Staying ahead of the competition is not just about winning new clients; it’s about survival. As we all know, understanding the ever-changing and endlessly diverse consumer is the holy grail for marketing agencies. Knowing the current consumer landscape and predicting the future will help your agency and your clients stay ahead of the curve. But how can marketers, especially those who are not in consumer insight roles, stay on top of recent trends?
Accept that you cannot and will not know it all. Keeping that in mind, narrow down which industries you need to know for your clients and for your profession. This will help you curate the best resources. While there are endless ways to track consumer trends, there are two main approaches that will divide your data collection -- reactive versus proactive.
Staying on top of consumer trends can be exhausting, especially when it seems like a peripheral task. Cover your bases by considering which resources you should be using and how often you need to check them. Below are some key sites to bookmark, but be sure to customize your consumption patterns. You can't spend all day scouring the web.
Look to social networks for daily consumer insight. What’s trending on Twitter? What are the most pinned items on Pinterest? Discover consumption patterns by staying attentive to underlying trends both within and across networks. Also, add Google Alerts to your curation mix to keep track of new and fading trends that are specific to your industry. (Use The Ninja’s Guide to Google Alerts to get your notifications up and running.)
Regularly dive into Reddit to see what topics are ranking highest overall or in specific subreddit categories. Reddit can be overwhelming, but it provides some of the most raw insight into current consumer trends. If you are looking for a specific niche, there are Reddit-like ranking sites such as Product Hunt you can check out.
Research centers and government data tend to be less timely, but the thorough insight can be well worth the wait in some cases. Unlike social networks and crowdsourced ranking, formal consumer insight reporting includes an in-depth analysis. For example, the Pew Research Center is a valuable resource when looking for broad social trends such as U.S. residents' views on technology. Think of these sources as being long term versus real-time trend detectors.
In some cases, you'll need to do it yourself to get accurate information. Rather than relying on public sources to report data, be proactive, and do the work. Uncover insights with focus groups, surveys, and through your own consumer experience.
Tap your own backyard for consumer info, especially if you are looking for local trends. Also consider an online focus group if you need a different sample pool or have a small budget. Focus groups provide a wealth of information, both qualitative and quantitative.
Low on time and budget? Surveys are a quick, low-cost way to gain insight from current and potential consumers. It is also simple to tailor surveys to a specific market segment, providing more relevant data.
Don’t forget that you are a consumer too. While your sole perspective should not carry the weight of reporting consumer trends, your first-hand experience is a valuable resource. Be mindful of your consumption patterns and apply that insight to marketing research.
Staying on top of consumer trends is an fundamental task for marketers, but it can be daunting with the flood of information accessible. And too many brands and marketers jump at the latest trend without understanding it or knowing if it is the right fit for their agency.
To reap the most benefits for your agency and clients, choose a balance between reactive and proactive resources based on objectives and available time. Getting to know consumers takes a diligent professional, but understanding how to navigate the waters is an essential survival skill for all marketers.
Originally published Dec 5, 2014 7:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017