How to pick a trend versus a fad

Innovation inherently comes with risk. Great innovators know how to minimise this risk and when it comes to identifying trends, this risk minimisation skill is equally important. Let’s face it, no one wants to invest all their time and energy into developing a new product or service for a short-lived fad. Before we move on, let’s check in as to what a trend is and why they are so important. When we hear the words trend, we can often think of a ‘fashion trend’, that is, something that pops up for a few seasons and then disappears. Trends however, can be long-term and roll on for many years. This not only happens in fashion, but in technology, cultural trends, the economy and many other areas.

In short, in the world of business we are looking to identify trends that will disrupt the business environment enough so that it provides a new opportunity to create new products and services and even possibly create a new market.

If the word trend doesn’t work for you, then why not call them disruptors. As many of us have a preventative motivational focus (a preference for avoiding pain and loss) this word may work better for you. In fact, when we look into trends we can think of three components: uncertainties, disruptors and trends. We want to identify the key uncertainties that could impact our customers and business. We want to identify what disruptors are arising, the impacts they might have and then finally the specific trends that are emerging around or from these drivers and uncertainties.

If you’re starting to freak out thinking you just signed up for a PHD dissertation, relax, we’ll make it easy for you.

Before we move on, what’s a fad? A fad is something that people thought would be a trend that would stick around, but then they lost interest in it too quickly. If anyone is old enough you might have heard of the pet rock fad that hit the world. Yes pet rocks, essentially they were small rocks given a set of eyes, and a mouth. They came in one day and out the next. This is what we want to avoid at all costs. Throwing our resources behind a fad is enough to blacklist you from innovating forever.

Let’s get down to business. Here’s how we can go about assessing a trend.

There are 5 phases to a trend.

  1. Dawning - an emerging trend that is just starting to rear it’s head
  2. Developing - a trend that is gaining momentum and is being developed by various parties both from a user/ customer and from a supplier/ innovator
  3. Developed - a trend that is fully fledged and has hit mainstream interest
  4. Decaying - a trend that has done it’s time and is becoming ‘old’ in the mind of user or customer 
  5. Discarded - a trend that is no longer in demand and has been superseded by something more exciting, superior, different or by adding new value
trends polar bar chart.001.jpeg

Obviously we don’t want to be starting to work with a fully developed, decaying or discarded trend. That means we need to find either a dawning trend or early stage developing trend, anything else and we’re going to be too late, that is unless we are thinking of adapting a trend from one industry to another. Either way, we need to know how to scan the world for these dawning trends as well as potential disruptors and being mindful of the key uncertainties that may arise. The simplest proven way we can do this is to utilise the skills of a futurist. This article is not about how to find the trends it’s more about assessing them once you’ve found them. To find out how to spot the trends I’ve written a concise article on how to do this in this article on how to strategically anticipate future trends

How to identify a fad versus a trend

The duration of a trend is determined by a number of factors including:

  • differentiation - how unique and remarkable the new trending product or service may be
  • superiority - how well the product or service compares to a close comparative offering 
  • newness - how long the trending products or services has been in the market 
  • performance - how well the trending products or services perform in relation to customer/ user expectation 
  • customer community - how the user/ customer community interacts and uses the new product or service, what potential size might exist for this trend
  • aesthetics - how timeless the design of the product or service experience may be
  • ground breaking - is this a total revolution or a simple evolution
  • market category - does the trend product or service create a new market category

So let’s imagine that we’ve identified some dawning trends, uncovered some uncertainties and some disruptors. We can use a series of graphs to help us plot the potential success of a trend and then make a more informed decision about it.

Differentiation - there are some industries where differentiation is crucial and others where being too different can be a death knell, for example - the legal industry. Differentiation is important because people become bored easily and therefore it can become an effective strategy to grab someones attention. When we think about a new trend, it grabs our attention and gets us starting to think differently about something and gets us talking. Simply put when assessing an emerging trend ask yourself “Is this unique or really different to what currently exists?” “Is this truly unique or is it simply a predictable evolution or improvement of something that already exists?” “Is this product/ service remarkable i.e.. does it give me something to remark about?”

You might consider asking:

  • ‘What would be something remarkable about our potential product or services’ usability?’
  • ‘What would be something remarkable about our potential product or services’ efficiency?’ 
  • ‘What would be something remarkable about our potential product or services’ advisability?’ 
  • ‘What would be something remarkable about our potential product or services’ physicality?’ 
  • ‘What would be something remarkable about our potential product or services’ automation?’ 
  • ‘What would be something remarkable about our potential product or services’ interaction?’

Superiority - here we want to assess how well the potential product or service trend compares to a close comparative offering. You might consider asking:

  • ‘How effective is it?’  
  • ‘How efficient is it?’  
  • ‘How much customer delight does it create?’ 
  • ‘How much value does it create?’ 
  • ‘How much more affordable is it?’

Newness - how long the trending products or services have been in the market. You might consider asking: 

  • ‘Has anyone seen anything like this before?’ 
  • ‘When did this trend first come onto the scene?’ ‘
  • How long have people been playing in this space?’


Performance - how well the trending products or services perform in relation to customer/ user expectation. You might consider asking: 

  • “How well does this trending product/ service meet the customer expectation?”
  • “How many needs or desires does the product/ service satisfy?”
  • “How many aversions or frustrations does the trending product/ service deal with?”
  • “How importantly does this product or service trend factor into a customers life?”


Community - how the user/ customer community interacts and uses the new product or service. You might consider asking: 

Communities can play a big part in the success of a product, and part of this can sometimes be made up by the ‘why’. For example ‘this trending product/ service exists for the cause of making life easier for single mums”. Having a cause creates bigger community participation and trend duration. Ask:

  • “Is there a cause behind this trend or movement?” 
  • “Does the trend exclude a crowd?” Some trends are successful because they exclude people so that it appeals a very specific customer group which in turn increases the loyalty of the trending product or service.
  • "How many people could this trend attract or how deep would the pockets of a niche market be for this trend?”

Aesthetics - how timeless the design of the product or service experience may be. Looks can play a huge part in trend longevity. Questions worth asking include:

  • “Is the design novel or enduring?”
  • “If I owned this in 10 years time would it still appeal to me?”
  • “Does the design seem timeless or dated?”
  • “Is there anything clunky or annoying about the design or experience that frustrates me?”

Ground Breaking - is this a total revolution or a simple evolution. Consider asking:

  • Does this finally deal with a problem that we’ve had for so long?” 
  • “If this didn’t come along would we be any worse off?”
  • “Will this change my life or our customers life in some way, shape or form?”
  • “Is this totally going to change the way we do things?”
  • “Will this mean the end of an era and a beginning of a new one?”

Market category - did the product or service create a new market category. Consider asking:

  • “Is this going to create a new market?”
  • “Is this going to create new niche in the market?”
  • “Will this take it’s market share from an existing market place”

Now that we have a number of criteria and question to assess a trend we can use a polar bar chart to plot the impact of this trend to help in our decisions making.

To keep things simple consider using a scale of 0 to 10. 

trends polar bar chart 1.001.jpeg

For example for differentiation on a scale of 0 to 10, how remarkable and unique is the trending product/ service? If it’s not even remarkable you might give it a score of 2 and then plot it on the polar bar chart. Repeat the activity for all the other criteria and you have your trend analysis chart.

We’d love to hear how you go with this, please ping us a message to let us know about your success. 

You might want to find out more about the trends and futurist strategies for your organisation by coming to one of our events such as The Next Big Thing, reading our book - Innovation Archetypes - Principles for world-class innovation, or completing one of our online programs.

nils vesk