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Food For Thought #1 – Staying On-Trend With Digital Marketing

This is a new feature for the blog. I am hoping it will act as a sounding board for some of my more controversial, personal opinions about the current state of play in digital marketing.

I have a problem with the term ‘on-trend’. I find the phrase repulsive, a direct assault on my sense of value. A killer of individualism and a destroyer of self expression, It encapsulates everything that I despise about online culture and I when I hear it spoken I want to weep tears of acid into the perpetrator’s mouth.

I know this might read like the start to the most boring Vice Magazine article ever commissioned, and might well turn out to be just that yet. But this subject fuels an internal battle between the analytical and creative sides of my brain. It’s a problem that produces a considerable amount of negative emotion in my work and consequently needs to be fixed – quick sharp. This article will be, in the first instance, a place to attempt a reconciliation of the subjects of trend, individualism and marketing. I also hope to generate some discussion about the subject from other marketers; so please, let me know in the comments if you have an opinion on the matter?


Why the idea of on-trend marketing makes me squirm?

I think the real reason that terms like on-trend and right-trend really make me feel uncomfortable is they challenge my notion of individualism. Although countless sources of research could no doubt be levied to contradict this point I think it is reasonable to say that most people nurture some notion of individualism, of being unique, different from everybody else. I believe it is this sense of pride in individuality that conflicts with using trends to influence customer behaviour.

I have never consciously decided to buy something that has been marketed to me as on-trend. The concept that I would want something just because other people want it is an alien idea to me. Maybe I am still fighting the subconscious corner for my rebellious 16 year old self, or maybe I’m just not ready to admit that my romantic notion of the individual is a croc of shit? Either way,  the fact remains, the Bandwagon effect is a powerful marketing tool that delivers great results for campaigns that successfully tap its potential.


How does the bandwagon effect work?

The bandwagon effect is a well documented psychological phenomenon that proves that people will change their opinions or beliefs based on a relationship to the proportion of people whom have already done so.

Social validity drives the bandwagon effect.

The problem with social validity is that it can, and does feed on insecurity. I find it difficult to move past this issue. I have an altruistic view that it is possible to create great marketing without appealing to negative influencers. I often refer to myself on this blog (some people would claim paradoxically) as an honest marketer. Is there anything less honest than preying on a target market’s insecurity in order to generate a want, or a perceived need for a product?


But maybe there is more to it?

The human race is naturally social. We gravitate toward people that we feel some affinity with. Having a sense of belonging is an important driving force behind a great deal of positive behavior. Maybe my reconciliation with trend will come through understanding a little more about the basic psychological need for community?

 In 1943 a famous American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, claimed that having a sense of belonging is the 3rd most important need in a hierarchy of human needs (only safety and physiological needs came first).  A study by The University Of Michigan also claimed that people who feel connected to the world around them feel better and suffer far less from depression. This basic need for belonging has even been proven to have a positive effect on physical health. This study, by The Canadian Government, claimed that a sense of belonging to one’s country or local community has a positive influence on the individual and on the community’s overall well-being.

Now let’s assume for a minute that we apply these theories to branded communications. Although I have no scientific grounding for this leap, I can see no glaring reason why we can’t transfer the ideas of community loyalty to brand loyalty. After all we live in an ever more global society, where traditional international boundaries are constantly tested and scrutinised. Maybe we could go as far as to say that commercial  trends are creating communities and affinity that have become lost through the breakdown of traditional national boundaries.


Can commercial trends ever replace traditional community?

If there is an argument developing from somewhere buried deep within this waffle it is that trends create a sense of community, a sense of belonging. By creating and nurturing these trends into communities it may be possible to create a positive marketing message via trend driven initiatives.


I do still have issues with this argument. The connotative meanings of the phrase ‘on-trend’ are so much more open-ended than the literal definition. The fashion industry are primary culprits for the over use of forecasting trends. They are forever speculating and scrutinising over details, looking for patterns and trends from labels, designers and brands. The truth is that often, they just don’t exist. They are a fabrication of the writer, and the fodder for the marketing department.

And herein lies the problem…

Trends are too ‘faddy’, they’re fickle and they are used too liberally. If a little more caution were exercised when finding and utilising trends then people, like myself, might find more value in their claims.

By building real communities that facilitate communication between like minded individuals brands and businesses might just be able to harness the authority of trends to mean something a little more powerful. Consumers want to be part of something special, not just another fad but something more genuine and permanent. These are the trends that will have lasting impact, these are the trends that create something special that people will never forget.


photo credit: Joel Bedford via photopin cc