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Six Tests for Testing Trends

by Randall Craig on March 3, 2017

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Planning, Strategy

Tagged as: ,

How often have you read a prediction, statement, or about a trend, and began to wonder if it were true?  Sadly, with so many instant experts, pundits, and self-serving gurus, it is sometimes difficult to tell fact from fiction. Here are six tests that can help you improve your signal-to-noise ratio:

A trend is defined to be a projection from a known state in the past, through a current known state in the present, to a likely state in the future.

  • Test 1:  Is there data to support the past and the present?  Is the data reliable, or is it either uncorroborated, or based on junk science? If a line of best fit is based on these types of faulty data, then it won’t be a line of best fit, and the future state might be elsewhere.
  • Test 2:  Are the factors in the past that led to the present, the same as the factors in the present that might lead to the future?  If there have been any paradigm shifts or market disruptions, then the prediction will be off. (Think of the disruption in the music industry: Record players to CD players to iPods to streaming music.)

Examine the experience of the person making the predictions.  Journalists are smart, but they are not practitioners.  Academics are smart, but they don’t usually live in industry.  Consultants are smart, but they may have a very narrow knowledge base.

  • Test 3:  Where does the knowledge that underlies the statement come from?  Their background should include research, real-world experience, and broad industry knowledge.

Examine the motivations of the person making the predictions.  A fashion company, for example, might be motivated to share “trends” that are suspiciously in sync with what they are producing for the next season.

  • Test 4:  What does the predictor stand to gain if their trend prediction turns out to be true?  Are they biased?  (Counterpoint:  Just because there may be bias, doesn’t necessarily mean that their prediction is wrong: they may be precisely in the best position to make the statement.)

For better or worse, the benefit of Google and social media is that a person’s (and organization’s) entire history is available for review.  There is no way to hide history.

  • Test 5:  Notwithstanding the previous four tests, how good is their track record?  If they have accurately called the trends many times in the past, their current predictions may also be right.

Some trends really don’t matter – or at least don’t matter to you.

  • Test 6:  This is the so what test.  Determine what the implications are for you and your organization, both if the prediction were true, and if it were incorrect.  How would you change your plans and your actions?  If you needn’t make a change either way, then the trend is irrelevant.

This week’s action plan:  Like trend analysis, scenario planning is a powerful strategic planning concept.  Here’s how it works: first envision several alternative futures for your organization, and then create a straw-dog plan to take advantage of each.  How to discover the different scenarios? Look for trends, predictions, and future-oriented statements, then filter them using the six tests.

Marketing insight:  The so what test is clearly the most important, and should be applied first.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders


Do you see your website, CRM, social media, and other digital initiatives as a way to improve service levels, market your organization, or be a central part of your thought leadership strategy?  While important, at best these are tactical approaches:  too often the bigger opportunity of digital transformation is ignored.

This isn’t surprising, as digital initiatives are often driven from marketing or IT, not from the board or the CEO.  When it is driven from the top, the question is more about digital transformation and the disruptive business models that the organization might adopt: after all, it is better to be a disruptor than be disrupted.  Here are seven:

  1. White label:  In this model, your organization provides a behind-the-scenes capability that others can incorporate into their offerings. A related strategy is co-branding, where your capability is “co-branded” with an organization who has client relationships.
  2. Vertical integration:  Think of the value chain, and particularly the functions both before and after your organization interacts with your key stakeholders.  Many accounting firms, for example, also provide bookkeeping services.  Amazon is now getting into the freight and delivery business, both with drone delivery at one end, and the purchase of a fleet of 40 Boeing 767 cargo planes.
  3. Software as a service:  This is the quintessential capacity rental business, made popular by Salesforce, but now adopted by many.  Other examples include Microsoft Office 365 and Adobe Creative Cloud.
  4. Toolmaker:  This strategy is one where you build “tools” that others incorporate into their processes and their technology.  Stripe, the online payments processor, specializes in building developer tools that enable ecommerce.
  5. Debundling:  Instead of thinking of your organization as a single entity, is it possible to unbundle it and optimize each part?  A newspaper, for example, could think of itself as a content producer, a printer, a delivery/logistics operation, and an ad sales organization. Even these can be debundled: a content producer, for example is really reporting, writing, and editing.
  6. Shared service provider:  Associations at one point operated almost as a private club – a guild.  Modern associations, on the other hand, are far more experienced, and have operations including advocacy, accreditation, certification, training, event management, community building, job/career boards, and more. But what if they built a shared service capacity, providing all manner of for-profit services for their members? As they know more about the industry than anyone else, there may be possibilities for procurement, portfolio management, accounting, logistics, and more.
  7. Crowdsourcing:  This model brings key stakeholders directly into the business model itself:  YouTube is built with user-generated content, Uber is built with independent drivers, AirBNB is built using homeowners.

While not every organization might choose to be disruptive, the thinking behind it is important…  and should weigh into the digital investment decision.

This week’s action plan: Is your organization thinking of digital transformation?  If so, how much time has been spent considering the connection to your organization’s business model?  This week, choose one of these models, and whiteboard the digital implications.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials Digital strategy, technology, and design
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders


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