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Navigating the Future Through Trend Mapping

So what is the purpose of trend mapping? Think of it perhaps like a treasure hunt or brainstorming experience, an exercise with your team that will help you zero in on a trend, insight, or shared interest or to start a conversation with colleagues that perhaps would not have surfaced otherwise—and with the potential to take action on that given trend or to develop a strategy surrounding it. Trend mapping can be flexible, and be made as narrow or as broad as the team needs to develop it depending on the specific issue or broader subject that is being explored. It’s a continuous iteration and ideation process that makes it easier for the team to connect the dots.

Finding Your Way

Trend mapping is of course closely connected to trends analysis, and both concepts support the team with their strategic foresight needs, finding patterns and predictions for the future. But trend mapping is so much more than just finding out what’s hot and what’s not. It’s about tracking the needs and preferences of the consumer.

As cultural scientist, consumer trend expert and consultant Mary Meehan puts it in an article in Forbes, “Trends, Foresights and Insights: New Tools for Navigating Uncharted Territory,” “Trends are an indicator of change and a look into the mindset of the consumer. Proper trend analysis can be used to confirm hypotheses, enhance tactics or identify new strategic business opportunities. It’s what you do with the information that matters.”

Like trend mapping, foresights, too, can be useful if seen under the lens of a disciplined approach. Foresights can support understanding, reveal potential outcomes and build better strategies. The power of insights and market research are the keys to success. As Meehan notes, foresights, “Combine cultural understanding, consumer research and market analysis for a perspective that provides a framework to tackle all kinds of potential outcomes. By taking a rigorous approach to foresights, you get a platform to explore opportunities, a way to challenge status quo thinking, a chance to educate a business unit on all aspects of the business and category, plus it results in a high level of preparation for changes in your current business, category or economy.”

The goal of trend mapping and foresights, and indeed of this deeper research and planning, is to enhance the insights gained from understanding the behaviors of the consumer as well as learning about other trends in the marketplace. The aim is to connect with the consumer in new and better ways, to develop new products and create new customer experiences. It may confirm a business strategy or lead to new developments, or it may identify potential threats.

Connecting the Dots

In an All Things Insights blog post, “Using Insights to Predict the Future,” we further examined predictive analytics. A key component of any marketing strategy is to think about and plan for the future. Despite constant macro and micro disruption, marketers can still prepare and be ready for the future and to take on any emerging trends and issues that may arise.

There will never be complete facts about the future, which is always a shifting and moving target. Rather, strategic foresights is a structured and systematic way to anticipate and better prepare for change. The goal is to identify possible opportunities or risks in order to inform strategic decision making.

Building a foresight culture focused on the future is a critical tool for today’s enterprises to compete. It takes collaboration and communication as well as thoughtful and organized planning. Whether you view it as visioning, strategic foresights, future studies, predictive modeling or any number of other terms, the insights team with their research and data analytical skills is at the forefront of this capacity.

Mapping Out the Strategy

Trend mapping can be used to develop predictive models that forecast future outcomes based on past performance, enabling companies to plan ahead and adjust their strategies accordingly. We asked ChatGPT for some pointers regarding the trend mapping process and how it can benefit the insights function.

  1. Define the scope of the trend mapping project: Decide which trends should be mapped, and identify key stakeholders to involve in the process.
  2. Gather data: Collect data from different sources such as surveys, interviews, focus groups, observations, and secondary research materials like reports or studies on related topics.
  3. Analyze collected information: Examine patterns in the data; look for similarities between trends and uncover any underlying dynamics that could influence future developments.
  4. Synthesize and visualize findings: Use techniques such as affinity diagrams or mind maps to organize ideas into a coherent structure; create visuals (graphs, charts) to display your results more clearly so they can be easily understood by other people involved with the project.
  5. Share insights with stakeholders: Present your findings in an engaging way; use storytelling techniques to make sure everyone is able to understand what’s going on when it comes to current and emerging trends within their industry or sector of interest.

Trend Insights

Trend analysis and mapping may not necessarily find you the next big consumer trend. But trend mapping can provide valuable insights by helping to identify patterns in data. It can help businesses understand how trends are changing over time, allowing them to better anticipate future changes and make informed decisions, identify opportunities and recognize threats on the horizon.

One may not be able to predict the future. However, trend mapping and analysis, as noted by Talkwalker on its comprehensive article on the subject, will “help you understand future consumers, and the products they’ll want. Discover and analyze market trends, and turn them into actionable insights that’ll enable decision-making across all teams.”

Management consultant and author Peter Drucker once said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” The future awaits.

Video courtesy of StartoTV

Contributor

  • Matt Kramer

    Matthew Kramer is the Digital Editor for All Things Insights & All Things Innovation. He has over 20 years of experience working in publishing and media companies, on a variety of business-to-business publications, websites and trade shows.

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