Making Sense of Herd Trends

Industry Insights

Recently something got me thinking about the birth of trends…

I grew up in Paris. My fellow French readers will relate to what’s coming. For some reason, I always feel surprised if I suddenly hear French being spoken around me in London – whether it be on the tube, at the table next to me in a restaurant, in a gallery… Every time this happens it reminds me that if I were to have a top secret conversation in French in London, someone might actually understand me.  I don’t know why it surprises me each time, after all there are over 400 000 fellow French expats living in London…

We like to think of ourselves as different. We like to tell ourselves we are unique.

Are we though?

How are trends born?

Identical behaviour patterns are everywhere, in every sector of our lives, not just for where we decide to live. Fashion may be the biggest sector in which we witness trends come and go. But what starts a trend? I mean, beyond seeing it over and over again on our Instagram feeds. What makes our brains think we need to adopt these trends? Or completely reject them?

One pattern I’ve noticed in my own behaviour, is that I will see an item of clothing for the first time and really admire it. If I see if worn too often on too many people, though, I immediately start to think twice about it.

An example? Trends  such as *that* infamous Zara polkadot dress, the Sweaty Betty backpack, Stan Smith trainers, Chilly’s bottles… The first time I saw the Zara dress worn last summer I actually quite liked the look. After seeing it 10 times in one day, I liked it less. After a few days, it then became a game of Where’s Wally – trying to ‘spot the spotty dress’ in the streets of London and steer clear of purchasing anything remotely similar. A massive counter example to this is the fact that I own an iPhone, (alongside half the world), yet that doesn’t seem to bother me. My theory is that it comes down to the functionality. A fashion trend is rarely particularly functional, so it’s easy to replace with something else.

Generally, destinations fall victim of herd trends too. Think of how many people you’ve seen go to Bali, Thailand or Lisbon over the past couple of years? This kind of ‘overtourism’ is creating serious issues such as pollution, overcrowding and saturation of transport networks.  Influencers are certainly not helping the issue, either – but that’s a whole other debate. What explains this behaviour? Do we just want to satisfy our own curiosity and be able to say that we’ve ‘been there done that’ so that we then have something to exchange about with someone who’s been too? Or is it something to do with FOMO and wanting to be perceived as someone in the know?

Challenging the herd – the path to creativity and innovation?

I don’t think anyone particularly enjoys being at the heart of a conversation in the office kitchen and not having a clue who Dushane from Top Boy or Dustin from Stranger Things are. Being in the know on the latest TV shows and trends gives you something to talk about — creating conversations and ultimately, connections. If the definition of popular culture is what you talk about over coffee with your friends or colleagues, you somehow need to be talking about the same things…

But if we all do the same things how do we differentiate ourselves? How do we think differently? By reading the same books and watching the same TV shows we are leaning towards thinking the same, which doesn’t produce value for anyone.

Perhaps we should force ourselves to think differently. Be it learning an uncommon language, going to an unusual destination for our next holiday, doing a puzzle, attending a concert we wouldn’t usually go to… I think there are things to gain from being aware of all the conversations going on around us, not just our own.

In my eyes, to build brands and teams, diversity of thought is so important. People from different backgrounds, with different opinions, interests and ideas make diverse teams. Knowledge is wealth. But it must be knowledge not everyone else has, otherwise it becomes worthless.

 

What about brands’ roles in all this?

Do brands have a responsibility to create trends or challenge them? I think both. Some harness popular culture in such a way that they actually have the power to dictate and create cultural trends. Think Nike, Apple, Coca-Cola… Others, more niche by definition, cater to their audiences in a way that is equally as successful but that likely forges deeper connections and brand loyalty because of their perception as herd challengers and rebels. Think brands like Patagonia, Dr Martens…

I wonder if brands ever predict herd trends, rather than just deciding to move with them. Did Zara create that polkadot dress foreseeing it would have that big an impact on my work commute last summer? It makes me wonder which trends 2020 will produce…

 

By Lucy Lowther – Marketing Manager at Studio Black Tomato