we leveraged for Beats by Dr Dre from launch, using athletes and sport performance as a counter intuitive mouthpiece, or a new way of ensuring social responsibility with TOMS One for One marketing strategy. The latter provides shoes for the fashion-conscious developed world and those barefoot in developing countries at the same time.

Some brands use existing social totems – natural talking points – like design, art, music, fashion, to link themselves into everyday conversations, but those who create their own one-off totems are always at the centre of the conversation. Headspace can wear such a crown of creator, spawning a true craze for mind-gyms and meditation as a reaction to the overwhelming economic worries and digital bombardment.

Furthermore, brands that can become facilitators, as we ourselves increasingly become the editors of our own lives, can win with consumers as they aggregate trends. What is Pinterest, other than a catch all site to reflect all trends for all people, edited for your interests by you and others?

Sites like Sales Gossip, which aggregate all sales in one place and ASAP54 – a Shazam for fashion - which instantly shows us other variations of a coat we snapped someone in are rapidly gaining market share.

Self creation

The future feels inspiring. I’m off to 3D print a cupcake and meditate

We are obsessed with "self", citizens enduringly crave self-expression and self-enhancement. Instagram has replaced Facebook in the hearts of teenagers, an image can convey a myriad of emotion that a status update cannot. Charity campaigns are proven to perform better when they provide a way we can shout about what we have contributed to. Brands that use image and facilitate the consumer as the creator will continue to win.

Rapidly evolving technologies and constantly moving barriers of what is possible ensure that trends will continue to move faster, largely influenced by the continued evolution of how we connect, collect and share information. 

What will remain the cornerstone of successful navigation is a commitment to brand values, consistency of personality and a culture of creative risk-taking. For some of the best ideas look to the wave of avant-garde entrepreneurs, with small budgets but big ambitions and an often innate understanding of new technologies.

The future feels inspiring. I’m off to 3D print a cupcake and meditate.

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