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Predicting the Future

June 10, 2010

E&I: Predicting the Future

A major part of product marketing and business development is searching key markets to see where trends are heading.  This could be on the field of play, looking for functional ways in which to expand one’s product range, to see if athletes are doing anything differently from what you may have previously thought, or to even reinforce what you knew.

Or this could be to check what is on the edge of trend; what is up and coming, small brands that can react quickly to what’s happening, or to see if there’s a pattern among the haut couture brands that will trickle down into mass fashion by the time the next season you can affect will hit the marketing.

No matter which of these you’re looking for, it’s simply referred to as ‘Trending.’

In Asia, with Tokyo being the market that was most fashion forward, it was my duty to go to Tokyo every month or so and hit Harajuku, Aoyama, Shinjuku and Shibuya. It was hard time.

Aside from the obvious here (that Tokyo is trendy, and who doesn’t know that?), there was a reason for selecting Tokyo over other markets. But occasionally, the other markets had the edge.

Key Market: China. Yes, to trend for China, we hit Tokyo. Yes, we also hit Shanghai, Beijing and Wuhan, but they still get trends late, despite the proximity to factories.

Key Demographic: men, ages 12-25. With an increased attachment to the internet, Japan was the Big Brother. They are Wile E. Coyote suuuuuuper cool.  The example I always use, for Americans to understand, is that when i was growing up, everything European was cool. Gucci Bags, Italian suits, even Duran Duran! (Now, take away the violent Japanese Imperialism and the atrocities committed in Nanjing, and we’re all good.)

Key Markets, runners up:
Seoul: about eight years ago, there was a Korean tv drama (think ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ but with the audience the size of American Idol) that swept the region. Seriously. It was well-documented how restaurant traffic was down, kids in Hong Kong wanted to learn Korean, tourism was up — you’d be amazed.  So, Seoul was on the list to hit. It needed to be taken into consideration. The difference here,  though, was that the demographic of the show was more targeted to girls of the same age group, not guys. BUT, with teenage hormones going nuts at that age, teenage girls are highly influential over teenage boys.

Hong Kong:  it had a little bit of everything.  They had parallel imports from the US, the UK, Korea, Japan, Taiwan. Plus, it was in our own back yard, so it was easy to hit when time and travel budgets were tight.  It was the smorgasbord of fashion…but it was no Michelin star, like Tokyo.

So, thanks to airlines and their Price Wars of spring, I had the chance to hit Paris a few weeks ago. I hadn’t been for a while, so it was time to go back. It was just vacation, but I swung into work mode almost immediately.

Now, Paris is different than Tokyo. By a long shot. But I kept wondering
- what colors am I seeing that are new (answer, 80’s pastels, but nothing i hadn’t seen for 8 months already)

- am I seeing any other outside influences? Asian, African, Russian?  Military? Answer:  no. I did notice just a litle more camouflage than I had in recent years, but I wasn’t sure what to think about that — had it never gone away?  Maybe it’s in response to the troop increase in Afghanistan. You laugh, but think about it:  after the second gulf war started, Zhang Zhi Yi showed up on Hong Kong Elle’s cover in a camo tank, and the trend began. It was directly related to military movement.

- am I seeing any technology (this is a very sports footwear specific question)? It is said that the cycle is that tech arcs during the Olympics, but fashion is key during the World Cup.  What I saw didn’t exactly buck that cycle, but seemed to ignore it. I saw Air Maxes and Shox footwear as much as I had 5 years ago. I saw Prestos back, but that was a worldwide launch, not a Europe/France specific SMU. So, answer: yes.

- any hot brands?  Answer: nothing out of the ordinary. No startups, no known brands, but with an upswing.

- which markets would this affect?  Others in Europe?  Hard to say. Germany and England have their own tastes. And french are truly unique…. Asia?  They’re still mostly bedazzled with the high end brands: LV, etc. So, nothing new there.  The US?  Doubtful — still in an economic tailspin. Nothing will change there.

The next step:  did it inspire me with any new product ideas or inspirations?  Yes, of course.  It wasn’t Tokyo, but it was still Paris.

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