Sounds like the best job ever, right? Bronwyn Williams on what it takes to become a modern-day fortune-teller.
A trend analyst’s role is to identify changing patterns in the world around us and to connect dots between seemingly unrelated changes moving society in a particular direction. In other words, trend analysts help their clients to make sense of change and to spot emerging opportunities and threats they may have otherwise missed. In this way trend analysts buy their clients time and give them a head-start on their competitors. This is similar to the way watchmen in medieval watch towers, with their 360 degree view of the landscape, gave their communities a head start to prepare for battle with the marauding hordes as they appeared on horizon.
Good trend analysts have several key attributes.
Firstly, all good trend analysts are insatiably curious and have accumulated a wide-ranging general knowledge. Clients pay trend analysts for out-of-industry emerging insights that are not already common knowledge to their competitors.
TREND ANALYSTS MAKE USE OF BOTH QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE TOOLS TO UNDERSTAND AND ANTICIPATE THE DIRECTION AND DEPTH OF TRENDS.
This requires a deep understanding of macro and meta drivers of change, which in turn requires having a broad, bird’s eye view of society in general. In order to build up and maintain a good general knowledge, trend analysts tend to be widely read and up to date in subjects ranging from history to business to pop culture to technological developments and current affairs.
Secondly, most well-respected trend analysts have a deep expert knowledge and experience in a particular subject area or industry, whether it’s the motoring industry, business leadership, fashion, or finance. This deep knowledge forms a foundation on which to develop deep insights and match patterns gleaned from general wide-ranging horizon scanning. For this reason, we find trend analysts come from a wide range of academic – and no-so-academic – backgrounds. What you study is less important than the ability to make sense of large amounts of information, and convert that information into useful, actionable insights. That said, since trend analysts make use of both quantitative and qualitative tools to understand and anticipate the direction and depth of trends, a good grounding in statistics, sociology, economics, market research, and foresight should not be discounted.
Thirdly, trend analysts have to be good communicators. Trend analysts are sense-makers. They not only need to understand the world and identity relevant changes, they also need to explain the context and importance of the changes they identify to their clients. This requires developing the ability to simplify complexity and to record and reference trends into summarised reports – without losing context or insights – to help clients make smarter, faster strategic decisions. It is essential to have the ability to think, write and speak clearly and articulate, without using unnecessary jargon, what trends are emerging and why those trends should matter to their clients.
To summarise, trend analysts need to be both analytical and creative. They need to see both the wood for the trees and the trees for the wood; to have a view on the big picture and the small details that make it up. But most of all, trend analysts need to be interested in everything, all the time. After all, the more you look at the world, the more you see that everything is connected.
Bronwyn Williams is a partner, trends translator and finance specialist at Flux Trends. She has over a decade’s experience in marketing management and trend research, working predominantly with brands in the financial and B2B industries.