Anatomy of a Trend

Michael P. Lillis (Medaille College, Buffalo, New York, USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 1 August 2008




Lillis, M.P. (2008), "Anatomy of a Trend", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 25 No. 5, pp. 327-328.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

In a fast‐changing competitive environment, it becomes increasingly important for organizations not to lose sight of market realities. Yet, many of the most successful companies of the last few decades have gone through periods where they appear to be standing still, failing to respond to consumer demand. What are the underlying causes of such failure? One who observes such a phenomenon might conclude that these organizations were somehow blindsided by changing consumer tastes and preferences. In Anatomy of a Trend, Henrik Vejlgaard offers some unique insights on how a company can avoid such failures and escape the traps that have snared so many once successful companies.

Using an informal, highly engaging style, Vejlgaard illustrates how trends play a vitally important role in determining what is likely to become mainstream. Specifically, the book provides a number of examples used to illuminate the predictable patterns of trends, offering unique insights into the “how and why” of change in consumer behavior patterns. The author further illustrates how “trendsetters” provide a starting point in a chain reaction of consumer demand and, for that reason, represent a vitally important consumer group. A central premise of the book is that the success of an organization hinges on its ability to embrace the concept of innovation, constantly seeking new products that get their start away from the mainstream of the market, and directing explicit attention to the wants and needs of trendsetters. To that end, spotting and understanding emerging trends is vitally important for signaling potential changes in consumer demand and for predicting what may eventually become mainstream.

Chapter 1 begins by defining a trend as a “process of change” (p. 9), which typically originates with a deviation from an existing or mainstream product, design, or style. The author asserts that the observability of such a deviation (either in real life or the media) has a great impact on the speed with which a particular trend might develop.

In Chapter 2, Vejlgaard proceeds to identify a variety of “trendsetter” groups – groups that are overrepresented by individuals who “have a strong sense of individualism and a need to be different” (p. 70). These individuals, and the groups to which they belong, are typically the first to create and adopt a new innovation and, as such, play a key role in the formation and advancement of a trend.

To better visualize the lifecycle of a trend, Chapter 3 provides a detailed description of what Vejlgaard calls a Diamond‐shaped Trend Model. Like market penetration models found within the strategic management literature, this model does an excellent job of identifying the changing nature of market demand, especially as it relates to new and innovative products. The model consists of six different personality profiles, each with different attitudes towards trends. In the early stages of the model, “trendsetters” are enthusiastic about innovative new styles and take great delight with being the first to purchase and utilize innovative products. Next, “trend followers”, who are similarly driven by a desire for change, are also quick to adopt innovations, but only after they have seen other people use them. The next group of customers to enter the market is the “early mainstreamers,” who are more open to new styles than the average person. They are followed by the “mainstreamers,” who are considered to be average in their acceptance of new and innovative styles. After that arrives the “late mainstreamers,” who tend to be very hesitant, and in some cases dismissive of innovation and change. Finally, “conservatives,” the last group to enter the market, represent those who are unwilling to change even if the innovation's benefits are obvious or unless they are forced by circumstances to accept a change.

Throughout the book, the author maintains that trends are a product of a sociological process that relies heavily on the existence of polysocial groups – groups that have many social contacts with groups that are different than their own. In Chapter 4, Vejlgaard describes a handful of cities that are home to a large variety of polysocial groups, illustrating how trendsetters within these cities have the ability to influence both national and international markets. In an attempt to understand what draws these polysocial groups into the early phases of a trend's evolution, Chapter 5 takes a comprehensive look at four historical trends: blue jeans, motorcycles, inline skates and Apple's iPod. Information obtained from these cases reveals the importance of maintaining trendsetters' interest in a trendsetting product largely through continuous product development.

The remaining two chapters, Chapters 6 and 7, explore the strategic implications of different market growth rates and reveal a variety of characteristics that can be used to understand how trends emerge and grow. Particular attention is paid to the diffusion rates for five different product categories: cosmetics, clothes, accessories, home design and sports equipment.

With an ever‐increasing frequency, organizations are finding that today's source of competitive advantage is quickly made obsolete by the innovations of a rival. As Vejlgaard suggests, these organizations neglect to reinvent themselves, perhaps disillusioned by the apparent success of their current product offerings. A similar lesson can be extracted from the Greek myth of Icarus, a figure in Greek mythology, who made himself a pair of winds from wax and feathers. Icarus became so enamored with his ability to fly that he flew too high, causing the heat of the sun to melt his wings, eventually causing him to plunge to his death in the Aegean Sea. In a similar vain, Vejlgaard argues that companies sometimes rest on their laurels, neglecting to further develop an already successful product. Such complacency will cause trendsetters to search for an innovative alternative, which will eventually lead mainstreamers to view a company's product as stale. The end result is the inevitable loss of market share to a more innovative competitor:

If management doesn't pay close attention to changes in style and taste, an originally innovative lifestyle brand will inevitably lose its original customers – the trendsetters. They will look for more innovative products from other brands – often new and/or smaller brands. This, in turn, results in these new and smaller brands becoming successful (p. 183).

The main value of this book, then, may be in its engaging exposition of the predictable patterns that lie behind the trend process. Moreover, Vejlagaard's work inspires an intense level of appreciation for how trends emerge and grow and, more importantly, why they represent a vital strategic issue. Understanding the factors that affect the emergence of trends allows manager to tailor their business model to a changing industry environment. As such, this book represent a useful guide for helping managers identify strategies that need to be pursued to make a business model successful over time.

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