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November 22, 2010
Infusing Trends Into Your Brand

A brand equals product plus a compelling story.

Brands are built on cultural DNA and, therefore, must evolve with the times and shifting consumer desires. To successfully navigate such turbulent waters, we at Toniq recommend for marketers to steward brands through a “trend process,” recognizing that the brand essence resides in quintessential equities -- visual, sensorial, experiential, and personality -- that create truly emotional bonds with consumers.

For more than a decade, we have refined a "Brand Effervescent Trend Forecasting Process" that funnels macro trends into a brand essence. Each higher trend level feeds the one below in a 10-step brand development process.

While every project presents its own challenges, this process can help marketers apply the right trend to a brand's living space.

1.) Spot trend signals.

Seek visionaries; stay future focused. Big discoveries can come from the fringe, unfamiliar territory that can even elicit a touch of fear.

2.) Remember benchmark cultural signposts.

Trends are rooted in culture so look to key influencers in architecture, design, media, art, technology, social media, politics, religion, the economy, even healthcare. Aim for signals in at least three disciplines to indicate a trend.

Validate whether this trend has "peaked." Nothing is worse than discovering a "new trend" is on its way out.

Information overload is the greatest challenge in the search for emerging trends. To cut through the clutter, try these resources:

Trendhunter, Trendwatching, Coolhunting (trend sites)

Psfk (trend aggregator)

Huffington Post, Daily Beast (news aggregators)

AdAge (advertising)

The New York Times, USA Today (mass perspective)

Guardian, BBC (cultural crossover trends)

The Dieline (packaging)

Dexigner (design)

Daily Candy, Goop (fashion)

Industry blogs, magazines

Ffffound.com (sensorial trends)

ICFF, Milan Furniture Fair, Future Trends (trade shows)

Twitter, Google Alerts, RSS

Trend Professionals 

3.) Consider visual incarnation.

"Visual positioning" ensures that the proper interpretation of a trend story line is infused into the brand essence. This step collapses the senses into a primal experience, evoking touch, taste, smell, and sounds to enhance the brand experience.

Let's look back for an example. The visual vocabulary of the '80s was masculine, boxy, structural, and hard-edged. In the late '90s, a feminine biomorphic aesthetic became in vogue and design responded with colored iMacs, Bilbao, and the redesign of the Volkswagen Beetle, for instance. This step requires a visual sweep of the trend but aids in creative translation. 

4.) Name it.

Define the trend. This helps you own it and explain it to others. For example, consider Connectivity, Kidult, Green, S/he, Authenticity, and Time Famine. 

5.) Identify and name the consumer group(s) that embody the trend.

Trends need an audience. It is ultimately consumer interest that sustains or kills a trend. This also adds an emotional element that might otherwise have eluded you. Demographic groups are generally too broad so, dig deep and define their lifestyles and needs. Global nomads and millennial hippies are some examples.

6.) Look outside your industry.

In London, restaurateurs recently co-opted the retail pop-up shop concept to refresh the dining experience, a breakthrough that provided emerging chefs market exposure.

7.) Define category trends.

This is where most research resides. We recommend using a "bird’s eye view" to track category trends to remain true to your brand equities.

8.) Don't chase.

With everyone vying to be the first on the scene, there is a desperate nature to trend hunting. By not chasing others, you keep your brand front and center.

9.) Go against the grain.

Being a game changer is scary business. U by Kotex positioned the brand as a fashion accessory and changed the feminine care conversation. Market share ballooned from five percent to eight percent in six months.

10.) Apply to your brand.

Applying the trend to a brand's living space is the true challenge. Marketers must understand their brand's essence and visual positioning in the consumers' mind or risk arbitrarily translating trends rather than adapting them in a compelling manner.

For example, we have worked on Venus since 1998. Back then, launching a blue female razor at Gillette was revolutionary. It was assumed blue equals man and pink equals woman, but a human's relationship with color runs much deeper. By melding the mythological story of Venus being born of the waters with the spa trend -- which addressed woman's need for pampering and reconnecting with the natural world -- the visual equities of color, texture, and movement were brought to life in a trend-focused way and Venus was on track to become the No. 1 female shaving brand.

Trends are an exciting territory to explore. They can add an element of humanity to the branding process. By following this roadmap you can be confident that your brand will stay current and deliver results for years.

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Meg Asaro, Cultural Curator, has been with Toniq since 2002, infusing cultural and consumer trends into their Brand Effervescence Process. With a background in the arts, Meg organically brings a curatorial slant to her thinking. She has worked on initiatives for Kraft, Coke, Unilever, P&G, and Jet Blue, among others. She has also worked behind the image, instilling culture and consumer insight into image development for agencies such as Photonica, Veer, and Trunk Archive.

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