The Balancing Act for Brands in the Era of Fast Trends

  • Categories:

    Industry Trends, Social Media, Brand Strategy, Influencer Marketing

  • Date:

    November 30, 2023

The Balancing Act for Brands in the Era of Fast Trends

Industry Trends Social Media Brand Strategy Influencer Marketing

When a phrase as innocuous as ketchup and seemingly ranch can cause a chain reaction that leads to a 150-year-old brand releasing a limited-edition condiment, you know you live in a marketing era unlike any before.

Capitalizing on popular topics, hashtags, events and memes — referred to by some as “trendjacking” — is a marketing strategy that has quickly become a standard for brands looking to integrate themselves in a viral moment.

For Heinz, the decision was almost made for them once a social media post featuring Taylor Swift eating chicken fingers at a football game went viral — to the tune of more than 34 million views. (Seriously. Even the Empire State Building got in on the action.)

This strategy can have significant benefits, from simply becoming part of the conversation to strengthening your connection with a target audience or demographic in a way that feels authentic and fresh.

But is every trending topic or viral moment worth a brand’s attention and resources?

The easy answer is, well, no.

It’s a lesson learned the hard way all too often, usually when marketers jump on a trending topic without fully evaluating the connection to or impact on their stakeholders. The result is typically a mea culpa from the company that attempts to calm the waters resulting from a poorly considered post or brand activation.

Some brands avoid such a scenario yet stay relevant by tapping into trends that aren’t solely based on the moment. It’s why we see so much attention paid each year to trends in color and why we track and leverage consumer habits — from how they design their homes to how they travel.

For many brands, staying attuned to fast trends and viral moments may not have the same importance it does for a fashion or lifestyle company, but it can certainly still provide value in the right scenario. (Just ask Heinz.)

To get a better handle on how to evaluate and make these decisions, I sat down with some of Wray Ward’s top trendspotters — creative director and interior design guru Heather Dumford and senior manager and social media hipster Lily Start. Here’s what they had to say.

To Meme or Not to Meme

When something goes viral, how do we evaluate the trend and counsel our clients on the value of participating?

Lily: Actively watching for trends that are gaining traction across social media platforms offers brands that participate a great opportunity to reach new audiences while also resonating with current customers. The challenge lies in justifying the trend: It may be an easy way to join a pop culture moment, but does it align with your brand’s essence?

Often by the time you’ve identified it as something you want to participate in, the trend is already fizzling out. There’s a dynamic with these fast trends that unless you are nimble enough to react quickly, you’re probably already late to the game.

Heather: If you have to force it, it’s not going to work. If the trend connects easily to your brand, then yes, you should hop on. But if you have to think hard about how to make two disconnected things fit together, you’ve already determined the answer.

I don’t think we would ever recommend our clients jump on a fast trend just for the sake of it. But it’s good to monitor the trends, especially for the longer-term impact as something moves past trending into a stable consumer habit or desire.

Lily: Simply making word choices that hint at a trend can often be even more effective than fully embracing the trend itself. So a cheeky caption that taps into something that’s gone viral can have just as much of the desired impact on a brand’s target audience.

Focus on Trends Versus Trending

So there’s value in staying relevant with what’s popular, but when it comes to tapping into bigger consumer trends versus what’s trending right now, what is the right balance for brands?

Heather: As marketers, we’re trusted to keep our brands focused on the long term, not overvalue something momentary. Trendy is often a synonym for superficial, and that can have baggage. A lot of trends quickly look silly with the gift of time.

Fast trends are generally based on fashion or lower-ticket items, such as makeup, where something catches on and the consumer can buy it online, have it delivered and become part of the phenomenon within a few days.

But for the home and building industry, there’s an inherent lag between what is popular now and making it a reality for your customer in their home. That’s why seasonal trends are an easy space for brands to play in without needing to be a victim of the moment. For tried-and-true home brands, the focus shouldn’t be on a customer’s instant gratification but on their long-term happiness.

You have to be confident that there is more to a trend than everyone just deeming it popular at the moment.

Lily: No one can predict what catches fire on social media until it does. But leaning into influencers can almost work like a cheat code, because influencers dictate to the audience what they are into and thus influence decisions.

Influencer partners can amplify your brand’s voice, using their platform and reputation to help you connect with your target audience. Two influencers can be very different from one another but both still be a great fit for the same brand. One may push an edgy style, whereas another is more neutral. When your audience sees these diverse personalities promoting the same product through sponsored content, it can create that buy-in from the consumer that this fits their style too.

Heather: People gravitate toward what they like and want to see. The types of brands that people are going to bring into their homes must connect with them on a personal level. Curating your home is much more of a personalized choice than buying a trendy top at H&M.

When we do a set design, we have to balance two different needs: staying contemporary with current trends while creating marketing assets that have a shelf life. The end result needs to be universal enough that it doesn’t get caught looking dated because a trend’s already come and gone.

Staying on Brand While Staying Relevant

Let’s talk about an example of a brand finding that sweet spot with a trend: staying true to who they are while being relevant when it makes sense.

Lily: We’ve all witnessed the Barbiecore trend over the past year. Driven largely by the mass-marketing promotion for the “Barbie” film release, brands across categories jumped on the hot pink bandwagon. And you wouldn’t think that would translate to the home and building industry, but a few Wray Ward clients showed us otherwise.

Both Sunbelt Rentals and Clopay garage doors partnered with HGTV for its “Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge” TV series. During the show, teams of designers competed and transformed a Southern California home into a real-life Barbie Dreamhouse.

Before and during the taping of the series, Sunbelt Rentals had equipment on-site to assist with the heavy lifting — that signature, 900-pound Barbie house handle didn’t get up on the roof all by itself — while Clopay supplied pink louver-style garage doors to fit the motif. In both cases, these distinctly non-Barbie brands were able to join the trend and create real-time assets for their owned channels.

Heather: For Clopay, participating in the HGTV Barbie Dreamhouse allowed the brand to showcase their customizable garage doors, which connects to the company’s brand promise: to manufacture garage doors based on each customer’s unique home aesthetic.

Sunbelt Rentals stayed true to their brand — they didn’t repaint their iconic green rental equipment pink — and were still part of this cultural event, so why not show that off when everyone’s already talking about it?

These are great examples of being relevant while staying aligned with the core brand: Sunbelt Rentals showed how their rental equipment can help you build your own dream house, while Clopay promoted their position as the most customizable garage door brand.

To see how other brands find the right balance when navigating new and evolving marketing dynamics, explore our case studies.

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