In Conversation with Henry Mason of TrendWatching... - MuseumNext

In Conversation with Henry Mason of TrendWatching…

We’re always looking for different ways to look at the future of museums and we’re delighted to be joined for MuseumNext London by Henry Mason who advises some of the biggest companies in the world on trends. We caught up with him this week on his work and it’s relevance to the museum sector.

What’s TrendWatching?
TrendWatching is a small boutique trend firm that’s obsessed with one thing: helping our audience answer the biggest question in business: ‘What will my customers want next?’ 

To do that, our analyst teams based in London, New York, Singapore, Sao Paulo and Lagos are supported by a community of around 1,000 passionate trend spotters. 

But it’s how we answer that question that’s quite different to how most organisations have done so. Usually people take one of two approaches. One is asking customers what they want, via surveys, questionnaires, panels and more. But we all know the issue there: what people say they want and what they really want are often light-years apart. So the second approach is to study people. And yes, this kind of ethnographic fieldwork can yield deep insights, but it’s hard, slow and expensive. But wait, now we have Big Data…problem solved?! However, while data is often great when it comes to optimising what you’re already doing, taken alone it rarely generates the radical insights that can underpin something truly new.

So what’s our answer? In short, it’s that the secret to actionable foresight lies in watching businesses, not consumers. Even if that sounds somewhat counter-intuitive. Why does watching, and interrogating, innovations enable you to anticipate what your customers will want next? The answer lies in the expectations those innovations are creating. 

In short, new consumer trends emerge when drivers of change – technological, social, economic and more – unlock new ways of serving basic human needs, such as connection, safety, value, fun (the list is endless). Here’s the really important part: you can see new consumer trends emerging when you look at clusters of innovations that are leveraging change to address a basic human need in a new way.

Innovations aren’t trends. But they allow us to see the trends that are coming next. Think Airbnb or Uber and the ongoing trend for access over ownership. Patagonia and the trend for radically transparent, ethical business. Amazon and customers’ relentless quest for convenience. Innocent and the trend for more human, playful brands. 

When an innovation serves a basic need in a new way, it sets new customer expectations. That is, it primes customers to expect something new. And then the really important part happens: expectation transfer.

Once created by a game-changing innovation, new expectations spread across markets, industries, product and service categories, and demographics. And thanks to the global brain, they spread faster than ever. Eventually, they’ll spread all the way to your door! That’s why any customer today riding in a car expects the entertainment system to be as intuitive as an iPhone. It’s why customers primed by streaming content (Napster became iTunes became Spotify) now expect instant access to a whole range of physical goods, from cars to clothes. The list goes on. 

You work with businesses around the world, what kind of organisations follow the trends you share?
Given our global, cross-industry perspective, it’s no suprirse that our client base is extremely diverse. Typically our audience sits within the marketing, strategy, product or insight teams, however we work with anyone who’s responsible for creating brands that people love, products and services that delight, or campaigns people can’t stop talking about. 

Our free newsletter goes out to over 100,000 business professionals in over 100 countries! We’ve got nearly 1,000 companies subscribed to our online Premium Service – organizations ranging from Accenture to Red Bull, Unicef to the Singapore government, Unilever to Spotify and many, many more. And our speakers delivered 138 keynotes and workshops in 35 countries last year! 

One important point, to help your audience understand what we offer. Our trends are provocative, rather than prescriptive. In other words, our job is not to simply tell you what’s coming next (the reality of today’s fast-paced world means that’s impossible!), but instead to help inspire you to ask better questions about your possible future(s). That’s a subtle, but very important difference! 

Why do trends matter to museums, and how can they use them?
Ultimately, every business now is in the experience game. And so understanding what excites consumers, what they aspire to, how they want to spend their money and more importantly their time is critical to success. And that means looking at what’s happening outside the museum industry. Because you’re not competing only against other museums, you’re competing against everyone! 

That sounds daunting! But as I touched on above, the key to understanding and then applying trends lies in understanding your visitors’ basic human needs. When people visit a museum, they can do so for many reasons: to learn something, for entertainment, to ‘be seen’ (in person or online), because they wanted to spend time with their friends in ‘real life’ and more. These aren’t new motivations, indeed they have been around for decades, if not millennia!!  

But of course the ways in which people seek to satisfy these needs is in constant flux. People now expect education to be interactive, immersive, personalized, shared, to name a few. So the trick is to take inspiration from those best-in-class brands and innovators who are setting expectations around a basic need that museum visitors have – and then think about how you can apply those insights back to your museum or visitor experience. 

You’re based in London, what’s a ‘must see’ in the city for our visitors from around the world?
It’s a cliche, but simply walking around some of London’s neighbourhoods is the real must see. Central London is beyond packed with on-trend experiences. To call out one: Selfridges always market-leading in this regard, and a fantastic example of how retailers are bringing exhibitions into the store. They recently had a series of events and experiences around the concept of Radical Luxury, that looked at everything from sustainability to your working environment, as well as the ‘traditional’ notions of rare or expensive products.    

MuseumNext London takes place June 18 – 20 on Exhibition Road, South Kensington with more than 500 delegates from museums and galleries around the world booked to join us.