Searching for Business Trends and Trending Topics

Article excerpt

Trend spotting is a tricky business. It's so easy to identify the trends that will affect a business, an industry, or even the economy of a country. It's even easier to be wrong. Trends are best identified in retrospect. Give almost anyone 20, 30, or 50 years to look back on, and that individual will be correct in saying that a past event ushered in a trend that has consequences for today's business environment, for a company's success, or for an industry's decline. Those who try to get it right beforehand, however, are frequently doomed to failure.

Want proof? Go to any publication from a decade ago and search for t rends in the title field. Then evaluate whether the author got it right or not. That's a fine approach for an academic exercise, but it's not even slightly useful for the manufacturer trying to determine which product lines should be funded and which should be discontinued, or for the retailer deciding what purchases to make to stock the store.

In the real world, identifying trends involves not only research into the traditional literature but also trend tracking through social media, language, and intuition/observation. The latter can serve as the starting point to the former. The literature, for example, is telling you that people want to eat healthier, but you observe that people are ordering hamburgers instead of salads. What people say they will do is not always replicated in their actual behavior. More research is needed to resolve this anomaly.

TRENDY IS AS TRENDY DOES

When I think of trends, fashion comes to mind. Hemlines go up and down, ties widen and then narrow, and colors that my mother would have said "clashed" are now routinely worn together. Fashion trends can be short-lived, raising the issue of whether it's more appropriate to deem them fads rather than trends. Although an interesting semantic issue, it's not necessarily germane to business research.

More important is to know how a business will use the knowledge it gains regarding trends or fads. For a short-term project - a retail clothing store, for example, adding some clothing items for the next season - selling some fad clothes or accessories could be perfectly appropriate, even if the items are not trendy enough to last into the next year. A long-term project, on the other hand one that requires a complete retooling and a major investment - requires more thought and more reassurance that the final product will reflect a lasting trend, not a fly-by-night fad.

Are there trends in every field? I'm tempted to answer in the affirmative. From gardening to the kitchen sink, from fiction to investing, from consumer products to office supplies, trends are evident. Enter trends and a product, industry, or concept into any web search engine and you will have a copious list of results. The quality of these results can be suspect, however.

It's also a somewhat crude search strategy. Vary word order for differing results. Use the most specific term ("kitchen sinks" instead of s i ? k). Run the search not just in Google but also in Yahoo! and Bing.

MARKET RESEARCH REPORTS

Market research reports frequently detail trends. Mintel (www.mintel.com) forecasts consumer trends and then follows up to see how accurate its predictions were. The latest trends Mintel identified revolved around "trust, control, playfulness, simplicity, and trading down, up, and over." Other market research firms track different industries and product areas. MarketResearch.com aggregates many of these reports. At the advanced search page, choose from the pull- down category list for categories (the most useful ones for trend research are consumer goods, food and beverage, heavy industry, life sciences, public sector, service industry, and technology and media), and limit by date. Enter trends in the Keywords box.

A recent search for trends in the life sciences industry retrieved a report from GlobalData (www. …