The Beginner’s Guide to Spotting Consumer Trends Early
by Derek Franks on November 16, 2021
Avocado toast. The Instagram Aesthetic. Milk Crate Challenge. You know them. They exploded onto the cultural landscape with hardly any warning and became mainstream seemingly overnight. Some are still around. Some, thankfully, are not.
In 2021 and beyond, consumer trends don’t wait around until you’re ready. They become TikTok famous, and then it’s the next big thing. To find a trend early, you almost need superpowers.
If you’re on a brand strategy or research team, this may be all too real for you. You might search and search across massive amounts of data for that needle in a haystack trend. By the time you find out about a trend, it’s already too late. But what if you could spot something trending in the endless sea of data before it became mainstream? What if you had those superpowers?
We leveraged our social listening platform to show real-world examples of spotting trends inside our consumer trends playbook The Ultimate Guide to Finding Consumer trends, which you should definitely read if this is a goal for your team.
Regardless if you already use a social listening tool, we’ve outlined some key considerations below to help you to better understand and spot consumer trends. With the below steps, you’ll be amazed at what you can reveal hiding in all that data.
Consumer Trends Happen in 3 Phases Online
To identify a potential trend worth watching, you first must understand how trends evolve in online conversation. Consumers typically express enthusiasm, thoughts, or feelings about products and new trends in three distinct stages online: Introduction, Growth, and Maturation.
Before we move on, it’s important for you to know that the best way for you to learn about new and emerging trends is to find them in the Introduction phase, before they get wider appeal. Consumer behaviors can be “predicted”, but only if you find the trend first.
Now, let’s look at each one of those in more detail:
Introduction: Your Best Chance at Finding Trends Early
The Introduction phase is where a breakthrough happens. Here, a new trend emerges and captures the attention of a small subset of online voices. A new product launches or a video goes viral.
This is your early trend indicator. It could hinge on a specific audience and/or on a specific social platform (for instance, millennial moms on Pinterest).
Trends that are in the introduction phase are homegrown. Average people with relatively quaint followings boost a new idea - a recipe, an interior design craze, a new product, a challenge, or a lifehack. And the next thing you know, it’s huge. The nature of social channels allows this to happen.
Pinterest is actually one of the best places to pinpoint a trend in the introduction stage. This is especially the case for trends in ingredients, flavors, fragrances, and recipes:
Social listening platforms are ready-made for analyzing the conversation from average people to find those trends. The data is gathered from unsolicited online posts and public bios. You can look at specific audiences or channels to identify trending topics within them.
Say you want to know the trending ingredients in chicken recipes or what dog moms are buying their pets. People talk. And if you find what they’re saying on these topics in the early stages, you can get in on the trend.
If you have a social listening tool, this stage is where you can be best positioned to spot something that’s about to take off and capitalize on it for your brand or business. If you know your audience well, you can even closely monitor those audiences for their conversational topics and see the trend about to rise in popularity before it does.
Growth: The Trend Catches On with a Larger Audience
The Growth stage is where a significant portion of a consumer base adopts and/or promotes the trend online, but before it gains widespread attention. Here, the amount of conversation will start to expand and spread out to other channels.
You may start to hear rumblings from your target audience or even major brands here. And this is where you'll find a groundswell of attention on the trend begin to build. Brand teams start researching to understand what’s driving the excitement around the trend.
In this stage, you’ll find brands jumping on the bandwagon and trying to capitalize on it in their campaigns and product launches. Social listening is still great for understanding how brands are participating in the new trend and can influence your approach as well (and with the right tools and social listening strategy, you can beat them to the punch).
- A food brand like General Mills or Lean Cuisine can see which healthy ingredients are about to catch fire with target buyers
- A fast-casual restaurant brand like Chipotle or Starbucks could predict the next big foodie trend, like avocado or cauliflower rice
- An “athleisure” brand like LuluLemon could follow conversations to see which products are catching on with workout enthusiasts and which are falling out of favor
Maturation: The Trend is Now Mainstream
Finally, the Maturation stage is where the trend becomes mainstream. It gets absorbed into everyday life (like the iPhone), slides into the background, or possibly falls out of favor for something else (we do have the attention spans of goldfish, after all).
You can spot a trend maturing ahead of time: post volume will decline, often on the social channel that drove the initial introduction phase. Knowing this, you can follow online conversations to identify trends.
Trends in this stage are well beyond the “emerging” status. You’ve “missed the boat” as they say. But data on trends in this stage will still be useful to see the lifecycle of the trend and learn more about audiences in your category.
If your goal is to be a leader on new trends, you’ll want to find your trend in the introduction phase.
Example: See Evolving Trends In Real Life
You can use social listening to make data-driven predictions on consumer behavior and pinpoint how specific topics or categories may evolve in the future.
Here are a couple of real-world examples of how we used social listening to identify trends:
Trends in School Lunches
When we looked at how consumers discuss kids' lunches online, we were able to recognize key patterns.
We identified trends in key terms like protein, vegan diet, organic, and sustainable foods and discovered some fascinating changes in the process of occurring:
Protein is on the downtrend as veganism rises. Parent concerns about protein likely are being replaced by nutrients from veggies. Organic is in a similar state, as it loses its trendy status to vegan and more environmentally friendly foods and goods.
What’s driving these trends? We found that it’s young parents who have specific personal values, as well as a changing view on what’s best for their kids’ health:
We even identified a brand that is pushing one of the trends, sustainability, on the incline in 2022 and beyond - YumBox.
Shampoo Trends in Brands
We looked at the top most-mentioned shampoo brands online and then placed them on a spectrum from introduction to maturation based upon how consumers talked about them, and this is a great way to see where these brands are in their trend stages.
“Emerging” brands would be in the introduction phase, “trending” means they’re in the growth stage, and “mature/declining” brands have reached full maturation as a trending brand.
Does analyzing potential trends like this work?
We can definitely tell you it does. See the shampoo brand Olapex on this matrix? Well, this data was gathered in April 2021. At that time, Olapex is shown here in the “trending” phase. Trending is right! 5 months later, Olapex became so popular it went public! Olapex is peak trending. We got this one right.
Online conversational volume as well as social listening metrics such as purchase intent can be used to identify these trends. With the right tools, you too, fellow researcher, can be an expert at finding consumer trends before they go big.
Researching and finding new and emerging trends within the massive abyss of endless data can feel overwhelming.
You already have a team of experts who know your category and industry inside and out. This means you’re in a position to spot a trend with the right tools.
The good news is that you can be a little better prepared for eying an emerging trend before it happens, thanks to social listening analytics.
But the fun part isn’t over. Our team put together the official playbook for spotting consumer trends using social listening.
In it, we dive into all kinds of steps to take for analyzing consumer trends with social listening, with practical examples like trends in ingredients and brand names. We look at everything from favorite Chic-fil-A sauces to future intent to purchase and play Nintendo games.
Download it below and give it a thorough read and you’ll be a seasoned trendspotter in no time!
If you are already convinced you need this data for your team, contact us here to get a free customized demo, and we’ll show you the ropes.