In fashion and retail, there are trendsetters and influencers that can shift the direction of the market by popularizing a particular look or product.
But equally important are trendspotters, who serve as sponges of popular culture, society and every day life. They absorb and analyze, and can help retailers and brands leverage emerging trends.
Marian Salzman, chief executive officer of Havas PR North America, is one of those trendspotters. Salzman authored and coauthored over a dozen books, but is perhaps best known for spotlighting the “metrosexual mania” in 2003. Salzman has also generated several other “buzzes,” as she describes it includes “the rise of singletons” and “It’s America Online.” She’s also credited with identifying Europe’s cyberspoon, globesity and “sleep is the new sex” trends.
On Jan. 20, Salzman will be one of the keynotes at the National Retail Federation Big Show in New York City. In the “Future of Everything: Top Trends Key to Anticipating What’s Next for 2016 and Beyond,” she will discuss the top trends at retail from her most recent report, and “what retailers can anticipate and how they can tweak their businesses with intelligent approaches to what lies ahead.”
Here, Salzman discusses with WWD a few of those noteworthy trends.
WWD: First, the term “trendsetting” is well-known, but what exactly is “trendspotting?”
Marian Salzman: Spotting trends involves tracking people, words, styles, companies, social momentum, radical breakthroughs, economies, brands and more. It’s a full-time, year-round job over many years, not just something that gets switched on for an end-of-year trends report. You’ve got to have your radar on constantly in order to observe and recognize the patterns happening around you.
WWD: Why does trendspotting matter?
M.S.: Trends are viral shifts in the national mood and mind-set, and those factors influence behavior, particularly consumer behavior. They affect what retailers can sell, and what their most effective approaches to selling and to their consumers will be.
WWD: In your report, you give an “ubertrend” for 2016 that you call “Uneasy Street.” Can you explain what you mean by “ubertrend,” and then, who is “uneasy?”
M.S.: Some of the most important trends can be grouped into ubertrends. And thank you, German, for a prefix that has become a trend in its own right. It’s not necessarily that trendspotters want to tie up everything with a neat little bow; it’s more that many distinct and important phenomena are originating these days from a single root cause. Seeing that root is essential for understanding its tendrils.
So, “Uneasy Street” is our ubertrend for this year. The prevailing emotion right now around the world is unease, or even fear. And doubt: Do we stay in or bail out? That is everyone’s constant struggle. What we’ll see next is people creating and discovering easy and enjoyable ways to make our present and future more secure. For retailers, most of their customers are anxious, overwhelmed and overloaded. The million-dollar question: What can retailers do to help put them at ease?
WWD: What do you think are some of the answers?
M.S.: One way is to have actual human interactions and connections with customers. There’s a growing worry that technology is harming our ability to be together and pay attention to one another. We’ll even see cyber self-control programs become as common as diets and exercise plans.
But until more people start using blocking apps such as Anti-Social, SelfControl and StayFocusd, or plain old self-control, distraction is a fact of life. So even if consumers get to stores, many are only half there, thanks to mobile. Peaceful human interactions from salespeople need to successfully interrupt people’s parallel digital lives in order to distract them from their anxieties and help them focus on what the retailer has to offer.
WWD: How will tech be playing a role on the retail side of the relationship?
M.S.: The world is going crazy not just for smart people but also for smart everything. Some products are smarter than others, though, and marketers are giving in to the temptation to deploy a sexy term. Expect any item with a chip built into it to get described as “smart” — whether or not it really does anything useful.
Retailers should aim to make “smart” an authentic part of their brands, starting with integrating mobile-compatible smart tech into product labels and tags to give customers useful info and plug promotions. Also watch for accessories that make consumers look smart — like magnifiers for Boomers — rush off shelves.
Plus, new areas of tech lust are emerging, like personal power-generation technologies — think wearables, but all about the environment. Retailers should expect clean-energy gadgets to skyrocket in many arenas: IT, household appliances, gardening, outdoor, even apparel. Climate change? Most people still aren’t worried about climate change. What will inspire action: cool consumer-oriented renewable tech.
And speaking of the climate, expect a rise in boutique renewables and fashionistas eating from climate menus — as chef Sam Kass did for a private party at the American Embassy in Paris during COP21 by using primarily food that was reputed to have been otherwise on the verge of being thrown away.
WWD: You mention an intriguing trend in your report about large cities having decreasing influence. Can you describe what it means for fashion and retail?
M.S.: The world’s great cities are costly and crowded, and second- and even third-tier regional cities are becoming the new magnets. In any of these communities, buying and selling lie at the heart of modern life. Retail will help shape the new dynamic cities and neighborhoods — and benefit from having clever strategies in place to appeal to the new generation of consumer.
WWD: We’re in a presidential election year. What’s your take on the influence of politics?
M.S.: In terms of fashion, here’s a trick question: Will red and blue get worn in 2016? Politicians of all stripes and colors seem to have hijacked the hues of our flag. No matter the colors, though, when people get fearful, they turn backward, and this year it’s all about the Nineties: ruffles, tracksuits, over-the-shoulder, minimalism, grunge, fanny packs, shimmer and lingerie by day.