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Microtrends can decide who wins or loses in business

  • Microtrend spotting 101: how to tell a fad from a microtrend
  • Is discovering microtrends more than just a hunch?
  • The power of social media
  • Why you can’t and shouldn’t ignore microtrends

The eyes of the world are set on long-term trends. Governments and companies focus on problems such as climate change, population growth, and the depletion of natural resources. People work tirelessly to find solutions and prepare for the future. And while this approach is sensible, it’s not without perils. It makes politicians and entrepreneurs unaware of critical small-scale events. And once they do become aware, it’s already too late to adapt.

The author Mark Penn defines those events as microtrends, “the under-the-radar trends that may involve only 1 percent or so of the population and yet they can have outsized influence”. And once microtrends become mainstream, changes in the business landscape occur, small startups grow into big corporations, and innovative products hit the market. But differentiating between a fad and a microtrend can make all the difference. Inability to do so can be detrimental for big and small businesses alike. To avoid this, microtrend spotting is essential.

Microtrend spotting 101: how to tell a fad from a microtrend

For instance, little did we know that something that started as a local university social network would evolve into the social media behemoth it is today. We’re talking about Facebook, of course. This giant was once considered a microtrend because of its limited influence and small number of users. However, over time, Zuckerberg’s empire grew and positioned social media as a key part of our lives. Investors and companies that noticed the power of this microtrend on time used it to their advantage.

A close-up of a smartphone screen with icons of apps such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube
Savvy entrepreneurs know that spotting microtrends means the difference between success and failure.

But unlike microtrends that last up to five years before becoming mainstream and can change the way we live, a fad comes and goes, usually having no long-lasting impact. It’s a sudden rise in the popularity of certain products, usually in niches such as clothing, diets, or exercise. That’s why it’s important to be able to differentiate between fads and microtrends.

Take, for example, the rise in the popularity of veganism. Most people probably let it slip under the radar, thinking it’s just another fad that won’t last longer than a season. But they couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, “the global meat substitutes market is expected to garner a revenue of $5.2 billion by 2020,” Forbes reports. So, it’s safe to say that companies that first noticed this microtrend profited handsomely. Penn explains, “People said they would never use a cellphone until there it was, and people today can’t live without their smartphones”. With this in mind, savvy entrepreneurs know that spotting microtrends means the difference between success and failure.

Is discovering  microtrends more than just a hunch?

Small trends can reveal the future and lead to fortune. Nobody knows this better than large corporations that use different tactics to discover hidden trends. For example, the German car maker BMW recruits scouts from Silicon Valley, Europe, and Japan to report every relevant trend. Their analyses are then stored in BMW’s database and distributed to managers to guide their decision-making process.

The food giant Campbell’s Soup Company is using a different tactic. A special team at this company “gathers and analyzes micro-trends observed through vendor partners, magazines, cookbooks, blogs, specialty food shops and groceries, fine-dining restaurants, quick-service operations, as well as cultural influences across the globe”. It uses this data to produce an annual trend report that guides the company in developing new products.

And finally, some of the most profitable microtrends were discovered at universities. For instance, the famous sports drink Gatorade, owned by PepsiCo, was invented at the University of Florida back in the 1960s. It now rules the sports drink market that it originally created. But in many cases, you don’t need a large budget and an army of experts to discover microtrends. You really only need a social media account.

The power of social media

Back in 2012, veganism and Instagram started their intertwined journey to mass adoption. Six years later, Instagram has more than 800 million users with 57 million ‘#vegan’ posts. On top of that, millions of people across the world now identify as vegans. Fuelled by social media, veganism grew from a microtrend to the mainstream, creating a lucrative market. Some companies noticed the trend and profited, but most didn’t. They now have to catch up to others and fight for their share of the market.

A group of 3D cubes covered with logos of tech companies like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and many others
Fuelled by social media, veganism grew from a microtrend to the mainstream, creating a lucrative market.

L’Oréal doesn’t want to be a laggard, but rather a leader in innovation. To achieve that, the company mines social media to discover microtrends. Dr Anupama Wagh Koppar, the innovation director at L’Oréal, explains that it’s all “about sniffing out and catching these little behaviours and little insights which can then become big”. By analysing 5.2 million social media posts from users in India, Indonesia, and Thailand, the company discovered 28 microtrends. Many of these will translate into new products, further cementing the market share of the French giant.

Why you can’t and shouldn’t ignore microtrends

Microtrends such as these and many others often fly below the radar, and companies usually notice them only when they become mainstream. But for those that recognise them early enough, they can be extremely profitable. Microtrends can decide who wins or loses in business, and ignoring them isn’t an option. Those that want to stay on top of emerging microtrends need to hone their microtrend-spotting skills, keep an eye on social media, and essentially, listen to what consumers are saying – or lose out.

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