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The key to detecting trends is fully understanding consumers

19 February, 2013

Isabel Mesa, director of WGSN Spain and Portugal

On 14 March the Chamber of Commerce auditorium will host a conference on macro-trends for 2014. But beforehand, we wanted to ask the head of WGSN for Spain and Portugal, Isabel Mesa, how trends are detected and what formula is used to identify them or even create them.

Mesa has been heading up this company in the Spanish and Portuguese market for the past six years and has an in-depth understanding of the steps that have to be taken to anticipate the market and provide valuable information to companies to ensure that their products are successful.

Companies like Mango, Inditex, Loewe and Puig use this consulting firm’s information to define their strategies and products. With more than 3,000 clients and a staff of 200 people all over the world, WGSN is one of the leading companies in the field of future trend analysis.

For Mesa this work is not at all based on having “some kind of crystal ball, but rather on being very systematic during the information-collection process.” A lawyer by training, the executive has devoted a good part of her professional career to the fields of communication, advertising and sales.

Monitoring trends all over the world. How do you do that?

We have a team of 200 people working in Hong Kong, New York, Milan, Paris and so on at the same time This presence allows us to stay constantly on top of information about both present and future trends.

How do you detect a future trend?

We don’t have a crystal ball, but our experience has allowed us to consolidate a method and our experts apply that method. We work from an outlook of three to five years from now. Our teams are multidisciplinary and consist of journalists, marketing and colour experts, graphic designers and coolhunters. All of them are located in lots of different points across the globe, collecting and analysing information to better understand consumers.

What information?

We analyse everything from conference speeches by experts to the characteristics of emerging countries. Even specific aspects of nature, from the animal kingdom, from art and architecture can be the origin of a trend.

Your information is classified into what are called macro-trends. What are they?

They’re blocks of information that are published twice a year coinciding with the seasonal collections. But we don’t only publish information at those times. Although fair- and fashion-show calendars still mark these two big periods of consumption, this is changing. We’re in a world that is more about trends than seasons – a change that is mostly explained by the desire to sell more.

What’s the key to detecting a trend?

For trends to be successful and viable, you have to start by understanding consumers very well and anticipating their preferences and needs. We have to know how to respond to what they’ll want tomorrow, how they’ll want it and what their needs will be…

Is it viable to forecast three to five years into the future in a constantly changing world?

It’s true that we’re continually updating our trends. Macro-trends are the central thread and trends are an evolution of those. There’s not a radical change in trends every season, rather there’s continuity within the framework of a macro-trend.

What’s one of the big macro-trends at the moment?

Consumption on mobile devices. Sales over mobile devices will have a huge impact on future forms of consumption and I don’t think we have enough awareness of that.

And another one?

A thing called ‘living design’ is another growing macro-trend. It’s about incorporating human qualities into inanimate objects. Have you seen the mobile phones with bunny ears built into the covers?

To change topic, what are consumers like today?

We’re talking about consumers who are better informed than ever before and who have all the information they need at their fingertips to help make decisions. To give you an example, consumers can come across some 40 new brands a day through their mobile phones. It has now become a leisure activity to discover new products through images. Before, consumers went online to search for specific information, whereas now they discover things through images without really knowing what they’re looking for.

A wealth of information that makes them better able to decide.

Yes, and the customer is aware of this ‘power’. What’s more surprising is that consumers are often attracted to brands unconsciously. Another important aspect is that we’re in a multi-channel world and marketing strategies have to adapt to keep up.

Does such a well-informed market make your job more complicated?

No, because we saw this coming. In fact our company was established in a digital format. Fourteen years ago we had already predicted that this would be the main channel of information.

Has the economic crisis boosted your client portfolio? Has it made more brands want more strategic information to plan their actions?

Today’s client is more aware than ever that useful information is necessary and that having it will save money. Brands have always come to WGSN because they know that we’ll help them make money.

What do brands and companies do with your reports?

We’re a source of daily information and depending on what’s going on in the company at the time, they’ll use more or less of the information we offer them. For example, if the company is in the process of designing a collection, our information will clearly be more useful to them. If the collection is finished and the time’s come to go to trade fairs, they’ll probably have more of a need for city guides, which we also make available to them.

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