In this blog series, we explore the distinction between fads and trends and why it is vital for CMOs and other marketers—including strategists, designers, copywriters and web developers—to pay attention to each. We’ll consider broad implications of fads and trends while also pinpointing specific examples of each.
Read Part 2
When I was a high school English teacher, I wanted to relate. I was fresh out of college, 22 years old. I wanted to be trendy—or what I thought was trendy. So, naturally, I picked up on teenage fads. I dabbled in Wiz Khalifa’s music, learned about Vine, wore some Silly Bandz—ok, this one might be a lie—and showed viral videos like Hot Cheetos and Takis to keep their attention in the middle of lessons about Beowulf. “You see, Grendel relates to Hot Cheetos and Takis because . . .”
I was striving to understand and leverage ephemeral fads instead of focusing on more comprehensive, notable trends. While I had some great successes driving students through my educational sales funnel to the purchasing stage in the short term, I learned valuable lessons about using fads—and how seeing through their short-lived murkiness might've brought me more success in the long run.
To set the stage for this series, it's important to note the difference between fads and trends.
Fads vs. Trends
To sum up the basics, fads come and go frequently. Think stonewashed jeans, pet rock, Beanie Babies, AOL Instant Messenger, t-shirts with “Keep Calm and ______ On,” mustache-themed whatevers, rustic chic wedding decor and—need I say more?
Trends, on the other hand, don’t skyrocket and then crash in popularity in a matter of weeks, months or a few years. Trends are lasting, so they rise in popularity more slowly. Healthy living—especially when it comes to fitness—is a trend; let’s just say the Shake Weight is a different story.
So, why does this distinction matter for marketers?
How fads and trends affect marketers
Like me as a high school teacher, you want to relate to your audience; you want to speak to them in a way that they’ll respond, hopefully by purchasing what you’re selling or, sometimes better, advocating your company. But how do you sort through all the hullaballoo to piggyback on a short-lived fad or capitalize on a meaningful, enduring trend? (Lesson one: don’t say hullaballoo.) For other considerations regarding fads and trends, check out the list below.
- Do you know if it will last?
Whatever “it” is, let’s get this out in the open: it’s difficult to predict what could spike and then flop as a fad or what could have sustained success. Adopting fads—for example, slapping a pink mustache on a car—isn’t necessarily negative. The pink mustache is now a beneficial staple of the Lyft brand, even if the mustache fad is, generally, fading away.
- Do you have a documented process?
By documented process, I really, truly mean a written, comprehensive process that all parties understand. Consider some of these questions:
- Who is in charge, in each department (e.g., your social media team), of deciding whether or not to engage with fads and trends? As a quick example, who decided it was useful for a grumpy cat meme to appear in a tweet from The Greens NSW?
- Who heads up quality assurance (which should include research on a fad or trend) to make sure you don't have to go into immediate crisis communications mode?
- Who has the final sign-off ? This is especially important when you are trying to be timely (e.g., posting on Twitter).
- Do you know how it aligns with your company culture and voice?
Just because something is popular doesn’t mean you have to incorporate it into your marketing strategy.
- Did a fad or trend, like the ice bucket challenge, have anything to do with your philanthropic culture?
- Did it enhance internal participation in company volunteer programs?
- Did it enrich your image externally?
- Did you use it as a segue into additional marketing and PR efforts?
While there is really no harm in participating in these charitable ventures, it’s worth asking these questions if only to ensure that your efforts support your company culture. It’d be a bit incongruous, for instance, if R.J. Reynolds started supporting the Lung Cancer Alliance. Just like it’s odd to see a brand with a serious, formal voice use #swag in a tweet.
- Do you know how it aligns with your strategic goals and how it could affect ROI?
I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but just because something is popular . . . Many times, we run into this issue at our agency. We say, “Oh, man! That’s cool! We should do that for a client!” But then we slow down, taper our excitement and think about how something new—whether it’s a catchy phrase, a particular style of responsive web design or an image carousel on a homepage—could affect strategic goals. If one of your goals is to generate 1,000 new leads by the end of Q3, will spending the money on creating an app actually help you reach this goal? Or do you just want an app because all of your competitors have one?
- Do you know how your customers will react?
You may never be able to predict exactly how your customers will react, but you can make research-based decisions that set you up to know how the majority of them might. If you haven’t done research on your customer base—and we hope you’ve at least started this effort—ask yourself:
- What do my customers want? What do they value?
- What can I offer customers that they will want?
- How do my customers engage with social posts? Do they engage with posts about contests, promotions, tutorial videos, company updates, our charitable ventures, product upgrades and innovations and curated content?
- Where does traffic to our website come from? LinkedIn? Search engines? Digital ads? Videos on YouTube? Links from blogs, review sites or news articles?
In essence, what do you know about your customers’ behavior? If you can’t answer this question, you’re entering dangerous territory, especially if you’re trying to capitalize on an immature fad that’s been popular for only a short time.
- Do you plan on building off of this fad in the future?
In other words, do you want to leverage a fad as a way to become part of a trend that will ultimately support long-term goals and fulfill strategic objectives? Don’t think only one step ahead. Don’t think only, “How many new followers will I get if I post this cat meme?” Instead, think, “What’s the long-term outlook of engaging with this fad?”
As we move forward, we’ll be building off of the foundation above to wrap our collective heads around more specific types of fads and trends and what they mean for your business. Read Part 2 of this series about the benefits and pitfalls of using trending hashtags on Twitter and in other social media channels.
[Related reads: Brands Trying to Sound Cool]