When we launched our visual intelligence software last year, we knew of its powerful capabilities. The more we showed it to people, the more excited we got about it because of their reactions. So we figured we should really be spreading the good word about something that could potentially revolutionize the social marketing sector.
An idea came to mind when we saw our computer vision technology’s proficiency at identifying visual trends within varied content mixes. Naturally, we decided to go old school analog to tell the world about our most advanced high tech tool yet.
We packaged our sectorial trend findings into a beautifully curated magazine, where we put our visual intelligence software to work. Using computer vision, it surfaces content trends that are unique to industry leaders while also driving high engagement for them. A good ol’ fashioned two-birds-one-stone scenario.
We just launched our third volume, and we enlisted WGSN, premiere trend forecasting authority, to help us celebrate with a fetching conversation about the state of affairs in the industry, and how social media and emerging technologies are changing the game.
Thomas Rankin, our CEO and co-founder, was joined by Sarah Owen, WGSN’s senior editor, for a fireside chat about how social and tech are shaping trends today. A spirited, engaging, and super educational discussion ensued.
Here are some highlights.
The Internet Revolutionized Trend Forecasting
Thinking about the profession of trend forecasting without the internet and social media seems crazy, yet it used to be done. It’s a time that Sarah marvels at: “to think that we were doing the job we’re doing now without social media is hard to imagine.” Understandably so, as it dictates so much of how fads, trends, entire movements are born and propagated.
Whereas the analog approach used to be all about boots-on-the-ground for literal visual trend spotting, the industry now relies so much on our constant connectivity. It’s how consumer behavior and mindset reveals itself, in spite of the fact that it can be overstimulating.
Sarah mentions choice paralysis, where “consumers have so much information that they’re paralyzed.” The result of this constant content influx is that “we’re way too inundated with information.” Wherein lies the importance of solutions like Dash Hudson, which help streamline the data flow to focus on what’s relevant and important.
There are two kinds of trends and they’re both valid and influential.
WGSN has defined the anatomy of a trend, giving it a life curve and sectioning it into specific phases to understand its essence (see image below). While the term “trend” has gotten a bad rap thanks to social media sprouting too many short-lived ones, it’s up to the WGSN team to identify both those micro and macro trends to understand their place and meaning within the current societal climate.
Macro trends stem from socioeconomic or political factors that are telling signs of future predictability. They tend to trickle down, last longer, and inform what’s coming in the next two to five years. On the contrary, micro trends are more inclined to bubble up (think avocado toast or matcha lattes) because “they usually start from a consumer or cultural context and they don’t necessarily outlast macro trends,” mentions Sarah, “…even though it might seem like avocado toast has legs,” she adds. Touché.
Macro trends either define or disrupt an industry, whereas micro trends explode and tend to disappear soon thereafter — hello, fidget spinner…or shall we say, goodbye.
It’s all about math and magic.
“It’s kind of a slogan to help people understand how we do what we do,” muses Sarah. The math part alluding to using proprietary data from a number of in-house tools that inform strategy on an ecomm or behavioral level. “And the magic…” she pauses, “without sounding too egotistical, is us.” Fair statement.
“We feel like the human touch is super important because in a world that’s so driven by data, you kind of need a little intuition to make sure that you’re calling the right shots.” Interestingly, this is something that Dash Hudson also preaches constantly. We find that the alchemy of creativity and data is what truly makes for a ramped up social strategy. The data-backed creative is always who we have in mind when developing new tools.
Visual intelligence is the math component that can power all social marketing activity. “It makes it possible to see in real time what’s happening with your content and with your audience,” Thomas states, continuing: “and during times when it’s much more difficult to stand out, being able to see all those things to make decisions in the immediate is very, very important.”
With more photos and videos being shared each year and overall declining engagement, brands really need to go above and beyond to outperform if they’re going to survive. Taking that math and magic equation to the next level.
At the end of the day, brands have to stay true to who they are.
It’s easy to get sucked in by content trends. You know, the same stuff that people post over and over again because it’s guaranteed to rack up the double-taps. But if you’re partaking in them at the detriment of your core brand essence, there’s no real long game with that kind of strategy.
“When it comes to social, are brands just chasing likes? I don’t think engagement always has to mean success,” asserts Sarah, “it’s important to level that out.” Thomas continues by stating that “vanity engagement trends are real and they can become a trap for social marketers.” Buyer beware.
If they’re posting a certain type of shot that doesn’t necessarily contribute to the brand story just because they know it’ll perform well, it doesn’t help business. Balancing engagement goals and staying true the brand’s identity is what will ultimately drive success.
DTC brands have the advantage.
There’s no denying that we live in the age of the direct-to-consumer brand, and according to Sarah, these companies have a leg up on the ones with a more traditional business model. “They’re so close to the customer so they can hear everything firsthand and build a cycle of loyalty by fostering those relationships.”
It’s a platform with a lot of advantages, no doubt, and its success has been made possible primarily thanks to the advent of Instagram.
The Future is bright but could also be bleak if we’re not careful.
With connectivity comes loneliness. Gen Z is arguably the most connected generation ever. They’ve never known an analog world (scary). Yet weirdly, Sarah and her team have found that it’s also the most lonely generation: “We spoke to all these teens,” she says, “and they can talk to their friends endlessly for hours, but they’re actually really sad. I think it’s a call-to-action for brands to foster a safe place online, how can they share about the issues of mental illness and anxiety, which is on the incline.”
The crux of the matter is that brands have to be weary of this moving forward, and create smart, mindful content at the right time for the right people. “Responsibility is what brands need to be a part of moving forward,” mentions Thomas. “And part of our job is making sure that brands protect their consumers, from a data perspective especially,” he asserts.
The industry will keep changing and digital will continue to take more room in our lives. Visual intelligence is going to make it easier to focus on what’s critical in the space, what brands should be paying attention to, and assist trend forecasting in myriads of ways as the landscape gets noisier.
Trend forecasters are always on Instagram. Sarah and her team are constantly on the app checking for what’s cool, looking to a curated list of influential accounts and social stars to understand what engages people. They’re saving images and even communicating with colleagues primarily through DM rather than email.
There’s no doubt trend forecasting and visual intelligence go hand in hand — they’re totally complimentary, with computer vision helping professionals narrow in on what’s valid, what’s gaining momentum, or what’s short-lived.
And once that’s been determined, they can go and sprinkle their magic everywhere.