I first met Henry Mason after he had (for all the wrong reasons) a very tough act to follow. It was late in the day, the crowd was low energy and beer was sitting in eyeshot, yet he managed to captivate a feisty audience with a rousing speech about the future of media and consumer trends.
As Global Head of Research and Managing Partner of Trendwatching.com (a leading global trend firm) you’d expect a certain ability but Henry went beyond knowing things — he’s genuinely passionate about this stuff. Surprising considering he started his career at the (some could say) less-than-rockstar halls of KPMG (a leading accounting firm). I wanted to know more. Recently releasing an interesting Trend Briefing (entitled “Pretail”) I grabbed Henry for 10 minutes to chat about the future of trends in a real-time, socially led world.
Paul Armstrong: How do you come up with your insights? What is the process? How do you verify?
HM: We’re powered by a network of over 2 500 spotters who send us examples of consumer-facing innovations they see in their daily lives. These are fed into our Trend Framework (that includes 16 mega-trends and over 100 smaller trends). The Trend Framework is grounded in deep, fundamental human wants and needs, and has been refined over the past 10 years. While keeping focused on real-world examples shows how businesses around the globe are servicing these needs.
PA: How big do you think “pretailing” — shopping for and funding products at the concept stage, driven by crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter — will be?
HM:It will be a niche trend that increasingly ripples into the real world. Just look at how traditional retail is already being affected – the Dim Sum Warriors comic book, funded in the US, is now available in Singaporean book stores. So it’s certainly one that all business professionals should be hyper-aware of, as pretail offers a better way to launch new products. Even if perhaps mainstream consumers don’t all rush to the pretail trend.
PA: It feels like there’s a lot of DIY themed trends coming through, likely due to the recession, etc. Would you agree? What does this mean for brands?
HM: Recession is just part of it – this trend has been building for years (think of eBay during the boom). New technologies that empower consumer-producers continue to be one of the mega-trends of the post-industrial revolution. Smart brands are thinking about how they can cater to their needs, build a community, ignite excitement and love for their brand. Not every consumer is going to make / build everything they use.
PA: How would you advise brands to future-proof their marketing efforts (besides using your services, naturally)?
HM: Simple: really and truly focus on what consumers actually want. Sounds simple, but too many brands are thinking about themselves. Pretail is a great example of a trend that should have switched on businesspeople jumping for joy: here’s a chance to test products before they’ve even been built, engage a community of supporters, get instant feedback and make real money selling products. But most brands aren’t set up to operate this way. Or even prepared to experiment with these platforms. And that leaves them at risk from newer brands that will do.
PA: Brands often jump on the back of trends haphazardly — what is your advice to avoid egg on the face should issues arise?
HM: Be genuine. As we looked at in our flawsome trend, consumers are pretty forgiving, if brands are open and honest. That’s not an excuse to screw up, but if a business behaves in the right way, with good intentions, and something goes wrong, then just explain why, and what you’re doing to correct it. It won’t be the end of the world. Probably.
PA: What trend is interesting you right now that is bubbling under the radar?
HM: Emerging^2 (‘squared’). [This is] Emerging market brands catering to other emerging market brands – so the Chinese micro messaging service WeChat expanding into India, Brazil and Turkey. Yogoberry, a Brazilian frozen yoghurt chain, opening in Tehran. This hints at a future that I think many haven’t considered: these new markets aren’t just going to be a source of growth for Western companies, but a real source of global competition. We’re just at the start of true globalization – innovation coming from everywhere, to everywhere. How long before consumers in the UK or US are lusting after a Chinese fast fashion chain, rather than Zara or H&M?