Spotting industry trends and making forecasts for a year ahead is a challenge, especially in an age of constant change and technological developments.  The way I see it, in terms of trends, it is critical to seek out the best when you need to spot trends and discern the real change elements at work.  After offering my year in review and looking back at the trends in 2012, it’s time to also look ahead.  We are at the dawn of a new year – a year filled with potential and uncertainty.  So, let’s get some clarity on what the future holds.

The Way the Industry Sees It

I had the pleasure of speaking with Marian Salzman, CEO of Havas (formerly Euro RSCG) Worldwide PR, North America, who is viewed as the trendspotter in the world today, about her thoughts for the year ahead and some secret tips to spotting trends for the advertising industry.

I’m always fascinated by your annual trends reports.  Without revealing any secrets, could you explain your process for identifying trends and making forecasts for the coming year?

My thing is pattern recognition, incorporating an eye for the oddball statistic.  There would have been no metrosexual mania, at least not instigated by me, if there hadn’t been a few stunning numbers popping.  Back in 2003, guys began to feel they were no longer guaranteed to be CEO of the bedroom or the boardroom.  They suddenly had a serious interest in the kitchen.   Straight men were increasingly comfortable socializing with gay men.  2003 seems like the dark ages, but it illustrates the kinds of observations that set me off on an investigation.  Ever since Al Gore invented the Internet (kidding) in the early 1990s, I have been a huge information surfer.  Today, this process can be automated for me with services such as Factiva clipping in real time.  Finally, my trendspotting would be much less robust if not for an informal network of trendspotters around the globe who log in all kinds of sightings.  (In fact, I did not invent the word metrosexual—it was invented by journalist Mark Simpson in the early 1990s.  But it was forwarded to me by a colleague and I matched the word to my sighting, Men Get Softer – the rest was history.)  This past year, I launched TrendsU, an e-learning program about how to trendspot, for all Havas staff around the world.  About 550 people from around the world studied the four modules and shared their sightings with me, and even pictures are now compiled (the thousand-words adage never rang more true) on our TrendsU Pinterest board.[/a]

In 2012, you focused on the trend toward achieving a grainy, “Polaroid” effect for digital photography with the popularity of apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic. How do you think the world of apps and wireless will evolve in 2013?

Wireless will be so ubiquitous that discussing it will be almost like talking about the Internet or even the dial tone.  I agree with a recent post of yours that it will be very interesting to see how the advertising, marketing and communications industries will adapt to a wireless world.  I remember helping on a pitch for IBM back in the dark ages for which we interviewed people about the future, and Kevin Kelly, the co-founding editor of Wired, talked to us about the future like it would happen a week from Thursday.  Well, it’s finally a week from Thursday, and always-on, constant connectivity is the new normal.  People take mobile devices to bed, to the toilet and onto airplanes and assume, voilà, they’ll be connected because connectivity is a given.  Back in 1993, Kelly told us connectivity would be like air or water.  Apps for 2013 are like software was a decade ago, except that the innovations are coming every 22 seconds.  Before you know you need an app, there it is.  Simplification has been a trend for 15 years, and apps are the epitome of simplification.  Branded apps are a given.  Tablets are making apps even more essential.  I want to do more on the fly, more quickly, and an app ensures I get it done, seamlessly.  The app I expect next year is for voting – the most prehistoric thing we still do without much connectivity.  Seriously, in 2013, you want me to walk to a school and fill out some paperwork and pull levers?  How very last century.  Once Americans can vote online using apps and smartphones or tablets, expect a much more engaged population to be that much more connected on issues and topics that matter to them.

From your forecast for 2013, what do you see as the most important trend or change ahead culturally?  What is the significance for the advertising, marketing and communications industry?

I am very obsessed with the “Co” trend.  All of a sudden, or, as a result of too many years of “I” and “me,” life is a co-production.  Collaboration is the hottest concept at work and home—especially at home, as multiple generations gather in the communal nest.  All the “co-” words (co-creation, co-parenting, commingle, coincide, copreneurs, even coincidence) take on bigger meaning because “you + me” is somehow armor and protection against the wild world.  They’re also brainfood to ensure that all the “I” stuff (isolation is the worst, though infection sounds fairly vile …) doesn’t happen.  I wrote about this trend before the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, but watching people’s reactions, the intense desire to heal as a community, to come together to mourn, reinforced my sense that we’re entering an age when lone rangers will be replaced by collaborators.  Marketing communications agencies will be among those deeply challenged to marry constant connectivity, and a rejection of traditional offices and workspaces, with the need for constant collaboration.  The agencies that thrive will figure out how to create (almost) together experiences 24/7/365 for the partnerships that will spring from the chaos of recent times as we all try to reinvent to face the future.  Now that the future of wireless air is here, the next challenge is constant collaboration, even among partners in different places.  GoToMeeting is just not enough.  Skype is cool, but it needs to be more tactile.  Watch out: The changes will happen, and faster than ever.

Given that that 2012 was an election year, how did the Presidential election results affect your trendspotting?  How does politics influence your forecast?  Are there any such seminal political, cultural and social events in 2013?

Politics definitely plays a part in my annual forecast.  This year, my report touches on politics in Africa, at work, and in terms of women’s successful leadership.  Throughout the year, I’ve discussed the Petraeus scandal, Gabby Giffords, Middle East skirmishes, the global economic disaster and more.  In addition to needing an app that gets people voting, I think 2013 will be the year we in the United States give up on political venom and become purple—foreshadowed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “co” moment when he embraced President Obama’s actions after Hurricane Sandy.  To me, that offset the nastiness and extremeness of the Republican presidential primaries in 2012.  I believe the two-party system has begun a slow spiral toward its end, because we don’t want polarization any longer and would prefer coalition governments where consensus reigns and problems get solved by meeting in the middle.  2012 was also the year of the Sandys getting the East Coast, especially the New York Tri-State Area.  We got hammered physically by Hurricane Sandy and emotionally by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Extreme weather and extreme violence have tipped all of us toward thinking less combatively and more collaboratively, which will play out at work, at home and in communications messaging.  Although there will still be those who sit at the ends of continuums, most people will gravitate toward contributing to the greater good and helping the rest of us cope at hope’s edge.  I think there are many messages raging right now—end violence, embrace change, tackle problems (stop procrastination), etc. — and this makes it a new era, because suddenly we’re reaching out with an olive branch to enemies and discrediting those who fight dirty.  As for 2013, Europe needs to resolve its many issues, New York needs to elect a mayor and I think we’ll have a clear sense of the future of Hillary.  Everyday people will tackle gun control, mental health and the environment.

In a recent blog post, you talk about “Turning Your Name into a Brand.” Is that a trend that is true in all industry segments – technology, consumer products or cosmetics? What about service industries like financial services or the law?

I think personal brands are the next big thing; in fact, I am genuinely obsessed with the branding of people.  I think about all the C’s: celebrities, characters, and chiefs.  My newish column on Forbes’ CMO Network is about personal brands, and it gets me excited, like the Internet did in 1992 and globalization did in 1995.  I’m like a kid with trend obsessions, but while others are focused on the best new chef in America or Beyoncé, I’m focused on things like Airbnb: How can Joe or Jane Citizen brand a guest room through a profile?  In the leadership category, it’s even more interesting.  We all know that society is looking for leaders who share their values, to whom they can connect, who have a sympathetic (yet steady) hand to manage a workforce and a public raw from too many gaffes.  One great example: Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who “delivers happiness” daily to the delight of not only shoe fetishists but also his loyal employees, who enjoy some of the best perks and one of the friendliest working environments around.  Have you noticed how darn much good PR the man gets?  Many of the best managers of Brand Me are folks who not only represent their brands but also are them.  Oprah built a megabrand on her name and character and favorite things, and the much eulogized Steve Jobs did not seem to live a day without inspiring, pushing boundaries or “thinking different.” Lawyers and physicians, really all highly educated professionals in highly regulated industries, have stayed away from brand marketing of themselves, but this is changing rapidly.  I believe that branded apps (back to your earlier question) for lawyers and doctors will be the new normal, and so will continuing education on brand activation for Brand Me, not in a greedy, presumptive way (like the ads on subways or railroads), but in a way that helps the practitioner use all the social tools and new dialogues to build relevance and momentum.

What’s the coolest object in your office right now?

I’ve been living in a virtual world for so long; are you surprised when I tell you I don’t really have an office?  I have a CEO living room, if you could call it that—it’s more like a maid’s room without a desk but with a comfortable leather sofa, an easy chair and the kind of fridge we had in college in the 1980s.  I use that room for meetings and the occasional nap, but my real office is a Dell computer.  So if you count what’s on my computer, I would say the coolest object is a plan on how to build a yurt.