Catch The Craze

Learning to take advantage of trends
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the April 2000 issue of . Subscribe »

You're painfully aware of the latest craze that's engulfed the nation. Unnerved by its omnipresence and intrigued by society's fervent embrace of the trend, you find yourself cowering in a corner, questioning your ability to predetermine its popularity and pondering the various ways to profit from its bounty.

Recognizing trends or, better yet, detecting emerging ones, is one of the biggest keys to success for most entrepreneurs, but not everyone is able to extract opportunity from a trend, let alone profit from one. While certain trends don't cater to followers, like the innovative Pet Rocks, some do offer fertile ground for follow-up businesses to make their mark.

Take Paul O'Brien and his Krispy Kreme delivery service. Until the demand for the delectable pastries begins to wane or the franchise opens a store on every corner, O'Brien has a very alluring business on his hands. Early-morning pick-ups at the Van Nuys, California, location pack O'Brien's SUV with several dozen donuts, which he then delivers to office buildings and residents, charging double the in-store price.

Then there are entrepreneurs who can see a trend coming, like 34-year-old comic book aficionado Lou Bank, the self-proclaimed "Big Dog" behind Vancouver, Washington, marketing and design company Ten Angry Pitbulls. Bank entertained the idea of bringing the comic properties of the Japanese phenomenon Pokémon out from the specialty comic-book stores and into the major toy chains months before the fad hit full-force. While attending New York City's International Toy Show in January 1999, Bank took note of a manufacturing tactic that assembled the popular Dark Horse comics into packages of four. Realizing other comic properties could benefit from this approach, Bank called up some friends at Viz Communications, publisher of the Pokémon comic, and nailed down the distribution rights to the Pokémon comic-book property. "For six months, I had exclusive rights to try to place the comics in toy stores," says Bank. "I suspect that if I'd waited until March, I wouldn't have gotten in."

Instead of handling the packaging himself, Bank sold the rights to a third-party distributor and, at press time, had achieved the majority of his company's revenue through the million-plus packages sold. "It was a matter of picking the right property early and getting lucky," he explains. Assured he's got the next two hot properties covered, Bank won't divulge his gift of prophecy. "Somehow, I keep lucking into it," he says. "It's just a gut feeling that's right more often than wrong. You know Spiderman's tingling spider sense? That's all it is, a tingling."

A tingling that Arnold Brown, chairman of New York City trends analysis firm Weiner, Edrich, Brown Inc., knows only a select few possess. "There are entrepreneurs who instinctively recognize an opportunity in a trend, and then there are the rest of us who have to think about it," says Brown. That means being acutely aware of everything going on around you and being able to translate trends into practical concepts. But aside from that, if a concept makes sense to you, it probably makes sense to someone else. As for the problems that may arise with jumping on a hot trend that too quickly turns tepid, Brown offers a cut-and-dried piece of advice. "It's a crapshoot," he says. "There's just no scientific way of knowing."

Thou Shalt . . .

Ok, now that you've identified the phenomenon, how do you jump on it? Iconoculture's Trend Commandments offer some sound guidance.

  • Cast as wide a net as possible.
  • Sift through the clutter for cultural `passion points'--look for things that elicit an emotional, visceral reaction.
  • View everything as a sign requiring decoding--focus on the meaning of things rather than the things themselves.
  • Look for connections, parallels and analogies--make links between trends popping up in different categories.
  • Look to the margins--trends tend to bubble up from the fringes of society.
  • Don't confuse trends with values--think of trends as indicators of deeper social values.
  • Use history as an active resource and as a source of memory marketing.
  • Expect and capitalize on backlashes. Trends usually reverse directions.
  • Creatively surf trends instead of attempting to start them.
  • Focus on application, not prediction.
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