Why – and when – do you bring macro trend research into play for your business? The answer is simple: you bring trend research in when you’re in a cycle that needs big picture input or when something important has changed and you need a broader worldview to deal with the ramifications.
I’ve spoken to many professionals over the years about this, from the C-suite to the front lines, and while many are simply hand-raisers who intuitively understand how to use it, others are less certain. It seems smart to put a quick cheat-sheet together so we can look at these opportunities and use them on purpose – none are surprises, as we all do these on a periodic basis, but putting it down on paper helps us be mindful about why and when we should be rising above the day-to-day and looking broadly at the big picture trends that are affecting everything we, our customers, and our end users are thinking.
Putting trend research into your business planning and execution needs to happen in at least these 12 situations. Fortunately, they neatly fall into 2 categories: cycles and changes.
- Budget cycles: in order to create a marketing plan, a sales strategy, a product marketing strategy, or refine an outbound corporate marketing campaign, we need to understand something more holistic than our narrowly defined product category and how our specific users interact with our specific product. You bring trend work into your budget cycle to inform how you’re going to move forward. Think like an investor here.
- Budget windfalls: we all have, if we’re lucky, the end of quarter “bluebird” – “Quick,” the CFO tells us, “we need to spend a million and a half so we land where we need to be.” This is when you bring in an unbudgeted expense that has broad applicability over your entire year’s planning.
- Annual strategic planning: for those who separate strategic planning from budgeting – or for those charged with strategic planning as a stand-alone deliverable – macro inputs that deal with cultural and sentiment shifts are of paramount importance. You need to mirror what’s happening outside your four walls with what you’re planning to do within them.
- Annual brand reviews: As with strategic planning, any company managing a diverse portfolio of brands needs external inputs to ensure brands are relevant. Regardless of brand strength or longevity, this is important. All legacy brands have deep roots in the culture and while we’d be foolish to suggest we uproot these sentiments for the sake of current pop culture, it’s unarguably true that even the most beloved brand needs to stay relevant. Keeping one foot firmly rooted in the cultural legacy space while fluently communicating modern sentiments (and communicating the way the user of today wishes to be communicated to) is the difference between “old” and “evergreen.”
- Annual (or quarterly) business reviews with key customers: never, ever, go into a business review meeting without being able to persuasively tell your customer what’s happening outside the industry. This process is always best done from a macro-to-micro sequence, starting with the biggest view possible. Having done these for years with some of the biggest channel partners on earth, I can tell you with 100% confidence that everyone appreciates this. It also puts you on a level that few brands reach, because not everyone goes to this much trouble.
- National sales meetings: similarly to the annual brand review, the national sales meeting is an opportunity to either bore your sales force to death in a freezing hotel ballroom before they go out golfing or, better, give them a bigger picture view of what’s happening on a larger stage than your product category, you’ve taught them why you’re doing what you’re doing – not just what. A sales force that gets the holistic big picture is more effective at selling than one pushing products and solutions.
- Product launches: you’re launching a new product into a market of human users, each of whom is living in the culture. If you can connect these users to the culture and to your product and its uses, you’ve just accelerated your new product’s adoption. You’ve connected the product to the user to the culture, showing how and why what you’re launching is important in a much more profound way than the speeds and feeds ever will.
- New agency on-boarding: you have a new agency on board and you want them to not just understand your specific domain, but the culture within which we’re all operating. All great innovations happen because of putting the right constraints in place. The right macro trend framework gives you the right constraints. Your end result will be sharper creative, smarter media placements, better thinking, and tighter communication. Agencies are only as good as how well they’re managed. This helps you do your part in world-class fashion.
- You’re new in your role and want to see what your team is made of: workshopping your top business challenges against a smart macro trend framework is the best single way to see who on your new team is smart and who needs to move along. This is a surprising benefit of bringing a smart constraint – a trend framework – into solving complex business problems. You will quickly figure out your star players, which is important for any new executive.
- You have a new CEO and they want to see what you’re made of: similarly, the new CEO is going to look at you and your team the same way you would look at your team if you were new to your role. The best case scenario is they’re willing to see how smart you are. The worst case is they’re looking for an excuse to replace you. Thinking and operating on a global macro level and bringing the culture and environment into your planning is smart because it shows you’re thinking about things bigger than your immediate to-do list. Do it before you need to.
- Something bad has happened: your largest customer just asked for an RMA. You lost your biggest account. The strategic investment you just made is now under governmental scrutiny and your stock price is as low as your board’s tolerance for missteps. You need to shift gears quickly and get back on solid ground. Start with integrating your next 100 days’ get-back-on-track plan with the smartest cultural and global trends you can put your hands on. Buy yourself time and do something smart and unarguable.
- Acquisitions: not all communications are external – sometimes, you need to look carefully at how you communicate internally to instill and bolster your culture. Acquisitions are particularly delicate times for this. Reminding yourself that we are, in fact, in the midst of the shift to “C2B” – where individual humans now control the brand experience, even when the brand is the company they’re working for – means you have a fundamental need to understand how your people fit in the culture, how they want to be spoken to, how they define trust and credibility, and how you need to move through this transition.
Does this resonate with you? Do you use macro trend research help navigate these cycles and changes? Should you? What would you add to this list?