I’m pretty sure I’m on record for saying that I haven't had much use for trend studies in general and trend forecasting in particular. The majority of services that track cultural trends I’ve looked into don’t do much but draw big general conclusions from a few observations. For me, they provide a perfect storm of irrelevancy: slim data, shaky conceptual frameworks and obvious conclusions: Families are time-starved! Everything is going mobile! Green is in!
The most suspect of these vendors/services don’t do anything but scan the press for “news” on the latest events and use the frequency of these press releases as evidence of a trend, conveniently forgetting that PR designed to create a trend is not really the strongest evidence that behavior is actually changing.
What I used to say in response to various vendors who tried to sell me their culture-watching services is: I don’t try to predict the future. Describing the present is hard enough.
Lately, however, I’ve found myself more involved in projects which demand various sized bets on future behavior. In my old job, as head of planning at a biggish agency, most of the questions were versions of: does it make more sense to launch this latest giant TV at X price and when we do, how should we talk about it to attract the people who are most likely to buy it.
These days as a so-called strategist at a smallish company, the questions frequently sound more like: we’re building a product that will allow people to watch their own digestion processes--from stomach to small intestine--in real time. We’re sure this is going to be big. Health is big. Diet is big. Indigestion is big. We also have the technology that allows people to broadcast this imagery to their friends on their websites. Should we move ahead with this project? And if we do, who do you think would be most interested in sharing medical imagery on their websites?
An extreme--though probably only barely--example to make the point: I’m frequently finding myself being asked to speculate on target motivations for new categories of behavior--behavior that doesn't exist yet--at least not as general consumer behavior. Undoubtedly, scientists have been watching their own digestion in real-time for years. But not as consumers. This isn't something we’ve all been doing or wanting to do, just going online to check on the state of our G-I tracks. It’s new or newly accessible technology which either will or will not create a consumer habit.
How can we know whether this will catch on? How do we make a guess good enough to pay for? Since that’s really two different questions and this is getting long, I’ll save my two different answers for next post. In the meantime, please share all your recipes for divination and soothsaying