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Picture: 123RF/peshkova
Picture: 123RF/peshkova

Trends are often confused with innovation. There is an automatic assumption that when something new and innovative hits the market, it will automatically become a trend. This is almost never the case. An oft-used example of this idea is the invention of the tablet. Ten years before the iPad launched, Microsoft brought its first tablet computer to market. It failed miserably. Nobody cared. It did not become a trend. Nobody wanted to own one.

There are some important elements when it comes to understanding trends. There are the things that will change and the things that will never change. The things that will never change are things like basic human behaviour, often based on our needs and desires. The things that will change are things like technology, socio-economic circumstances, and access to products and services. These things are fleeting.

Microsoft’s tablet went wrong because there was a belief that people would do the same things on a tablet that they would do on a desktop. The tablet was built entirely around that idea.

Today we know that while tablets have some use in the workplace, they’re mostly used for entertainment. The reason is simple: we tend to value a tool for entertainment over a tool for work. We also like to compartmentalise activities. The thought of having a portable work device that is with you 24/7 is not as appealing as having a portable entertainment device with you 24/7.

Microsoft got swept up in the technology (something that changes) instead of focusing on the basic human behaviour side of things. When you’re looking at innovation, the real question you must ask is, will people need to change a basic human behaviour to accept and use this innovation? If they do need to change, will the change be worth their while?

An innovative platform like Instagram works because humans are social creatures. We need to feel we’re part of a community. When we contribute to a community and we are acknowledged, we get a dopamine kick.

TikTok is a brand-new innovation that does the same thing, so its popularity is a no-brainer. People often liken TikTok to Vine, a failed video platform that felt like the spiritual prequel platform to TikTok. Many industry pundits say that the platform’s lack of innovation during its lifespan was its biggest problem, which overlooks the obvious issue, as Vine had a six-second limit on its videos. To tell a story in six seconds requires an incredible amount of thought and creativity. The barrier to entry was just too high, and when platforms that were easier appeared (like Instagram), people used those instead. We love our bursts of dopamine, and we’ll go where we can get them easily.

We discovered that the township spaza shop was slowly dying for several reasons, all related to Covid-19

We can apply the principle of a human-centric approach to trends in use cases beyond digital. Earlier in 2021 we completed our first Township Report. We sought to understand how township residents thought about food, finance, and retail. We discovered that the township spaza shop was slowly dying for several reasons, all related to Covid-19. Stock control had become an issue thanks to an unpredictable footfall driven by the lockdown. With stock sitting on shelves for extended periods of time, freshness was not guaranteed and to make ends meet, prices were inflated. Township residents began turning to large retailers to fulfil their grocery needs.

When the looting started (in the July 2021 unrest), the issue was exacerbated. Looting was indiscriminate and while retailers had the insurance to pick up the pieces, spaza shops did not. Stock control and pricing became even more of an issue.

While we push the “proudly SA” rhetoric, it will never take hold when we haven’t addressed some of the basic issues around human needs and desires. Subconsciously, we work on a payoff vs effort model. Those of us who are reaching for the stars believe that the payoff is worth the effort. But when you bring it down to things that are more tangible, like grocery shopping, we’ll get far more pragmatic about payoff vs effort.

If there’s an easier way to get a guaranteed fresh banana, that’s the route I’m going to go, no matter how much you tell me I need to support local businesses.

Trends accelerate when they cater to human behaviour. It becomes vital that you understand that before you jump into a space of product or service development. New, shiny, and innovative are meaningless if they don’t serve a greater purpose. The more you fulfil a basic human desire, the faster your innovation will be adopted.

Craig Hannabus is strategy director at digital marketing agency Rogerwilco.

This article was paid for by Rogerwilco.

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