As technology marketers, it’s our responsibility to spot early tech trends, respond to them, and be in-market before our competitors. But spotting trends is not as easy as it seems, and sometimes you end up investing significant resources, time, and budget against topics that never take flight.
Back in the day when I was learning to surf, the skill I struggled with the most wasn’t standing up or balancing on the board; it was catching the wave. If I paddled into it too early, I’d wipe out, and if I took off too late, the wave would leave me behind. It’s the same with tech trends. Knowing when something is real and the best time to “drop in” on the market is just as important as building the right marketing campaign and executing on it.
So how do we spot these trends? We all have different ways of doing this, but here are the three techniques I’ve used as my compass.
Look around the room
Have you ever walked the exhibit hall floor at a large trade show and visited 50+ vendor booths referencing a tech term you’ve never heard before? How about receiving eight white papers from different vendors all on a new theme? Sometimes the best way to spot a real trend is to learn from others.
I remember attending a large security event in 2010 and meeting with a few vendors who told me they had the solution for “BYOD” and protecting against “Shadow IT” environments. I’ll be honest, after those meetings, I went back to my hotel room and started searching those terms to learn more about it. There wasn’t a lot.
When I returned to the same show in 2012, it was a different story. 80-90% of the vendors sponsoring the show had a message around BYOD, and some of them didn’t even have a solution to fix it. Obviously, they learned from the trendsetters and jumped on board.
I like to call this technique “Market Drafting” as it’s similar to what you see in the competitive cycling and racing world. Ride behind a booming new market trend and you don’t even have to do the work; the term will do the branding for you. Just be aware that this strategy can get you in hot water with prospects if you can’t address the issue.
Is it trending on Google?
Google Trends has not only been my go-to tool when I’m writing marketing copy, but it’s also the first place I go to see if a new buzzword is all hype.
Whenever I start to get a sense that a new technology wave is starting to crest, I usually turn to Google for a clear picture of what’s going on. Check out a few examples below from some of the hottest tech trends we’ve seen in the last ten years (BYOD, DevOps, and Cloud Computing).
BYOD (blue) vs. Consumerization (red)
DevOps (blue) vs. Agile Development (red)
Cloud Computing (blue)
Could it be any clearer? This hockey stick increase is what you want to look for. When you see it peak like this, jump on the trend before it’s too late.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen with every term we predict will be “the next big thing.” For example, just take a look at the trend line for “Consumerization” in the chart above. Understanding the right terms to invest in is why it’s so important to do your research before you go all-in on your marketing.
While I haven’t found the silver bullet for this yet, I do like to use social listening tools to get an idea of how certain terms are trending and who the key influencers are. My current favorite is hashtagify because it lets me look at trending terms over time and ranks them against related topics. This helps you identify recent buzz around a new technology, but it also allows you to see what terms people are most frequently using to reference the trend. If you’re trying to decide between one term or another, this can give you some guidance. Here is an example for BYOD and DevOps from hashtagify.
BYOD via hashtagify
DevOps via hashtagify
Follow the money
I’m a big fan of using CrunchBase, VentureBeat, and Owler to understand what’s going on in the investment world. The reality is that VCs are usually the first to hear about new companies and it’s their job to bet on trends.
Now we all know they don’t always pick winners, but watching multiple VCs invest in similar types of companies can usually give you a general idea if a particular trend is real. Take note of where the investments are going and the picture will start to appear. Great charts like this one from Fortune (via Quid) also help make the picture a lot clearer.
What about Analyst firms?
For me, analyst firms have never been a great indicator. Do I read their reports? Yes. Do I pay attention when they are telling me there is a new trend on the horizon? Yes. That being said, I believe there this always an inherent bias in a business model built on creating trends vs. following them. To sell their reports, sometimes they have to be so far ahead of the market that they end up creating and believing their hype.
When it comes to the analyst firms, I stick to their research studies instead of the opinion pieces. If it’s a large sample of real technology buyers indicating that a trend is real; I start to listen.