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Episode 292
March 3, 2023

These Trends are Trending: Forecasting in the age of the trendscasting industrial complex

From COVID trends to worldwide annual forecasting across various industries, Ci En Lee and team have been compiling and curating helpful content and sharing with the world. Listen now and be reminded of how one brilliant idea can lead to others and build community across cultures.

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From COVID trends to worldwide annual forecasting across various industries, Ci En Lee and team have been compiling and curating helpful content and sharing with the world. Listen now and be reminded of how one brilliant idea can lead to others and build community across cultures. 

Who Reports on the Trends Reports Reports?

  • {00:03:23} What started with a desire to collect and share COVID trends for companies led to what is now an annual trends report 
  • {00:5:43} The sharing culture is very important in the future of this repository of trends, and there are contributors and ambassadors from around the world participating
  • {00:11:52} “There are people who do really put in the effort in that regard to really ensure that these trends are real trends and not something that is trendy.” - Ci En Lee
  • {00:15:23} The publishing and the collection of trend reports and the reporting of the report has become a trend in itself
  • {00:18:21} Some reports are more of a PR opportunity, which the team doesn’t necessarily discount, but they do focus on highlighting the reports that are more informative and measuring meaningful shifts in culture and society
  • {00:20:23} The demand for understanding what’s coming is driving the demand for trends reports
  • {00:21:03} There have been analysts and other trends reporters who have used the repository as a way to build and share other trends and forecasting, so it is interesting to see how people are using the content and continuing to share with others  

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Brian: [00:01:01] Hello and welcome to Feature Commerce, the podcast about the next generation of commerce. I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:01:05] I'm Phillip. Today we have an amazing dissection of cultural trends reporting and aggregation of trends reports and how companies like Future Commerce use resources in the world to be able to have an ear out for what the sentiment is about the future of all things, not just commerce. Today, to speak a little bit about that is somebody who made a little bit of a splash here at the beginning of the year with a project about aggregating these trends reports into a resource for a community to consume. Ci En Lee, welcome to the show.

Ci En Lee: [00:01:40] Hey, guys. Thanks for having me.

Phillip: [00:01:42] Yeah, thank you. And this is not your full-time job, tracking trends reports. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do by day.

Ci En Lee: [00:01:51] Okay. I'm from Singapore and I'm currently a media planner with Publicis. Outside of work, I'm an aspiring strategist. And I think it's just about keeping up with the latest trends and really connecting with other people, other strategies from around the world, and seeing how I can find opportunity to help one another and to really give back to the community.

Brian: [00:02:14] That's so cool. And that means you've seen a lot of trends reports for this coming year. Tell me what are some of the most common threads that you've seen so far and what inspired you to even make this report?

Ci En Lee: [00:02:31] Ok, I think we have quite a lot of reports. We're currently at about 205 trend reports and report leads as well. And basically, we're covering markets outside the US and Europe, like your Asia-Pacific, China, and Latin America, and even with reports in other languages like Spanish and Portuguese. And I think in terms of the various topics, it's really as diverse as we want it to be. It's the latest workplace trends in the future of work, employee experience, talent acquisition to even Web3, Metaverse, crypto, blockchain, and in that space as well, even including your reports on ESG climate sustainability and it's really basically a huge variety. And I think why I say that is actually this is the third year in the running is that when COVID first hit, I realized that I was sitting on a lot of reports from all around the world. Every company, every agency, and every consultancy was trying to put out their report to give a POV on how to handle the pandemic and the crisis. But I think there wasn't a one stop shop or a folder to put all the reports together. And I realized that if I put it all together, actually it would really help time-sensitive folks like myself to really get the insights fast and provide your recommendations for your clients or even your own companies and businesses. So since then, I realized that, okay, there are all these companies that actually do trend forecasting. They provide commentaries, they provide POVs, and I realized that instead of just COVID trends, why don't I look at annual trends? And then that's how 2021 trending started and then 2022 trending continued and then some people reach out to that report. And then this year we expanded the collective, not just me and my very good friend Gonzalo, but other people from around the world like Amy, Iolanda, Baiba, and Matthias, to work together to just put together this repository, to make it as diverse as possible and to really just split the work and divide and conquer.

Phillip: [00:04:43] It's funny, Brian, this sort of it's like the Constitution DAO. It's like community self-organization of trends reporting is like, let's pull together a bunch of resources of people who depend on this kind of content in their jobs to have a much broader and community curation and aggregation of the kinds of things that you would typically have gone to an analyst to buy in a prior life. Right?

Brian: [00:05:14] It's all getting published. Trends are a trend. Getting meta. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:05:20] {laughter} It sure is. Let's talk a little bit about the audience that you see interacting with the content. So, Ci En, when you're fielding outreach from people who want to be included, what are the kinds of companies or the regions that have come forward and said, "We'd love to have representation in your repository?"

Ci En Lee: [00:05:43] I think interestingly, is mainly people in Europe. I think it tends to be a much stronger sharing culture over there. So actually excluding myself and Gonzalo, I think the rest are mainly from Europe and just basically sharing the resources. And I think as long as you share the report with us, we would definitely edit it into the drive and then credit you as well, and I think that's where the relationship starts and then that's where we can start to partner up for future runs of this whole repository to continue to work together closely. But throughout the course of this endeavor, I met this guy, Omar. Omar is from over in Latin America, and he has actually been the most helpful in sharing all the reports in Latin America or in Spanish. Omar Romero from Colombia, shared the resources and is sharing that there's also representation and also support for people working in that area as well in terms of being part of moving forward in the years ahead.

Phillip: [00:06:49] Yeah. So you have folks that have sort of raised their hands that came to you and said, "We're willing to help because we were kind of doing this, too. So we're all bringing community projects together." That's an ethos that the open source community has always self-organized around. Do you see interesting parallels between the roles of the people that are coming to you looking to help you curate? Because I have to believe there are also opportunists who probably want to include a bunch of SEO garbage or something, and they see this as an opportunity for attention arbitrage. How do you go about qualifying what's good and what's bad?

Ci En Lee: [00:07:29]  [00:07:29]In terms of what's good and what's bad. This is quite, quite tricky in the sense that I think we do check through the reports to ensure that there's some quality to it because I think we don't really place more weight or more importance on one report over another, but we just don't want to waste people's time. Especially when you have so many reports to analyze. So I think most of the time people actually just share one or two reports, and I think most of it is usually from the companies or what they publish. [00:08:02] And I think by all means, we do check through to ensure that, for example, the sources are properly cited. It's not someone else's work, that it's just passing off as their own, or that there's enough content in there to really help someone to move forward, to help provide a bit of analysis and the rigor to it. So in terms of the reports that we have, we have reports from Ford, Mackenzie, Accenture, Deloitte, these are all your usual suspects, which publish every year. And I think we try as much as possible to really make sure that there's a diverse collection where there's a report for everyone and to drive this idea of inclusion that the world is bigger than just US or Europe. And it's not limited to the advertising and marketing industry. So I think and maybe discussing as well the reports from Bank of America and stuff and all this came about because I chanced upon a LinkedIn post by this lady from Hong Kong called Audrey Wen, and then she compiled a list of all the market outlooks for 2023. And then I said, okay, that's what's missing. Let's add it in. And then Iolanda, one of our coconspirators, she basically lists that there have been a couple of reports that she felt were of a better quality.

Brian: [00:10:52] One of the things that I always am curious about with these trends reports is has anyone followed up afterwards to say, "Oh, we saw this trend and then this was the outcome of the trend?" Have you seen any trends sort of start to take responsibility or follow up on the results of what the trend meant for the year?

Ci En Lee: [00:11:13] Yeah, you do have some who consistently met the trends throughout. So that's your Pinterest, for example. Pinterest Predicts. Another one is Insights Consulting and of course, the legendary client, Meta, who has been doing it since 2017, wherein each of their own fields, they basically trace how the trend has progressed throughout the year, whether it has died out or whether he has branched out into other trends as well. And what this really means for all of us. So I think that's something really interesting to see, that it's not just purely hocus pocus. I feel that this year is going to be all about authenticity, for example, and then that's what the year will be. But [00:11:52] there are people who do really put in the effort in that regard to really ensure that these trends are real trends and not something that is trendy. [00:12:01]

Brian: [00:12:02] Is that something you want to aspire to, to verify, to validate as a part of this? As you grow and what you're looking to with the scope of your project, are you looking to help provide some of that sanity check as we progress through the year?

Ci En Lee: [00:12:23] I think there are some books in place to see whether maybe we can do a half a year or a mid-year milestone check to see how the trends are progressing and stuff. But for me personally, I'm not really into analyzing every trend that's out there. For me, all this is just to have all the reports at the back of my head so that when I have a brief, I have some data already.

Phillip: [00:12:47] There's a calendarized schedule in which most of these come out, which means that there are folks who are probably building the content October-November. They're putting, somebody wants to be the Iowa caucus of the Trends report to use the US-centric term. It's like whoever is first sets the tone. And I have to believe that there are some that are consistently first and then there are certain industries that are probably outside of the typical December-January trends report forecasting. To your knowledge, have you seen a cyclical nature to the way that these come out, that sit outside of just the December-January trends report schedule? And how does that sort of vary by industry?

Ci En Lee: [00:13:30] Yeah. So I think there are a couple of publishers that actually launch it pretty early or pretty late in the year. So say, October or November you will see the reports surface and then I think December is quite a fair bit and people go out for the holidays, and then generally there's a sudden rush for everyone to get the POVs out there and then February's a bit quiet and you see the laggards. But I think February, for example, is when you have some of the bigger names like Meta or TWA, that's when they tend to produce their reports. And I'm not sure why that is then, but we tend to see sort of like a staggered approach in terms of how various companies release their reports, but in terms of those that produce it every year on a consistent basis, they tend to be quite early in the game. So I think October or November, that's around the time when we start to see reports. And that's a sort of time where we got together for 2023 in order to start looking at this, going to see how we can split the workload and really be very strategic in how we find that report and then to go about doing it on ourselves. So I think something very interesting this year compared to last year is that while trend reports are becoming more important, [00:14:47] I think this year is actually an anomaly and that's because it took us a lot longer to reach 100 reports as compared to previous years. I think with all the state of affairs that's happening, whether it's coming off the energy crisis or being in the peak of the Ukraine war right down to a possible year of recession, I think a lot of companies were holding back on giving any predictions or forecasts because they really couldn't picture what the future would look like. But in any case, the diversity and volume of reports that we got this year is quite staggering. And I think, like you said, the publishing and the collection of trend reports and the reporting of the report has become a trend in itself. [00:15:29]

Phillip: [00:15:31] If you have a dedicated inbox to receiving all the marketing, now that you've gone through all these email gates... Rest in peace to anyone who has to check the inbox. But how do you sort of manage the nature of the trends report is actually a marketing vehicle to business development teams, right? For the most part, I'm guessing that someone, if you hadn't picked it up listening to the show yet Pinterest sounds like has an insights product that you can buy from them and that they use the trends report to help to sell and most everybody has something to sell on the other side of this. So what's your sense of how many the types of industries that use this as business development and therefore potentially have a commercial incentive behind it versus industries that sort of have to use this as self-regulation? And I assume that that's divided very heavily by industries that are regulated. So transportation and financial institutions probably have less of a marketing incentive, whereas a social media company probably has nothing but marketing incentive around it. Give us a little bit of your oration around that aspect of trends reporting.

Ci En Lee: [00:17:32]  [00:17:32]I think in many reports, many of these reports are actually a PR opportunity, so I'm not going to name and shame, but you have reports by companies that are all about their product capabilities and then they just reframe it as a trend or as a helpful insight. And then others are just simply talking about the trends from yesteryears. So they're still going on about ambiance, authenticity, escapism, or the talk of the town in the fall about inflation, metaverse, and gaming, so it doesn't really tell you a lot of anything new that you didn't previously know. [00:18:09] And then a couple of reports actually built around case studies of the past work or even featuring the clients as experts. I think you probably know some of these publishers out there. Yeah. So [00:18:21] this is, I think mostly a PR opportunity and I think it really got exacerbated by the pandemic when people realized that giving guidance and POVs has some form of value in this new normal, and with the various crises that came along, that's an opportunity for companies to really get themselves out there and be heard. Yeah, but so for me, in terms of all these reports, we are not going to leave them out. But in terms of when I'm doing my day-to-day work, I know certain reports are just a cut above the rest in terms of what they are forecasting for the year to come or how they are measuring the shift in culture and society. And I will tend to refer to these reports more than anything else, and it tends to be those with methodologies in place. How do they track trends? What do trends mean to them? How do they go about ensuring that it's a trend and not something that is just a sort of like a false positive? [00:19:15]

Brian: [00:19:16] Interesting. What I'm taking away from this is that there was a lot of uncertainty in the past few years and as a result, people were a little bit unclear about where things were headed or where things were going. It was clear demand for information about the future because the future actually became more real than the present, in some ways. It became more relevant. And so the reason for the boom in these reports is that marketers are good at recognizing what customers are looking for and so they put out stuff about the future, about how things were changing and to help give people some of that peace of mind or direction about what they should do having come off of I mean, if you think about this from the long view, you know, we had the GFC back in 2008 and we've had uncertainty for ten plus years in many ways. And so I think that what you're seeing is [00:20:26] true. The demand for understanding what's coming is going up. Therefore trends reports are just flying right behind that because that's what customers want right now. That's what people need. Yeah. Interesting. [00:20:41]

Ci En Lee: [00:20:41] Absolutely.

Phillip: [00:20:43] Okay. So let's ask a couple of sort of tactical questions. Have you seen anyone do anything interesting with the repository so far or be put to practical use or is it still too early in the 2023 cycle to really call out folks who have maybe used this for their own purposes?

Ci En Lee: [00:21:03] Okay. I think there are some people who are trying to use AI to analyze other reports, but I haven't really seen the analysis coming out yet. But I think something interesting that I saw on LinkedIn is by this guy called Peter Buckley from Meta. And what he did was I think he used semantics and social engineering tools to basically analyze what was most mentioned across the reports. And I think something interesting that he found out is that [00:21:31] AI is the trend of the year with 1305 mentions across the then 102 reports. And then this is followed by crypto and the metaverse and basically, in its analysis, it's saying that AI will become what he calls Copywriting King. Where Gartner, the research company, estimates that by 2025, 30% of all your outbound marketing messages will be written by generative AI. And then you have now ChatGPT reaching 1 million users in just five days. And then Microsoft coming onto the race with Bing, as well as Google's chatbot and all that. So I think it's quite interesting to see how this analysis is actually unfolding in real time. [00:22:32] And basically, this guy, he just uses semantics and social and listening to some extent to analyze the various reports. I think on a smaller scale, you have a couple of independent people who use the repository to create a trend report of the trend reports. I'm sure you've probably seen some, but shoutout to Audrey Durman for sharing her own review of top reports that she found to be insightful and useful. When you have so many reports, sometimes people don't know where to start. And I think it's really helpful when you're able to and you have the firsthand experience of what helps you to help others as well. And of course, you have Matt Klein and his Meta Trends 2023 report. But he basically has really distilled all of the industries, report the trends into about 50 or so global cultural forecasts, basically predicting and mastering the art of trend forecasting since 2017. And I think that's a couple more. I'm not sure whether they use that repository or whether they're giving us a shoutout, but yeah, I think definitely yes, makes its rounds because I have seen even within Publicis itself, we have these teams for Global Insight and stuff, and just have to share the Google Drive folder and I realize, "Oh, that's mine." So it's surprising to see how it has actually gone viral to many extents, and then my own friends saying, "Hey, do you know that someone sent your folder to me at work today?" And then I'm like, okay, you're most welcome.

Phillip: [00:24:07] That's pretty cool. So I guess there are two tactical questions here then at the end. How do people find the trends repository? I found it in a Google drive that was sent to me by someone I work with. So there you go. And then how do people contribute their reports to the next crop?

Ci En Lee: [00:24:29] Yeah. I think you can just find us on LinkedIn or find us online. We have a shortened link as well that's and all the reports are there. And we also have a couple of signposts to bring you to 2022, to 2021, as well as your 2020 COVID trends. So if you are a nerd and you want to nerd it out and see how the world has evolved, by all means, everything is there for you.

Phillip: [00:25:02] Amazing. And I really appreciate this work that you're doing. Best of luck. I can't wait to see how this project evolves, and we've been using it as well for contextual understanding in our reporting. So at Future Commerce, our goal is really to think about the near and far future of the way commercial endeavors are built and sold and marketed in the world. And we have found already a ton of uses for this repository, especially in 2023. And so the last month and a half have just been such a joy for us to go back to and use. And we're using a tool called Bundle IQ. It's helping us get the referential relevance as we're creating content, but I can't wait to continue to watch it grow. Thank you so much for your time, Ci En.

Brian: [00:25:53] Thanks, Ci En.

Ci En Lee: [00:25:54] Thank you. Thank you.

Phillip: [00:25:55] And thank you so much for listening to Future Commerce. You can find more episodes of this podcast and all Future Commerce properties at

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