In this presentation I gave to Miami Ad School students, I argue that - as the role of strategic planning evolves - it must look at the broader cultural context and embrace foresights (but not necessarily follow trends) to ensure cultural relevance and identify opportunities for growth.
a hub dedicated to trend application and foresight-driven strategic planning
This is an excerpt from a presentation I prepared for an internal learning session at my agency a couple of months ago. It’s about trends as a strategic tool. The focus is not on detecting new trends but on identifying relevant ones and interpreting them for a category or a business.
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"There are only patterns, patterns on top of patterns, patterns that affect other patterns. Patterns hidden by patterns. Patterns within patterns. If you watch close, history does nothing but repeat itself. What we call chaos is just patterns we haven’t recognised. What we call random is just patterns we can’t decipher. What we can’t understand we call nonsense. What we can’t read we call gibberish."
— Chuck Palahniuk
Trend research is both pattern recognition and decipherment. It attempts to make sense of everything new, of things people suddenly create or consume: a café concept, a product idea, a way of curating a magazine or a shop, an approach in art and design. It scans for distortions and variations in the way people think and behave: how they choose to spend their time and money or how they express themselves and build relationships.
A trend researcher clusters what he thinks is a connected expression of one and the same thinking and behavioural pattern. By coining this cluster he “creates” a trend. The process involves the simultaneous search for the trend’s underlying drivers - which need to be distinguished from its manifestations - usually drawing on neuroeconomics, socioeconomics and investigating the broader, overarching context of societal change.
A trend manifests itself as the underlying pattern behind an emerging idea. The understanding of this idea – what it represents (e.g. an unmet need) and what impacts it – is of great value for marketing and advertising. But trend research and pattern recognition can find application beyond commercial purposes.
Pattern recognition as a method of uncovering emerging ideas and trend research as a discipline that attempts to conceptualise and contextualise those new ideas can find a broader application. But can pattern recognition and decipherment make sense of the world we live in?
According to the historian John Lukacs, everything that surrounds us is the materialisation of what we think. In his book “The future of history,” Lukacs suggests a growing influence of mind over matter:
“[The notion of mental intrusion into the structure of events] runs against the accepted belief that we now live in an overwhelmingly materialistic world, and that people are overwhelmingly materialistic. Yet what people – whether individual persons or masses of people – think is the fundamental essence of what happens in this world, the material products and institutions of it being the consequences, indeed the superstructures.”
If this is true then clarifying complexity should help us make better decisions. A heightened awareness of what we think and a better understanding of how we came to think it can benefit the individual and the society as a whole.
Patternity, a creative organisation that specialises in the exploration and application of patterns, claims that a shared awareness of pattern can positively shape our world. Their recent pop-up exhibition in East London PATTERNPOWER: SUPERSTRIPE explored the role pattern recognition can play in our everyday lives. Citing from the exhibition:
“The kind of attention we bring to bear on the world changes the nature of the world, we attend to, the very nature of the world in which those functions would be carried out, and in which those things would exist. Attention changes what kind of thing comes into being for us, in that way it changes the world.”
— Iain McGilchrist
There seems to be something beautiful and compelling about revealing the meaning of things by deciphering patterns. It can help marketers in understanding consumers and anticipating emerging needs. But more importantly it can reveal the bigger picture: expose and question our ideas that shape our lives and the world we live in.
Penguin appears to be on the right track in a market that is currently transformed by technological advancements. Books - as all digitisable products - are bound to become a commodity. For in a commodity market price is the most decisive purchase criterion (and a physical object can’t compete with a data file), Penguin had to rethink the business it is in.
With the publication of its special editions e.g. Modern Classics, Great Loves, English Library and Penguin Lines (to celebrate 150th anniversary of London Tube) etc. it became apparent that Penguin abolished the notion of being in the business of content and instead entered the business of lifestyle accessories: Objects we surround ourselves with to express our personality.
From being predominantly carriers of content, books now more than ever serve as extensions of ourselves. Because books are increasingly considered objects of prestige, the populartity of exclusive editions, beautifully published classics, and elaborate collaborations is likely to grow. It seems that in the future more books will be published under the aspects of exclusivity, creativity, collectability and content curation. The physical book is not only judged by its cover; how the content is packaged will increasingly define its value.
In the world of fashion collaborations between designers, retailers and celebrities are daily business. These prevalently one-time projects create talking value and draw new customers to the brand.
Now Opening Ceremony known for its collaborations with Rodarte and Chloë Sevigny is breaking new ground by entering a liaison with legendary Parisian taxidermy boutique Deyrolle. This is a rather interesting choice considering that preserved animals and plants stand in stark contrast to ephemeral fashion trends. The product of this collaboration is a fashion line consisting of botanical and animal prints.
Bastien Lattanzio’s accompanying short film showcases the clothes in the rustic setting of the shop, thereby juxtaposing the prints with the creatures that inspired them.
Opening Ceremony’s effort taps into the longing for a time when nature seemed pristine, undiscovered and mysterious. Today, growing transparency and real-time mentality evoke the wish for experiences and objects that take us back in time and fuel our imagination. That is why taxidermy serves as a reference point and inspiration for the fashion industry.
There is more on on taxidermic antiques in the interview with Emma Hawkins, co-curator of the 2010 Hawkins Zoomorphic Collection exhibit in London.
And if you still haven’t had enough of dead animals, watch the interview with Polly Morgan who is a taxidermy artist. The process of turning dead animals into objects of art is creepy and fascinating at the same time:
The Influencers series continue with Steve Stoute, Founder and CEO of Translation, a brand management firm that arranges strategic partnerships between Pop Culture icons (Jay-Z, Gwen Stefani, Lebron James, Justin Timberlake, etc.) and Fortune 500 companies.
In this episode he discusses how new cultural codes are redefining traditional corporation communication. He also talks about creating successful collaborations between artists and brands.
I like what he says about what it takes to be a good manager:
"If you are a really good manager than you have to be a visionary. You have to be able to see what’s ahead. I like to walk a tour and speak about what does success look like. So when we walk into a certain scenario or a situation and we know what the end of the road looks like. So we understand the path that we need to take… and I feel like that the same process goes for brands, products and artists (…) So you have to be very smart at knowing what success looks like and than managing the route to get to that success."
Tim Malbon, co-founder of the creative hotshop Made by Many, addresses the issue of advertising agencies who think solely in terms of communications and not in terms of re-inventing or changing their client’s business.
Where good ideas come from by Steven Johnson
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