There used to be trends — in art, music, fashion, and even business communications. I’m talking about real trends. Trends with lasting power — not some style du jour. But today, many styles or philosophies seem to co-exist. Instead of a meal with an entree of filet mignon or pan seared salmon, it’s more like a stir fry. A lot of different vegetables with no one flavor dominating over another.
Need proof? Watch a movie from about ten years ago that was set in the time it was made. Does anything leap out at you as dated? Car designs or some reference to an event would. But not much else. Not clothing. Not hairstyles. Sometimes, not even the music. (A little side note here: recently, I was watching a movie from 1995. Nothing stood out as dated. However, at one point in the film, the main character used a Newton. It was an obvious predecessor to the iPhone and iPad. What struck me was how contemporary it looked, right down to the monochromatic Apple logo. It was a testament to the Apple — one of the true trendsetters around today.)
Why is it so different today?
In the past, trends were like wildfires, starting in one place and then spreading, so that even as a trend waned in one place, it continued to ignite and burn in other areas. Today, it’s more like a flash fire. It explodes on the scene and is quickly gone. One of the reasons for this is that since the world is so interconnected, we are constantly exposed to so many choices from so many people and places. When a trend starts in one place, we — and the whole rest of the world — learn about it in almost no time. We get momentarily excited until the next great thing from somewhere else soon reaches us and “poof”, the first trend is quickly forgotten. This pattern continues in a never-ending succession of microtrends.
In the absence of a lasting trend, and in an effort not to produce materials that will look out-of-date in short order, the answer for many companies has been to create safe, vanilla marketing materials, the idea being that it’s better to not make much of a statement than to make the wrong statement.
This approach has its costs. For one, by creating safer and blander look, companies run the risk of creating an emotional schism between themselves and their customers. As much as we want to think that business decisions are based solely on careful research and careful, logical thinking, emotions also play a role. After all, we need to be both mentally and emotionally committed to making a purchase since we’re buying than a product or service. We’re also buying trust, confidence, security, safety and comfort.
Another problem with this approach is that marketing materials have become increasingly similar to each other. Or to put it another way, their brands don’t offer enough to distinguish themselves from each other.
Fortunately, a backlash to this “no trend” look seems to be developing. Companies are beginning to realize that they need to do more than simply present content. They need to do more to build their brand, tell more of a story, and engage people more in both mind and spirit.