Remember that staple interview question?  My high school guidance counselor, Lorraine Dangle, embedded it deep in my brain during relentless mock interviews senior year.

Miss Dangle insisted that to succeed in a college interview, it was crucial for high school seniors to see their future vividly.  She stalked the aisles as we wrote lists of our future goals, and developed essays about how we believed our colleges of choice could help us create the future as we wanted it to look.

Miss Dangle’s savvy preparations stirred in the recesses of my mind last week when a colleague announced he was leaving his oh-so-amazing marketing job at IDEO to pursue what he described as “Tom 4.0.”  While reading his “I’m taking the plunge” email, I wondered, “Where does Tom see himself in 5 years?”

Trends Enable Us to Capture the Future

What is your vision of the future? Where will you be in 5 years?  Where will your business be?  How about your clients? What new skill sets will you and your employees need to thrive in the future?

As successful marketers, we are charged with helping our companies – and our clients – paint new pictures of what’s next.  We bear the torch within our organizations to map paths for growth, bringing new thinking to how future growth can occur.  (And it never hurts to have a future vision for ourselves, too.)

Trends offer every marketer a tremendous tool for intercepting the future, and shaping it.  Gary Hamel, in his first book “Competing for the Future,” describes the importance of using trends combined with customer needs as a core driver of growth. By marrying trends and needs, businesses can consistently create competitive advantage.

What trends do you monitor (if any)?  Where do you find these trends? What is a good way to bank them?

Three Simple Ways to Become a Trendmeister

Gone are the days when the only recourse for assessing trends was paying lots of money for big industry studies.  While it’s still terrific to tap Gartner or Forrester reports when you have the resources, here are three simple no-cost ways to get yourself rolling as a budding trendmeister:

1.    Watch for STEEP trends in the daily news. STEEP stands for Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, and Political trends.  This acronym is a handy one, and helps you start with the big picture.  While perusing the Wall Street Journal, Ad Age, Business Week, or your favorite online blog, keep scissors and a folder handy so you can cut or print out articles with trends of note.  I dedicate a section of a bookshelf in my office for these, which I call the “trends corner.”

2.    Check out respected online trend sources so you can email your trend insights to others, plus bank them easily in your computer. Consider and as two places to begin. Sign up for their monthly newsletter or blog releases so you can remain “on trend” with what’s hot.

3.    Weave trends into your business conversations as a way to differentiate yourself. Miss Dangle never talked about monitoring trends.  Maybe she didn’t realize how important trends were as a complement to “goals” for creating a vision of the future. But I know my IDEO colleague is reading up daily on his favorite trend themes so he can dazzle recruiters, venture capitalists, and anyone else who will listen to his visions of what lies around the corner in a broad array of industries.  Knowing trends makes you memorable, and sought after!

Monitoring Trends Boosts the Relevance or Your Competitive Vision

To whet your appetite, here are samples of five trends I’ve been watching and find particularly fascinating. While you may argue with where I’ve categorized them, consider the ripple effects each will have over the next several decades…or sooner:

  • Social:  The US has the highest percentage growth rate of new mothers over 30.
  • Technological:  Social networks are creating new markets for businesses which can capitalize on the customer question, “What’s near me right now?”
  • Economic:  The median age of the US working population will drop over the next 50 years, positioning the US as the second youngest industrialized nation, after India, by 2030.
  • Environmental:  The US “green renovation” market will more than double in the next 5 years, moving from $71.1 billion today to $173.0 billion by 2015.
  • Political: By 2050, 75% of the world’s population will be urban dwellers.

Although I haven’t noted my sources for the above (due to space constraints), every trendmeister must stand ready to back up their opinions with one or more data sources. Don’t get caught naked!

Whether you are a marketer in a large organization, an entrepreneur in a small company, or looking for a new job, become a trendmeister – starting today.  Leverage the power of trends to create the future as you want it to look!

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Photo is Visions of Color by joe dyndale.