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February 11, 2010
Communications For Marketers 2010: Find Trends or Go Home

Today, if you sell anything for a living, you need to look through the news in all its myriad forms to understand how an idea becomes newsy—or water cooler talk—in first place. It’s all about finding the right trend—being on top of everything.

In the near future, it’s going to be much harder to figure out what the trends are—but that’s ok. As media becomes not a print vehicle or a TV station or even a product held in our hands, the people we depend upon for knowledge, data and worthy opinion are going to be the ones on top of the details.
To thrive as a communicator in this nascent era, the goal is to become a student of the unvarnished “influencer”—the one who brings trends to others before they have them memorized.

Dig past the superficiality of nonstop babbling columnists who have nothing helpful to say—and ignore them. Understand the new “news” will be whatever drives clicks—and those (sometimes sensational) elements often don’t match with the defining traits of previously investigative media—truth, service, objectivity, and so on.

This means you will need to un-spin the news, most of which is found information that others regurgitate as new, and become the World’s Greatest Trend Spotter.
How? Stop being a passive consumer of media. You have to actively deconstruct it and constantly be in “analysis mode” of what you look for and all that you read or, dare I say, skim!
For that to happen, you need an arsenal of knowledge. You have to be the one person who knows more than the next guy. Meaning: start learning from your/your clients’ customers. You’ve heard it so many times that it may seem trite, but listening is essential to forecasting trends and it's something folks don't think is in their purview.

Not quite.

  • Ask customers questions about your products and services—get the difficult answers.
  • Ask what they're looking for next.
  • Ask your customers what they think—just few questions, don’t abuse folks’ time—by organizing online or in-person focus groups and hear (then use) what people are thinking.
  • Find out what media they're using and what they think of current events.

     Then use all that to filter the information you place for likeminded folks to find.

Get filled with a new sense of cultural awareness as you read and ask and take in what people say—not half-assed thinking but actual considering what people are saying. Spend a few minutes away from your Black-i-Pre and meditate on the information someone just told you.

You will be the savvier when something suddenly hits big because you saw it coming. In this new society where everyone is hit by hype every second or two, you will be the person in your circle that collects trends...instead of bobble-heads!
That said, to know who the so-called are newsmakers in the future—you’ll need to be, well, a reporter… That means a person who breathes current events of every stripe.

And most especially, learn to be the person who reads a story and sees why a certain company was featured (or not, for that matter). Yes, I get that is a tall order requiring you to become more informed across the board. It calls for you to stop consuming only the media that interests you.
Stop reading the same old things. S-t—r—e—tch. Absorbing, studying and imprinting on lots of different subjects enable you to see the big picture. That’s when REAL and truly newsworthy starts to seep into your over-moisturized pores.

This makes you so much more aware of what people are trying to cram down your throat as faux newsworthy. For example, I read ”Pizza Today,” and it gets me a lot of useful information, as does my poring over “Call Center” magazine (uncannily still churning as “Gourmet” hits the skids).
With media growing from a handful of places to everywhere you turn and with everyone a published reporter thanks to Mr. & Mrs. Web, you must careful about what’s pretense and what’s not—and digging into EVERYTHING is your cure to getting conned.

It’s refreshing when people talk to each other with more than just a semblance of knowledge-or what we used to call “faking it.” If you market for a living, you need to be informed in a way that appears to be getting harder and harder.

Everything we turn to has become overly personalized and overtly customized. Marketers flood our mailboxes with offers that have been customized for us alone. Hundreds, okay thousands, of sites offer services to help us get info “quicker” like My Yahoo! or MyLaermer.com or MyAlreadyKnownNewsInfoWebSite.

On a more profound level, the ease with which we can arrange to be spoon-fed only what we deem worthy is dangerous. With this you become less informed than you ought to be, or would if you had to seek out all this information yourself. Just because you can find it easily doesn’t mean it’s worth finding. Customization has led us down a wily path of surreal, distorted knowledge.

My elders tell me the folks who didn’t burn up in the 1929 Great Crash days were well‐informed because they read everything available to them (which wasn’t much)! They saw cultural indicators that told them to react—fast! In pre-breadline 2010, we’d do well to follow our forefathers’ advice and cull knowledge from the broadest possible sources.

There’s no better time to learn how to become the educated news sniffer-outer. Become the one who knows the difference between a fad and a trend. To be that one you have to search for indicators of what direction a targeted country/ industry/ group is headed; to do that appropriately you have to have the know-it-all recognize something no one else has noticed is bubbling up as a ridiculously cool, and 100% brand new, trend.

Go make trend spotting a part-time job. So that when you a trend actually goes big time you will have know about it, having been one who “got” it before it took everyone over.

Richard Laermer, CEO RLM PR and Trend Spotter Emeritus

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Richard Laermer is CEO of New York's RLM pr, representing, among others, e-Miles, Epic Advertising, Yodlee, Revolution Money, Group Commerce, Smith & Nephew, and HotChalk. He was host of TLC's cult program Taking Care of Business and speaks on trends and marketing for corporate groups. You can read Laermer on The Huffington Post and on the mischievous but all-too-necessary Bad Pitch Blog. For more like this, follow him on @laermer.

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