Beginner Guide

On Trends and Brands: Why Harnessing Trends is the Future of Marketing

Social media has fundamentally changed how we do marketing. We are more targeted yet have a wider reach, we move faster and we send a lot more messages. It’s easy to focus on how the technologies we use have changed, but there’s one huge change that deserves our attention: Social media democratized the power of trends.

Before social, marketing was a one-way conversation—brands were in control and set trends by persuading consumers through TV, radio, magazines, and billboards, and consumers followed those messages. Social media blurs the lines between brands and consumers. Today, consumers now set trends and brands fall in line.

Marketers often view this new dynamic as a net negative or an obstacle to be overcome. It doesn’t have to be. Adopting customer-driven trends can be even more effective than creating your own. The trick is moving towards the new landscape with the right strategy.

Where do trends come from?

As long as people have lived in groups, we have created trends and stuck to them. The anatomy of a trend hasn’t changed much since the first trend emerged. What has changed is the speed. The average lifespan of a trend decreases with every new communication tool we create. The more we talk, the faster we cycle through trends.

TikTok cycles through trends faster than any other source. The platform’s constant stream of small-sized content has rapidly increased the speed of the trend cycle. To help brands understand the different types of trends and where they come from, TikTok created and shared a helpful framework. There are three types of trends:


All trends come from forces. The forces are long-term cultural changes that affect everyone. In a pre-social media world, a force may have lasted a decade. In our fast-paced economy, they only last a few years. Forces are how we connect with the world around us. They show up in the kinds of content styles and communities that we gravitate towards.

The way we use social media is a force. In the early days of social networks, we focused on the social aspects—a place to connect with like-minded people in a virtual social setting. Today, social media is the place to be discovered. The chronological timeline of your friends’ posts has been replaced with a feed of algorithmically-based content you’re likely to enjoy. Younger generations are increasingly relying on social media as a learning tool. Google estimates that 40% of Gen Z people prefer to search on TikTok first, with traditional search engines coming in second.


As the forces filter across different demographics, communities find unique ways to frame them. These manifestations of major cultural changes are called signals. Signals are smaller than forces, lasting from a few months to a year.

If our force is search, then our cue is what we are looking for and how we look for it. As people discover things they love and explore new ideas, subcultures and lifestyles begin to pop up. Anyone looking for new skincare products might come across signs like Clean Girl Aesthetic or #VanLife. These subtle identities provide a common framework for people to express their interests or values.


Once a signal is captured, its followers devise ways of identifying each other. These are the moments. Moments immediately come to mind when you imagine a trend. These are Tiktok sounds, dance or stitch cues that dominate your FYP.

Moments go by quickly. They are only relevant for days to weeks. However, their transitory nature does not make them insignificant. Moment is the primary way we convey signals. They are a shared language that shows people who you are.

Remember when everyone was crazy about corn? It wasn’t as random as you might think. First, a signal—#innerchild—got over 1.5 billion views on TikTok. When a cute kid gave an interview about how much he loves corn, it reached an existing community and became a moment.

Why You Need a Trend Strategy (And How to Build One)

Before social media, trends were much simpler. A force can last a decade, a sign can last five years and moments can last eight to 10 months. Less content also meant less coincidental trends, which meant less work for marketers looking to cash in on the latest fad.

Today, new communities and subcultures emerge socially every hour with their own language, values ​​and customs. The content and trends they generate are exponential in nature. Operating on a campaign-by-campaign basis is not feasible for marketers who want to incorporate trends into their strategy.

Trends are casual but that doesn’t mean they aren’t impressive. A well-executed trending strategy is one of the best ways to connect with your audience and promote your brand story.

However, a poorly executed trend will undermine your brand, alienate your audience and erode trust with your customers. Your social media team needs to be able to identify trends, understand why they resonate with audiences, apply that understanding to tangible business goals and execute according to your brand guidelines – all within one week. This turnaround is impossible without a well defined trend strategy. Here are four tips to get you started.

Identify your trend profile

The trending strategy—like every social media strategy—should be tied to your business objectives. Determine whether you want to expand your audience or build stronger relationships with existing followers and customers, and build your strategy accordingly.

Signal and moment achieve different goals. Signals demonstrate how well you understand your target audience. Integrating signals into the awareness stage post the potential customers by creating a sense of familiarity. Moments show how much your brand resonates with your existing customers. You’re better off staying product-agnostic with Moments until the right one organically emerges, as happened for Chipotle.


wait for it #corn

♬ original sound – Chipotle

measure your impact

Trends move at the pace of creators and consumers, not marketing teams. Successful trend marketing demands agility, analysis, creativity and timing. That kind of investment needs to pay off. Strategy should always come before content creation, but it’s especially important when you’re dealing with trends. Map out your business objectives, data analysis plans, and baseline metrics before you start scrolling for inspiration.

Create a Process for Trendspotting

Attitudes are unique human responses to shared experiences. If you’re going to do trendspotting right, it has to be human and you have to relate to the experience. Being active on TikTok is essential on-the-job training for any marketer, regardless of tenure or job title. But, we are starting to see trend spotters roles on social and analytics teams. Immersing yourself in trends as a consumer is the only way you will be able to identify relevant trends and turn them into equally relevant content.

set the rules of engagement

Trends live on in the posts, comments, stitches, couplets and social data that result from those interactions. Use your business goals and past performance data to design a framework to match the right trends with the right level of engagement. Strategies such as commenting on high-performing content, collaborating with your creator network, or posting your own trending content can each play a role in a well-rounded trending strategy.

trending topics

Trend marketing doesn’t have to be a onerous task. Having a clearly defined strategy keeps your team focused on your goals and keeps your brand on trend.

Want to learn more about what’s driving social media behavior? Check out the most recent Sprout Social Index™.

The post on Trends and Brands: Why Harnessing Trends is the Future of Marketing appeared first on Sprout Social.

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