In the past, a trend cycle could be anywhere from 5-10 years, with new trends introduced by public figures, celebrities and corporations. However, with the introduction of social media and particularly TikTok, trends are fast and fleeting, more aptly described as ‘microtrends’. Within a matter of months, a product that was once all the rage can be deemed totally out of fashion, think back to ‘cottagecore’ or ‘indie sleaze’ or ‘coconut girl’; all fast fashion microtrends that have skyrocketed and then crashed in the past few years. This can be difficult for brands to navigate, and almost impossible for trend forecasters to pin down, as by the time a trend arises it is already too late to develop new products. In this article we consider ways that brands can gain Gen Z attention without chasing every trend that passes by.
Why TikTok trends take off
While typical social media platforms require a large following to generate a wide reach, the TikTok algorithm is more democratic in nature. Have you ever come across viral videos with millions of likes, and upon checking the poster’s profile you discover that they’ve only posted one video, or they have 5 followers? The way we act on TikTok is different, we don’t necessarily follow lots of people, we just engage with the content on our ‘for you page’ that interests us. Considering this, it becomes easy for niche trends started by regular people (not celebrities or influencers) to take off. Trends are no longer top down, they are often grassroots: “It’s [TikTok is] a great way to attract the Gen-Z customer because they are the ones fuelling the trends, and they [appreciate] the humour and style shifts.” This has sped up the trend cycle almost beyond belief, with millions of new trends starting simultaneously across the world.
Further, the consumer power behind social media trends is not to be underestimated, just consider the Stanley Cup craze which catapulted a workman’s brand into a must-have for young women. The brand’s annual sales skyrocketed from $70m in 2019 to $750m in 2023, purely due to the success of one viral cup. “TikTok is tribe mentality and when you’re attached to a [subculture] that’s niche, it has massive consumer power.” So, it’s no secret that trends have great power, but it’s impossible to keep up with all of them. In the next section we cover four tips to navigate this fast-paced cycle:
- Get to know yourself
- Analyse before diving in
- Make do don’t make new
- Streamline processes
- Trends aren’t everything
1. Get to know yourself
Who are you? What is your brand identity? Rather than throwing everything out into the world and seeing what sticks, you should center your social media posts around 3-5 ‘content pillars’. These are key topics that your audience can always expect to hear from you. For example, a food brand’s content pillars could include “product round-ups, recipes, cooking tips, and breaking down nutrition myths.”
These content pillars will also be a good litmus test to navigate fast-paced trends. Does it fit one of your pillars? Perfect. If not, steer clear.
2. Analyse before diving in
In a similar vein to the previous point, it’s always recommended to pause before jumping on a trend and consider whether it fits your niche. We’ve spoken to lots of Gen Zers who find it off-putting when brands follow every trend, especially when it’s a far cry from their usual aesthetic or tone of voice:
“It’s always good to understand the mentality of who is driving this trend. What’s the emotion that comes behind it? What are the societal shifts that have taken us here? If you understand the narrative, then you can understand how to market a trend and also decide if it’s right for you.”
If the trend isn’t right for your brand, don’t force it, there will be plenty of others!
3. Make do, don’t make new
One way to navigate constantly changing trends is to adapt them to fit existing products. If a certain style is trending, consider which products you already have that could fit the vibe. Be creative, don’t create new, as these microtrends will likely pass by before your designs have even reached sampling. Raissa Gerona, chief brand officer at Revolve explains: “It’s a dangerous game to play, to chase something, because everything moves so quickly. […] So instead of chasing a trend on TikTok with a buy, it’s more, ‘what do we already have on the website that can accommodate this.’”
Adapting existing products to fit trends will allow you to put content out much faster and avoid any wastage that might occur by betting on a trend that’s over before it’s even started. Equally, from a sustainability point of view, peddling overconsumption is never a good look for a brand trying to appeal to the younger generation.
4. Streamline processes
As mentioned earlier, TikTok trends are often grassroots, started by regular platform users before they grow large enough to be noticed by content creators and then finally brands. As a result, the lifecycle of a trend can often look like this:
The reason brands are so late to trends is often due to the number of approvals required to sign off on a piece of content. “When brands get caught up in the nuances of participating in a trend, such as content approval processes, and they post after the trend has passed, it loses all effectiveness.” Consider how you can streamline this process, to catch trends as they are still growing. Equally, if a trend emerges that fits your niche, act fast. Don’t overproduce your content and waste time chasing perfection, plus, you’ll get bonus ‘authenticity points’ from your Gen Z audience. We aren’t seeking polished, aesthetic videos, we just want to bond over a joke.
5. Trends aren’t everything
Finally, understand that trends are not the be all and end all. While they have the potential to catapult certain videos into virality, you need a good amount of regular content too, so we can understand what your brand is about. A mix of ‘evergreen’ and topical content is ideal: “TikTok have shared that content has a shelf life of 90 days, so pairing evergreen content based on your content pillars with emerging trends can help to keep your brand on the for you page for as long as possible.”
Evergreen content that explains your brand and the benefits of your products is more likely to drive traffic to your site. On the flip side, trending content is great for generating engagement and interaction. So, both have their place in your content strategy and striking a balance is key.
- Having a clear brand identity and content pillars is crucial to determine which trends to follow, and which to let pass by.
- Take a moment to pause before you follow a trend, consider whether it fits your niche.
- Rather than producing new products to fit fleeting trends, be creative, consider how you can adapt existing products.
- Streamline content production processes as much as possible. If you require a million approvals, chances are the trend will be long gone by the time you arrive.
- Strike a balance between trending and evergreen content, they both serve individual purposes and trends aren’t everything!