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Small biz

Trend analysis has normally been a domain reserved for the large corporate marketer. But nowadays, even the small business can have access to protocols and technologies that help foresee where marketing’s future is headed. That’s the word according to Minneapolis-based marketing experts Vickie Abrahamson, Mary Meehan and Larry Samuel, co-founders of the trend newsletter Iconoculture. In their latest book, “The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be,” the co-authors, whose clients include General Mills, Warner-Lambert, Wendy’s and Saatchi & Saatchi, address 40 cultural trends that will help transform both life and business. In a recent interview, the Iconoculture team revealed the process they use to read the future, a process, incidentally, that the small business marketer can easily copy. According to the co-founders, the key to success is acute, behavior-based observation. In fact, most of their insights work best as a companion to standard research methodologies like survey data, etc. Their findings help put a face to the numbers and the statistics. The trio identifies the following strategies for tracking and forecasting trends: ? Cast as wide a net as possible. As Yogi Berra astutely put it, “You can observe a lot by watching.” ? Sift through the clutter for cultural passion points. Issues like religion, sex and death are key clues to values, particularly appropriate to the baby boomer generation, which is undergoing that very process of soul searching as it confronts the specter of mortality, AIDS and dying parents. ? View everything as a sign requiring decoding. Since every action has a significance, we should borrow from semiotics (the study of signs) to uncover the meaning of things that are around us. ? Look for connections, parallels and analogies. It’s more important to know in how many places trends appear than how long they’ve been around. ? Look to the margins. Peeking into nooks and crannies of society can unearth the juiciest nuggets. It’s the so-called fringe groups, the subcultures, that are most important indicators of new trends. ? Don’t confuse trends with values. Trends are the tips of the icebergs; values lie beneath the surface. ? Use the past. Memory can be recycled as a powerful marketing tool, e.g. cable’s “Nick at Nite.” ? Expect and capitalize on backlash reactions. Smart marketers are thinking about the backlash to a trend before the trend runs its course. For example, the current love affair with technology (hi-tech) has spurred an offsetting desire for personal involvement (hi-touch), fountain pen vs. e-mail. ? Proactively manage change. Don’t attempt to create the trend. It’s smarter to creatively surf it. ? Focus on application, not prediction. Again from Yogi Berra, “Prediction is difficult, especially about the future.” The Iconoculture team has outlined 10 illuminating trends that will affect boomers, Gen Xers and their succeeding progeny. ? Altered States. Products and services can become resources for the imagination or fulfill a desire to live out some form of fantasy, e.g. attending race-car driving school, or photographing zebras on the Serengeti. ? Beehiving. Tight-knit affinity groups (i.e. “Beehives”) will form among friends and families, e.g. independent marketing consultants pool resources or get together simply to exchange information, complain about clients and learn from each other. ? Biomorphing. People will see their bodies as blank slates and make changes in ways previously unimagined in an attempt to seek longevity, e.g. extreme plastic surgery, or contact lenses that change the shape of the iris. The will and technology now exist to accomplish it. ? Bunkering. The home will be treated as sanctuary from a hostile world. It’s why Martha Stewart is so popular, why home theaters are all the rage, why increasing numbers choose to telecommute. ? Chi. East meets West. Americans will continue their quest for a sense of inner-balance. That’s why every Deepak Chopra book is now a best seller. ? Detox. Awareness grows for the need to battle an invisible enemy in the form of toxins, poisons and germs. And the battle is best fought with natural remedies, vitamins, organic foods, exercise/endorphins, etc. ? Merit Badges. The trend will be toward collecting experiences vs. things and, ironically, boomers will be the ones most seeking to experience it rather than own it. ? Personal Best. Aging boomers, with net worth safely protected, will pursue activities leading to self-actualization. They will seek pride in their lives and be concerned with leaving a legacy. Look for a surge in volunteerism. ? Synesthesia. It’s the blending and maximizing of sensory environments. From fine wines to bath teas, aromatherapy to the spa experience, we are into sensory pleasures. ? Vice-Versing. Eat, drink, smoke and be merry via a host of hedonistic, yet permissible forms of self-gratification. How else can one explain the sudden popularity of the $30 cigar? Abrahamson, Meehan and Samuel contend that there is an overall change in the consumer psyche at play. There is a growing distrust of large institutions on the part of contemporary consumers with a corresponding desire to take responsibility for their own lives and be their own experts. From a marketing perspective, they seek to develop trust as well as one-to-one relationships with providers and marketers. Hence the validity to the claim that power is now shifting from the marketer to the consumer. “The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be” is a must-read for any marketer. Small business operators must be prepared to decode it for themselves. All it requires is the ability to interpret and apply the information with imagination and flair. Alf Nucifora is an Atlanta-based marketing consultant. He can be contacted via e-mail at zubicon@aol.com.

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