What Is Trend Analysis in Research? Types, Methods, and Examples
Trends are everywhere. They are central to how businesses craft their product development, marketing, and social media strategies, and how consumers go about purchasing decisions.
Trends are sometimes driven by external factors (like a shortage of a certain product that creates a trend for something new), and other times trends are driven by internal consumer wants/needs (like plant-based dairy alternatives). Businesses that pay attention to and understand current/evolving trends (through trend analysis) are able to use informed decision-making in their operations.
This article looks at different types of trend analysis, how to conduct it, and how to act on emerging trends to stay ahead of the competition.
Table of contents
- What is trend analysis?
- Types of trend analysis
- How to conduct trend data analysis
- How to use trends analysis for virtually any type of research
- Example of trend analysis in market research
- Advantages and disadvantages of trend analysis
- Use quantilope for automated trend analysis
What is trend analysis?
There’s a reason why people talk about ‘the latest trends' the way they might also talk about the ‘latest’ news or ‘latest’ developments. There’s also a reason why people talk about trends evolving over time. Trends can be temporary - around for a while and then gone in a flash, as is often the case with fashion or some hairstyles (unless they make a comeback...like flare jeans and bucket hats). Meanwhile, other trends might gain momentum slowly and grow steadily over time, like tech usage or certain diets.
Trend analysis is the process of using historical data as well as current data sets to determine how consumers behave and how businesses react; the same is true of the inverse: how businesses behave and how consumers react. Trend analysis focuses on market trends over a period of time and can be used as an ongoing resource to keep ahead of market changes.
Whether it’s used in the short term or the long term, trend analysis can reveal changes in consumer needs as well as changes in industry activity. These aren’t always going to be huge, industry-wide trends; they can be smaller ones too - such as small fluctuations in consumer loyalty or satisfaction with a particular product, or downtrends and uptrends in certain product usage. Businesses use their trend analysis findings to act on emerging trends as well as to predict future trends and plan new products or marketing activity accordingly.
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Types of trend analysis
There are various types of trend analysis available through market research. Below we’ll touch on a few of the most popular types that can guide businesses’ decision making for different needs.
Consumer trend analysis
This type of trend analysis relates to how consumers behave, think, and purchase within a certain sphere or market landscape. It could uncover consideration and usage of a product or service, consumer behavior in a specific product category, consumers’ social media usage, or how consumers feel about political, social, or environmental issues.
Information gathered from consumer trend analysis helps businesses leverage those consumer preferences in their current business operations and identify new growth opportunities.
Competitor trend analysis
Knowing where competitors are winning and losing is crucial information to feed into business decisions. Analyzing how competitors have performed at certain points in time, such as the launch of new products or advertising campaigns, reveals how positively the target market reacts to those types of business activities.
This type of trend analysis helps identify strategies that will encourage consumers to choose your business over competitors, as well as to find new opportunities where competitors are weak.
Historical trend analysis
Looking at past data points and tracking how consumer attitudes, consumer behaviors, or industry activities have changed in relation can provide valuable context for future events. Say for example you sell beauty products and you’ve seen the popularity of vitamins in body cream grow over the past two years; this is a good indication that the trend will continue, which will help shape new product development and future marketing messages.
Temporal trend analysis
Temporal trend analysis looks at a specific period of time to see how consumer trends have changed in that time frame alone. You could take one or more periods of time and compare them, or even analyze based on seasonality (e.g. summer, the holiday season).
This type of trend analysis helps identify trends at a set time which can be helpful when planning inventory stock, pricing strategies, or product promotions for similar time periods in the future.
Geographic trend analysis
Geographic trend analysis looks at changes within geographical locations and compares them with each other. For example, how have skincare preferences evolved in Asia, and how does this compare with preferences in North America? Trends in one region could give clues as to how trends will develop in another - especially today with global social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok that can spread geographical trends in record speed.
This type of trend analysis is useful for international businesses looking to shape their offer in each location they operate in.
Demographic trend analysis
Knowing your target market is essential to running a successful business. You need to keep tabs on what your consumers want and need, and how those differ based on factors like age, gender, region, etc. Older consumers may have different dietary needs than younger ones; the same goes for cosmetics, footwear, haircare, technology, and so on.
This type of trend analysis is great for understanding how a particular demographic group has changed over time so brands can appeal to that audience with the right communication and product portfolios.
Economic trend analysis
Inflation and the general cost of living are examples of economic trends that give businesses a good idea of current consumer buying power and their likely willingness to spend. Economic trended data sets are typically available publicly, along with a company’s own internal financial statements.
This type of data is helpful to reference when setting new price points or making upcoming production decisions.
Technological trend analysis
Technology is continuously evolving, and there’s no doubt it will continue to do so. In recent years alone it seems to be evolving faster than ever with things like self-driving cars, virtual reality, and the rise of AI.
Technological trend analysis empowers organizations to make informed decisions and gain a competitive advantage. Businesses can use technology trends to operate more efficiently, foster new innovations, and to understand consumer expectations better.
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How to conduct trend data analysis
Below are a few simple steps to getting started with your trend analysis research study:
1. Define your goals
Market trend analysis requires a clear starting point and a clear end point. In other words, what do you know already and what do you hope to find out? The latter will determine your end goal(s).
Your goals will guide your trend analysis throughout each stage - from initial survey setup to final analysis. When you start looking through your data set, your end research goal will help you focus on the trends that actually impact your business.
2. Invest in regular trends analysis
Identifying trends doesn’t happen overnight. Trends appear over continuous timeframes - known as ‘waves’ in trend research. You need to collect data on an ongoing basis to find those trends, and the best way of doing so is setting up a consistent research tracker.
Monthly, quarterly, twice-yearly, or annual tracking surveys are some of the most commonly-used cadences to identify trends over time. The frequency of your tracker will depend on how dynamic your industry is; CPG product preferences can change all the time whereas something like home/car insurance may be less wavering.
3. Find an easy-to-use survey tool
An intuitive survey tool - like an online research platform, can speed up your data analysis process to act on insights faster. Easy-to-use survey tools offer things like research expert consultation, drag & drop modules, automated advanced methods, real-time reporting, and easily designed dashboard reports that can be shared around without the risk of version control.
4. Identify your sample
For quality data, you need to find the right people and ask the right questions. This means launching a survey among respondents who accurately reflect your target audience and asking questions that relate to your previously-defined goals; the right survey tool will make sure you can achieve both of these by offering things like survey templates and panel agnostic capabilities.
5. Field and analyze your data
Data analysis will highlight trends that arise from consumer behavior, competitive behavior, or general industry behavior. A good data analysis platform will allow you to review results in real-time, as respondents complete your survey - rather than having to wait until the end of fieldwork for a data processing team to send over a final cross-tab file.
As you review your data, you can cut metrics by different parameters and demographics to understand various trend perspectives. Your final data will go into a dashboard or report to share with stakeholders for next steps.
6. Act on your findings
Once you’ve analyzed and reported on your trended data findings, it’s time to take action. This might mean immediate action, like putting a new product into market, or waiting for another wave of data to confirm a suspected trend. Regardless, the insights you’ve gained from your trend analysis can feed into future business decision-making to stay ‘on trend’ and ahead of competitors.
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How to use trends analysis for virtually any type of research
Trend analysis can be used to uncover almost any trends. Above we’ve already mentioned the benefits in exploring trends amongst consumers, competitors, and demographics, along with using trend analysis to uncover geographic, economic, and technological changes.
Other use cases of trend analysis include:
Customer satisfaction. Understanding satisfaction levels with regards to a product or service, and how this relates to a brand’s activity or competitor performance. Part of this measurement might be tracking a brand’s NPS score over time.
Employee satisfaction. Identifying how employee turnover or loyalty relates to the company ethos or other factors.
Customer spend. Tracking how different customer types allocate budget to a product over time reveals trends in disposable cash levels as well as their willingness to spend. This feeds into determining new product price points and planning new product offers.
Financial fluctuations and forecasts. Pinpointing where sales have peaked or dipped, and whether there has been an upward trend or downward trend since then, provides crucial information on when businesses should explore new opportunities. It also helps predict how business activity will shape future growth.
The customer experience. Part of understanding your target audience means appreciating how their experience of your brand correlates to prevailing trends. This is separate from overall satisfaction; a customer might be satisfied with the end product or service but not the process in finding or purchasing it.
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Example of trend analysis in market research
Companies can use trend analysis to inform their spend, product development, advertising, and just about all other areas of business operations.
For example, quantilope runs an annual mattress tracking study that identifies trends around in-store vs. online mattress purchasing, direct-to-consumer mattress buying, the popularity of certain mattress brands, and so on. Over the past few years, consumers’ shopping experiences have shifted heavily online - and our mattress tracker showed that mattresses were no exception.
Between 2019 and 2020 onward, the study showed a significant upward trend in online mattress purchasing.
The study also shows trends in mattress brand advertising, consideration, usage, and brand preference as benchmarks for brands to maintain or act on.
For more on this trend analysis research, check out the full DTC Matress tracking dashboard here.
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Advantages and disadvantages of trend analysis
The advantages of trends analysis include:
Informing a business’ overall strategy. Trends are pervasive, influencing customer behavior and attitudes across many aspects of their lives. Using these insights can form a strong foundation for the development of a variety of business activities - from product development to marketing campaigns.
Capturing external factors that influence a market, such as political and economic events. These external events could have drastic impact on a business if they go unnoticed. A lot of times businesses will think about aspects of the market that are directly related to their activities, but external trends can also have major impact on consumers' purchasing power.
Providing ongoing feedback for effective future planning. Rather than one-off studies around a specific topic or event, trended data is what many stakeholders ultimately rely on when making important business decisions.
Some potential disadvantages of trend analysis include:
A lack of the full picture. Sometimes trend analysis studies will require additional deep-dive research to really understand what’s going on in your market or among your consumers. Trend analysis tells you what people or markets are doing, but not always necessarily why.
It requires time. Historical data is the only real way to see how trends are shaping up over time, so businesses need to dedicate time and patience into a full trend study to ensure that suspected trends aren’t just periodic ‘blips’.
Because it requires time, it’s not always cheap. Since trend analysis requires several waves, that means you have to pay for panel respondents each time you run the study, along with any other fieldwork costs your chosen survey provider requires. The key is finding a platform that doesn’t come with a lot of added fees and offers an affordable tracking solution.
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Use quantilope for automated trend analysis
quantilope offers intuitive and affordable trend analysis through its tracking solutions.
Choose between a category tracker or quantilope’s new brand health tracking approach that uses industry-praised concepts such as category entry points and Mental Availability. Either way, quantilope users will start with the option to customize a pre-built survey template or build their own tracking study by scratch. Building your tracker is made easy through a library of pre-programmed questions and advanced methodologies that you simply drag & drop into your survey builder. The platform even offers an AI co-pilot, quinn, to assist you in your survey creation, analysis, and reporting processes.
Findings are available in real-time, with the option to start building report charts long before fieldwork wraps up. Once it does, all charts are automatically updated with final data and statistical testing. Cut the data any way you like, by any other variable within your trend analysis survey. Store all final charts in the reporting tab of the platform to use in a final dashboard deliverable, which is shareable with stakeholders through a single link.
Subsequent waves of your trend data research can be set live on the platform with a few clicks of a button, as often as you choose. Trended data is automatically added to existing charts in real-time, so you never have to go back to square one.
For more on how quantilope can help your business ahead of trends (and the competition), get in touch below!
Get in touch to learn more about trend analysis with quantilope!