If brands could predict the future, keeping ahead of competitors would be super easy. Maybe you can’t call on a fortune teller for definitive answers, but you can use predictive analytics to get a reliable sense of which way consumer winds are blowing – and get there first.
What’s past isn’t always what’s prologue
Shakespeare might disagree, but history doesn’t guarantee the future. Still, historical data is important to understanding long-tail trends and patterns of consumer behavior.
Social monitoring tools should always be used to examine competing brands as well as your own, and this applies to historical data as well.
Look back at past events and conversations in your category, and pay particular attention to how long it took for early rumblings to explode into bona fide trends. This gives you a sense of the varying timelines at play. Some trends take months to catch on, while others go viral overnight.
Seeing the uptick in conversations as they played out in the past gives you an idea of when to strike with a trend gathering steam in the present.
Just as helpful is seeing which trends continued to grow – and how long they lasted – and which fizzled out. Some trends shine brilliantly for a few months before the next thing catches on. Others disrupt entire industries and change the world. In either case, you don’t want your brand to be late to the party.
Reading the room
Beating competitors to the punch is a matter of tracking social conversations and sentiment in real-time, because yesterday’s – or last year’s – data really doesn’t help you understand what’s happening now, or how that will inform the future. What historical data really does is teach you what to look for based on previous events.
You’ve then got to apply those lessons to what’s happening right now – like Credit Suisse does when recommending stock options to clients. It’s all about emotion. What are social consumers excited about? Obsessed with? Addicted to? At the same time, what are they “over?” What do they dread? What do they despise?
Emotional extremes denote strong passion – which is the quality that predicts consumer preference. Change isn’t motivated by apathy – it’s brought about by overwhelming desire.
So as you sift through social conversations happening in real-time, what stands out? You’re looking for everything from hot trends, to pet peeves, to wishes by looking at the strength of positive and negative emotions in keywords, emojis, and even images.
This isn’t just about leveraging the popularity of something like Pokémon Go – it’s also about identifying products and services that don’t even exist yet, but could. It’s about recognizing what consumers are thirsty for, and offering it up – before anyone else does.
Following the winds of change
It’s important to understand identifying a trend worth pursuing isn’t the finish line. Whether it’s a short-term ad campaign to capitalize on a pop culture “moment,” or an innovative new design that transforms life as we know it, you’ve got to keep tabs on sentiment along the way.
Social consumers are nothing if not fickle, and just when you think you understand where the line is, you’ve crossed it and there’s no turning back.
At every step of your action plan, you must keep tabs on response in real-time – so you have the opportunity to course correct and avert potential disaster. Hindsight may be 20/20, but it doesn’t get you your reputation back if you misstep. Predicting the future, however, is possible – but only if you’re paying attention.
Image from Andrew Magill