Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Can trends be predicted, much less created?

I came across a provocative, realistic thought in Lois Kelly's "Bloghound" today, in a discussion of whether it's possible to jump-start a trend by trying to influence the influencers. She quotes a "Columbia University network theory scientist" named Duncan Watts who argues otherwise, saying, "the complex network effects on society mean that trends occur randomly."

In an article in Fast Company, he says, "If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one — and if it isn't then almost no one can." In other words, Nothing Is As Powerful As An Idea Whose Time Has Come. Find one of those and then you've got something to work with.

That concept and this post produced a range of pings for me: I've been quoting a related idea for a long time, said to be one of the Laws Of Hollywood: "All Hits Are Flukes." (Just anecdotally, I remember this was reported as seen on the office wall of Trip Hawkins, back when he headed Electronic Arts.)

Yes, you've got to do your due diligence, put out as much intelligent, engaging signal to the right audiences as you can. But then there's always that point where you can only See What Happens. Farmers can plant the best seed at the right time and apply all their Best Practices; but then, it's largely up to the weather.

Companies are understandably nervous about investing money in marketing -- because the more time and money you've spent on marketing that came up empty, the more antsy you get -- so marketers can feel understandably pressured into issuing guarantees. But aren't those almost invariably fiction? What a marketer can do is stay on top of what's going on out there as much as possible, and give a company the best chance to succeed in getting their message out to fruitful effect.

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Lois Kelly's angle on getting the message out is based on what she calls "conversational marketing." In the sample chapter of her book, "Beyond Buzz," she explains, "The big idea is simply this: marketing is about having conversations, engaging with people in interesting discussions, through new and traditional channels. Technology may be becoming the heart of marketing and communications, but conversations are the soul."

(I find it a parallel, complementary idea to the ongoing focus here on pursuing business by dealing with people face to face. I'll toss in here that while in-person contacts are still ideal, advances in videoconferencing are now making that medium the next best thing. Especially when it means you wouldn't have to undress at a trot in a cold airport.)

Photo of the Hollywood sign, chosen because it symbolizes
the empty facade that area is, posted to Flickr by Kiran Ambre.)

Related, here:
Interface or Face To Face?

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