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Trend research: how to identify relevant trends

Change brings risks and opportunities. A change can mean a risk for a company if the market changes and there is no longer a need for its products. But change also brings many opportunities and possibilities for new innovations. Read here how to identify relevant trends.

If a company takes a proactive role, it can help shape the future and not be surprised by destructive changes.

If a company plays a proactive role, it can help shape the future, bring products to market that meet the latest demands and are not surprised by destructive changes.

This is the task of trend research and innovation management. Today, potential for the future is to be recognized and solutions are to be developed that will be needed tomorrow. The future is being shaped instead of the future doing the shaping. But this requires good, well-founded information on possible trends, future developments and their effects.

Definition of trend

A trend is an assumed development in the future that will have a long-term and lasting effect on and change something. Current developments are moving in a different direction or intensifying even more.

Nutritional trends are an example. In the upswing in the 1960s, fatty food was part of the quality of life. Today, the trends are moving towards healthy eating and vegan nutrition.

Trends in an industry usually have far-reaching effects. Nutritional trends, for example, are causing changes in the retail, catering, tourism, leisure and agricultural sectors.


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Trend management

Since trends are very multidimensional, a high degree of attention is paid to them. Multidimensional means that many trends that one does not see in one's own industry at first glance are nevertheless often relevant due to chain and interaction effects. The second reason is that a trend in one's own industry can have very different effects.

On the basis of these facts, great attention must be paid to dealing with trends. The management of trends includes:

  • Identification of trends - "Which trends are there or will there be in the future? And which of these are relevant to us?"
  • Analysis of the effects and possible projections and scenarios - "In which directions can a trend develop? What impact can a trend have in general?"
  • Analysis of the implications for our industry or company and derivation of search and innovation fields - "What does the trend mean for our company?

Trend research and identification of relevant trends

You can't travel to the future to know how it will turn out. You can't read in any book what the world looks like in 15 years. You can only guess the future. A solid foundation of expertise and facts is important. The best source for the predictions and characteristics of trends is therefore to bring together as many expert opinions as possible.

In order to obtain a good foundation from future information, with which you can continue to work in innovation management, a systematic approach, process and methodology is required.

Systematics for identifying trends

Systematics in trend research is not a high science. This involves many and intensive analyses of:

  1. Megatrends: There are many public publications about megatrends. Megatrends are long-term developments over several decades that have a formative effect on all areas of society and the economy worldwide.
  2. Setting: Changes in the business environment also have an indirect and immediate impact on one's own organization. The analysis of the environment includes customers, users, customers, customers' customers, suppliers, administration, neighboring companies and industries (e. g. upstream and downstream) etc.

Important questions to be asked and answered in trend research are the following:

  • What impact do megatrends have on our company, our business and our industry?
  • What impact do megatrends have on our environment (e. g. customers, legislators)?
  • What major changes will there be?
  • What does this mean for our company, business and industry?
  • What are the trends in our industry?

Methodology for identifying trends

The basis for identifying trends are the right questions as shown above. Answering them is nothing less than a creative process that requires a lot of knowledge, experience, analytical and creative thinking.

Methods that provide information on trends and their effects are divided into primary and secondary research.

The primary research is first-hand research into trends, using the following methods:

  • Interviews with customers, Lead Users, users, employees and suppliers
  • Expert interviews (science and business)
  • Workshops with experts and stakeholders, offering creativity techniques, among other things
  • Delphi studies

The secondary search uses available information. There are a large number of trend reports for the most diverse industries, which can be used as a source and basis for trend determination. In the course of primary research, it is also advisable to first determine the available trends by means of a secondary research. This can also provide the basis for first-hand trend-setting.

Process for processing trends

Answering the questions mentioned above will result in trends, significant changes in the future and also fields of innovation. In order to obtain structured results, a systematic process must be applied:

  • Collection of information
  • Derivation of trends
  • Thematic clustering of trends
  • Assessment of trends: Relevance for our company, scope of impact, time (short-to-medium-term)
  • Prioritizing trends
  • Preparation of trends for further processing in the innovation and strategy process

The findings from trend research are important information for current and future business decisions.

Fit for the future through trend research

The knowledge of trends and possible future developments flows into strategic innovation management, where future search fields are derived, which in turn can be found in the roadmap.

But it is not only the innovation strategy that is built on this; the future information is also relevant for the development of the corporate strategy itself.

And last but not least, trend information is important for all corporate decisions, not only for innovation. Because all decisions always have to do with the future. It is therefore also important to spread this information very widely throughout the company and to initiate a discussion about it. In this way, the employees deal with the trends, which initiates a creative process that delivers ideas suitable for the future.

Conclusion: Trend research

Dealing with trends and the future is one of the most important innovation tasks. It provides the basis for the development of the innovation strategy and future orientation, from which the search fields and the roadmap are derived. If you don't have solid information here, a company can be surprised by a disruption overnight. Another disaster would be a wrong basic orientation, for example focusing on a wrong customer need that will no longer exist in the morning. This shows that trend research is an important success factor in innovation management.

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Barbara Korak

The experienced researcher and innovation manager contributes a comprehensive vision and experience from various industries. In her projects, she also draws on her knowledge from diverse qualifications in the fields of innovation management, coaching and communication, agile management, as well as sustainability and the recycling economy. Barbara converts the input from the experts into the next steps for your innovation project, both creatively and analytically at the same time.

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