Tapping into what consumers want next is a startup founder’s Holy Grail. Being on the cusp of a budding trend is what makes the Airbnbs and Uber’s of this world so successful.
But how can you find out what the next big thing is going to be? By studying trends of course!
Head of Trends and Insights at TrendWatching, David Mattin, walks you through the latest tech trends and shows you how to interpret them. Where will you find your lightbulb moment? Watch the video to find out!
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Data trends on the horizon
Before you read any further, you should know something about me. I am not a data person. How can I talk to you about data trends? Good question. It’s because I study people. People are the consumers of data and data related apps. Therefore, it is people who create trends.
Good idea or bad idea?
I’m going to show you two (real) app ideas and I want you to think about whether or not you think they are good ideas or not.
It’s an app that wants to turn an emoji into a physical sensation. So if you want to send another user a hug, you hold your smartphone to your chest and for as long as you hold it to your chest a vibration is sent to your selected recipient. You might never have to touch a real human being again.
A smart bike pedal that syncs to your smartphone. If your bike gets stolen or lost you can see the thief riding away and know exactly where he is by tracking your bicycle whenever it goes.
Just think about those two examples for a moment.
There’s no right or wrong answer here. What I want you to take away from that is that it’s not about you. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s a good idea or not. Because we’re looking at trends. It’s human nature when we see something new to have an immediate judgment as to whether we like it, or I love it, or I hate it. But when you’re studying trends, you have to take a step back and ask who might like this and for what reason?
First off, what is a trend?
“a new manifestation and behavior, or attitude, or expectation of a basic human need or want”
That’s somewhat abstract, so let’s look at the model for a trend…
On the one hand, there is change. It could be technological, social, attitudinal and so on. On the other hand, there is human nature, which fundamentally does not change over time. Human beings are motivated by the same basic set of needs, wants and values that they’ve had since the beginning of time.
A consumer trend emerges when some external change unlocks a new way of serving one of the basic human needs.
A classic (not really new anymore) example is Airbnb. They didn’t invent the human need for a more authentic experience or better value. But, they did see that an external change – in this case, the internet – had unlocked a new way of serving these needs. And in doing so they paved the way for the sharing economy.
The best way to discern new consumer trends is by studying game-changing innovations.
Rising tech trends in 2015
We’re obsessed with technology. We track every conceivable kind of technology trend, and that’s great. We’ll never stop doing that. But when you do that, you start to see the entire world as technology. You lose touch with the basic human needs.
As I run through these examples of new trends that are emerging, I want you to think about what expectations they are creating in the minds of consumers and how that’s relevant to you. Find a way to adapt one of these lessons and apply them to your own business.
“Stop seeing the world through the lens of technology and start seeing technology through the lens of basic human needs and wants.”
We all know that artificial intelligence is going to be huge. But what does that really mean? I think it means digital services that have some contextual understanding that in turn make smart decisions that make the people’s lives easier.
For example, Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam developed an app that can track the user on his train journey all the way to the airport. If things go wrong with the trains, this app will suggest other travel arrangements. First by looking for other trains, then it will book you a taxi, and if things go disastrously wrong, it will inform your airline. It will even start the process of booking you a hotel or a new flight.
Facebook’s artificial labs unit is working on a feature to scan your Facebook photos to check if they’re embarrassing before you upload them.
One of the biggest human needs is happiness. We all want to be happier.
People keeper is a wearable device that provides you with a contextual understanding of your emotional responses to the people around you. It tracks your physiological responses (heart rate, galvanic skin response, blood pressure, etc) to the people around you to build up a picture of how you respond to people.
Currencies of change
While we’re on the subject of wearable devices, let’s explore some related trends. Stuff that’s going to be a lot bigger than the Apple watch.
In really affluent societies like ours, (usually) our most basic human needs (food, shelter, security, etc) are already met. Now in that kind of environment, another basic human need rises to the surface and that is status. Status in affluent societies is probably the key driver of customer behavior.
In the past status looked like a mansion, a big car, a designer handbag and so forth. But in our current society status has become less about what you have and a lot more about who you are as a person. The result of that is an endless quest for self-improvement – to be a better person and prove it on Facebook.
Wearables have tried to address this basic human need through the quantified self. However, the trend thus far though has been that people who buy wearable devices give up on them really quickly (33% in the first 6 months). The desire is there, but the execution is lacking.
Which brings me to Currencies of Change, digital services that reward consumers, often materially, for being the person they want to be.
An airline called Air Baltic ran an incentive where they gave passengers free airline miles if they could burn as many calories as hours they flew within 24 hours of their flight. Similarly, Tencent gives users extra video game points for burning calories. Another one called Pocket Point is an app that rewards students for not looking at their phones in class with coupons they can use at local shops.
Material rewards for good behavior is a huge trend especially with Millennials, 52% of whom say that would be strongly motivated to wear a device if it rewarded them for using it. And these rewards don’t have to be direct to the customer. Yes, people want to be rewarded, but they also want to feel good about themselves.
FitForFood is a charity that donates money to food charities in the US based on how much you use your Fitbit.
And finally, if rewards don’t work out, there is always punishment. iCukoo is an alarm clock that automatically donates money from your account to a charity every time you hit the snooze button.
Again, I’m not saying an alarm clock or a Fitbit is going to change the world but think about the expectation these types of apps create. How can you use these expectations to help your customers become better people. Because if you can do that, you have unlocked pretty much the holy grail of consumerism right now. It’s so easy to share who we are, that who we are becomes a huge status symbol.
We all know crowdsourcing is about asking people to come together and participate in creating something new. The newest trend to spin off the back of that is what I call crowdshaping, which is about aggregating the data that people create every day to shape services that make our daily lives better.
For example, Prizm accesses the playlists of everyone within a certain radius and then plays an intelligent aggregation of everyone’s music. It eliminates the problem of deciding whose music to play. Think about the implication of being able to do this in something like a retail environment or on a flight.
Another example is Lightwave, a wristband that collects the physiological response of concert goers and make judgments about their emotional response. Then the DJ can shape the music or the light show around how the crowd is feeling. You could have a truly crowdshaped concert where, as the people become more excited, the lights change.
Finally, many of you are probably familiar with the traffic app Waze, which aggregates traffic data to help you find the fastest route. Similarly, IBM aggregated cell phone data from users in Africa and remodeled some of the roads and public transport system based on that data to be more efficient.
This whole movement is about intelligently aggregating small data, from the people in the room or at a concert or in a single city and building something that makes their lives better.
The final trend I want to mention is about fun. This idea that digital services are about using data to spark connections in interesting ways.
MIT created an app called 20 Day Stranger, where you essentially swap digital lives with another user. You don’t know who they are, but you’re alerted when they wake up, when they’re in the car, when they are sleeping etc.
Another similar one is called Tworlds. When you take a picture you tag it with a word and if at that same moment someone else tags their picture with the same word, you’ll be sent that picture. It’s an instant, transient moment of connection with another person done in a really interesting way.
Louise is an app that allows you to listen to the music of others around you. It’s another example of that transient moment of human connection that allows you to connect with a stranger in a new and exciting way.
Where are these trends heading?
Not all of these trends are things you need to worry about right now, but the future comes sooner than we think. You need to be mulling over these trends and thinking about what need or want they are addressing that maybe you could also take advantage of. One of them might spark that lightbulb moment of inspiration.
Trends should be used as a framework for understanding the innovation onslaught that is all around us. Look at the external change and how what is changing technologically, socially, attitudinally and how those changes serve a basic human need.
If you want to know where consumers are heading, look at the game-changing innovations and strip out the underlying lesson. Figure out why they are doing it. What is the tension between external change and human nature that they are trying to address?
In the end, consumer trends are all about applying what you’ve learned and creating better products.
About the author
David Mattin leads TrendWatching‘s global team of analysts in trend thinking across free and Premium. He is also an accomplished keynote speaker who brings trends to life in inspirational talks and workshop sessions, and a co-author of Trend-Driven Innovation.
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