Being a trend forecaster is a little like being a retailer, an accountant - or a professional Father Christmas: you're at your busiest around Christmas and the New Year. With the new year already well underway, everyone wants to know what the new trends will be. So, to offer a few insights, and to stop everyone asking me the same question at parties, I thought that I'd tell you about the three biggest consumer trends for 2012 and beyond.
And now that we're all feeling the pinch after paying off Christmas credit card bills and the New Year tax bill, what better place to start than with the 'cheap and cheerful' trend?
You don't need to be an experienced trend forecaster to have noticed how unhappy people are at the moment. As each week goes by, we're shifting uneasily from anxious to depressed to angry and back again. And we'll see levels of anxiety, depression and anger grow over the next 12-18 months: in the home, in the workplace and on the streets.
So what do people want if they're feeling that way? They want 'reasons to be cheerful' (thank you Ian Dury). Already the most cutting edge industries have picked up on this. The key colours for this year in fashion and interiors are bright and cheery: bold oranges and yellows. Meanwhile, one of the big food trends is 'mood foods': products that improve your mood, either organically or chemically. Oh and have you noticed how escapist TV shows like X Factor and Dancing on Ice are now focusing more on the positivity of winning than the negativity of failure? Yes, you guessed it, it's about cheering us up.
But in the current economic climate we don't have a lot of money to spend. So, cheerful's not enough. What we want is cheap and cheerful. We want things that are LPHP: low price, high pleasure. And if they can actually be free, all the better.
So, what can we get that's free and fun?... Well, you have a dirty mind, but yes, you're right: that does include sex. And we'll probably be spending more time on that over the next year. But it's not the only thing that's 'fun and free'. Chatting to your friends on Facebook or Twitter is free. So is watching TV. Even better, why not combine the two and take part in the 'social TV' trend. Or, if you're getting a bit sick of social media, then join in the 'switching off' trend, shut down your Twitter feed and invite friends over to your place to watch TV together or just chat.
Meanwhile, what about things we might have previously seen as chores but that can actually be quite fun? Like getting ready to go out. If you've got a full wardrobe, it doesn't cost any more to spend time getting ready than it does to just throw some clothes on, but how much more fun. Nor does spending an extra half hour pampering yourself in the bathroom. And how about cooking. It doesn't have to be a chore: it can actually be a fun pastime in its own right. Or gardening: whether you're lucky enough to have a full garden or have to make do with a window box or some indoor herbs. These will all be growth areas that brands need to think about.
We'll also start looking too for cheaper ways to do the most costly things. Those nervous about splashing out on gym membership this year will look for cheaper ways of getting fit. Hence the growing interest in walking, running and cycling, where not only do you get you fit, but you can also enjoy the scenery.
Like 'social TV' above, 'natural fitness' is part of the 'fun trifle' trend: where one layer of fun is piled on top of another. A few industries are already picking up on this. It's fun to see a film, but even more so if it's a sing-along film. And it's fun to go out to a restaurant, but even more so if it's a themed night, where they've decorated the place appropriately and have themed dishes on the menu. Or if it's a themed club night, where everyone has to dress up in a particular retro style.
How else can you get your fun for free? Well, how about making do with what you've already got? Why go out and buy a new book when you've got half a dozen sitting on your shelves that you still haven't got around to reading yet? 'Make do and mend' was big last year, but plain old 'making do' will be in this year. Expect lots of magazine articles about this across a range of areas: not just books and clothes but children's toys, and even partners. Things that are adaptable will help here: clothes you can easily match with a range of others or wear for different occasions; or furniture that you can move from room to room, or that can be easily matched with different cushions or wall colours. Meanwhile, with iPod sales last year down by over 25 per cent and digital camera sales down by 15 per cent, we're seeing more evidence of consumers moving from single use to multi-use devices, not just for convenience but to save money too.
And why not take the 'make do' trend one stage further? Yes, you may have half a dozen books you've not read, but you've probably got a dozen or more that you have read and probably aren't likely to read again. Sure, it's nice to have them on your shelves, but really, how much better to trade them in for one or two new ones: hours more pleasure for no more cost. Several big name brands in the US, from Walmart to Vodafone, are picking up on the trend already. And we'll start seeing more big UK brands offering us the chance to trade our old goods in for something new this year: from clothes to technology.
Another way for people to get something for free is if they're given it. And again, a few brands have started picking up on this. Hence the growth in sponsorship compared to above-the-line ads. Or interesting versions of the standard giveaway, like KLM's 'little acts of kindness campaign', which saw them offering personalised gifts based on their social media profiles to random customers when they check in. Or maybe marketing campaigns that are actually fun to take part in: part of what marketers are calling 'gamification'.
If you're a brand that wants to take advantage of this trend, you need to think about how you can put a smile on people's faces without shrinking their wallets too much. So, keep your products and services upbeat but low cost, low price high pleasure ... 'cheap and cheerful'.
I'd really welcome your comments below, whether you agree that the trend is taking off, have examples of the trend to share, questions about it - or if you think I've got it wrong and want to offer an alternative trend.
Oh and to see me talking about the trend, check out: www.nextbigthingblog.blogspot.com
Next time: we shift away from acquisition, with 2012 Trend #2: 'The Meaning Of Life' ...
Follow William Higham on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nextbigthingco