How to jump on a trend without destroying your brand

CEEK Marketing founder Charlie Terry this week looks at the marketing industry’s obsession with trends.

We all know why they could be big money spinners, but they are also fraught with issues that, if done badly, could actually damage your brand in the eyes of your customers. 

However, as Terry explains below, there are ways brands can be helped in judging which social media moments are right to participate in…

Charlie Terry Founder and MD, ceek
Charlie Terry Founder and MD, Ceek

Have you noticed the trend in marketing for indulging in, well, trends? You likely have, because it seems, with increasing occurrence, brands are too readily participating in fads and cultural or political moments and falling spectacularly short.

Indeed, despite good intentions, many brands are making the sorts of misjudgments that not only alienate or annoy audiences – usually due to the inauthenticity of their messages – but often damaging the brands in the long-term.

Traffic light trends

Take Pride, for example, which each year sees countless businesses change their logos and adopt social media marketing in support of the LGBTQ+ community.

pride trends
Some brands, like Amazon, get it right with events like Pride, but many also get it wrong.

And without doubt, year after year, brands will stand accused of acting superficially or cynically and end up causing more harm than good. 

“Organisations frequently take their Pride campaigns to the extreme, creating Frankensteined messages,” writes Erica Lenti in Xtra magazine, which each year spotlights the worst offenders, including this questionable effort from Budweiser in 2022.

“There’s something so poignant about having your identities erased in favour of selling beer… in an ad intended to celebrate your identities,” Lenti adds with a noticeable roll of the eyes.

Yet many brands can and do get it right. Fashion retailer Saks Off 5th approached Pride very differently, for example, not only celebrating the month with a strong social media campaign, but also showcasing a fashion collection designed by and featuring real members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

saks off fifth and trends
Getting it right: Saks Off Fifth.

The brand also secured enough money through its marketing to donate profits directly to LGBTQ+ organisations; what people will see as meaningful and sincere action.

Furthermore, it ensured its campaign ran beyond just the month of Pride.

Authentic action

In short, it was authentic, values-led and genuinely inclusive for the cause it wants to associate itself with.

Pride is one large and obvious example of a global trend. But others are less obvious and ephemeral, emerging with little warning from the chaos of social media; meanwhile, others are serious and often a response to newsworthy events, while others just random and fun. 

And the rise of social media has allowed for anyone – whether an individual or an organisation – to create content and become a part of any number of them.

For brands this is an unique opportunity to join an evolving conversation – and a chance to appear relatable, and perhaps more human and personal.

It’s also an opportunity to add something of genuine value to a public conversation, and that helps boost brand awareness, solidify an identity and grow audiences. 

Furthermore, participating in fun trends is an opportunity for more serious businesses to let their hair down and showcase their working cultures. 

This is of huge benefit for recruitment marketing in particular, and why we’re seeing more clients take to Instagram Reels or TikTok to show behind-the-scenes views – it’s a great hiring tool.

Traffic light system

But how do brands know which trends are emerging, and which are right for them? Beyond the more obvious annual events, many trends spontaneously emerge from social media with little or no warning, making them hard to plan for. 

At CEEK, we have developed a traffic light system, which helps brands decide if they should contribute towards a trend, cultural moment or fad, or stay well clear.

trends - Image by kalhh from Pixabay
Trends need traffic lights to help brands navigate them properly.

That process starts by identifying the many different types of trends (yes, we have a dedicated trends spotter), asking what caused a spike in conversation, who’s talking about it, what conversations are happening, and how people feel about it. 

We also assess the levels of risk – asking whether a topic is polarising, if other brands have made mistakes within similar trends in the past, how important language and imagery is, and how sensitive the topic might be to particular audiences, and so on.

Once an accessible trend and its risk factors are identified, clients can then begin to understand their role within it. 

This includes identifying the core values they need to get across through every engagement – ensuring it’s not just about participating in the moment, but authentically and positively contributing towards it.

Achieving this can be more resource heavy than people think. Consequently, our system factors whether a business has the time and budget to create the necessary collateral – unique creative, videos, imagery, dedicated branding etc – and that they can deliver it in good time.

And timing is everything. Although annual events can be more easily planned, emerging trends require spontaneity, so we must factor the agility of a business to respond. 

Arriving too late risks being lost in the noise, afterall – or worse: appearing out of sync with the Zeitgeist. 

Finally, our approach helps brands consider which platforms will reach the audiences they are most interested in engaging. 

Trends can play out over any number of platforms, and the rules of engagement, protocols, language, and the audiences will differ for each. This requires some understanding of the nuances, and potentially the tailoring of creative assets.

It’s also important not to spread resources too thin, so brands must choose the best platforms and do a good job on the top targets rather than a mediocre job across all of them. 

Remember: taking part in a trend might require ongoing community engagement, and that means more time and effort.

Yet get these basics right and there’s no reason a business should fall victim to the worrying trend for reckless brand misjudgements. But when in doubt, stop at the lights and check to see if it’s safe to move ahead. 

Read Terry’s earlier thought piece here:

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