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What are Cultural Trends and Why Does It Matter?

cultural trends

 At the highest level, consumer behavior is shaped by large, overarching societal forces that define the spirit of the times, sometimes called the zeitgeist. These cultural trends represent the overarching values, fears, and aspirations that shape how people think and act during a particular period.

These macro factors that make up cultural trends can inform everything from product design to brand positioning, marketing strategies, and activation. Successful companies stay obsessively attuned to them, allowing them to adapt ahead of cultural shifts. 

The macro forces shaping consumer trends

But identifying, let alone measuring, these trends is much easier said than done. 

An intersection of numerous variables culminating in an era’s prevailing values, fears, aspirations, and norms affect how people approach purchasing decisions. 

Economic conditions, demographic shifts, technological developments, political winds, and collective experiences all contribute to the shared mindset of a period. Together, these factors shape attitudes that, in turn, drive consumption patterns and shape demand. 

Overwhelming in its breadth and nuance. Or is it? 

As our principal neuroscientist and director of research, T. Sigi Hale, PhD, puts it:  

“We’re able to reveal the WHY of consumer decisions in a way that even the person themselves wouldn’t be able to reveal to you consciously. The human brain has evolved four primary ways of making sense of the world. We’ve developed tools and now have a kind of decoder ring that allows us to disentangle all the complexity around decision-making and information processing.  

This incredibly complex idea of trying to understand ‘why do people do what they do?’ has become manageable for the first time. It’s become tenable. That’s the Holy Grail of getting useful and actionable insights.” 

In other words, macro cultural trends CAN be measured, along with their impact on category and brand choice. 

Yet it isn’t a static snapshot. Instead, it continuously morphs and evolves as time goes by. And since these trends evolve slowly and predictably, companies can forecast changes before they fully materialize. This allows them to adapt early before competitors.

Read More: Deep Dive into the Consumer Motivations that Drive Sales

Staying attuned to the cultural pulse 

Business leaders must ensure they adopt a mindset of tracking cultural trends in their strategic measurement and planning. This way, they remain constantly tuned to the ‘perceptual weather’ underlying consumer decision-making. 

This includes: 

  • Economic factors like employment rates, inflation, and purchasing power 
  • Social justice issues catalyzing new consumer activism   
  • Changing family structures and priorities in different life stages 
  • Emerging technologies impacting consumer habits and expectations 
  • Sociopolitical stability or tensions seeding new anxieties 
  • Generational value system differences fueling clashes or convergences 

Committing to tracking the wider socio-cultural landscape means looking beyond simplistic trend reports to developing a holistic, empathetic understanding of the human experience

It requires an anthropological mindset, focused not on the what but the WHY behind consumer and shopper decisions.  

How can businesses use cultural trends?

So, staying future-minded as a business means constantly monitoring and studying the prevailing macro forces that shape the ongoing consumer trends. It requires systems and feedback loops to detect shifts, pivots, and evolutions in the trends as they change over time based on circumstances. 

Companies must maintain an anthropological, empathetic understanding of how these forces manifest in consumer attitudes, behaviors, and needs. Those foundational insights should drive strategy, innovation, and activation that speaks to the times versus being out of step. 

Businesses must guard against blind spots by taking a holistic, zoomed-out view of the bigger picture. With this approach, companies can plan and measure for the future, getting ahead of trends instead of just reacting like most businesses.

The future belongs to the collective consciousness

You’re headed for irrelevance if you don’t prioritize understanding the dominant cultural trends. 

Because if you fail to grasp it, you’ll flail about, wondering why nothing clicks anymore.

Brands need more than product competencies to survive because the cultural zeitgeist isn’t just a marketing concern. And it’s present in every aspect of business.

Future-proof companies get this. They monitor shifts in human attitudes and behaviors and make decisions accordingly.  The key is to approach product roadmaps, brand messaging, and customer experiences with an obsessive understanding of the current cultural atmosphere.

Want to stay ahead of cultural trends? Let’s talk