Category Archives: market demand

Watching for market shifts

In our 30s we became infatuated with men’s watches — not really understanding the brand hierarchy, but feeling the pull of Patek Philippe on the high end, sometimes admiring Rolex (but knowing they were for old men), shelling out a few hundred for a Swiss Army with complications every few years, and finally settling on Breitling as an aspiration. A bit James Bond-ish, but more complex than the official Bond Omega.

It all culminated on a vacation trip at age 39, when we stumbled upon a jewelry store and began an hourlong flirtation with the young woman behind the counter (sweetie was shopping elsewhere). Italian, the woman was, and the way she presented watches led us to believe a key was being laid on the counter to a new, secret, exciting world of manhood. Every piece of titanium and crystal posed a question: Are you man enough to divine these movements?

But we walked out. Something tipped, more than the idea that a grand for a watch is way too much. We began to realize that watches may become a relic.

What happened? Cell phones, then smart phones, and now iPhones have moved us beyond watching time to connecting with photos and video and blogs and mobile text. The function of “what time is it?” has turned into a periphery, a tiny numeric display at the top right of your cell phone. We now expect our portable tools to do far more. If a watch is a knife — even a beautiful blade — we now need the Swiss Army model, complete with corkscrew and social media.

We’re certain demand for wrist watches will continue, at least for a few decades aided by ads in the Wall Street Journal. But you can feel the shift. Market changes take time, but as SUVs are replaced by hydrogen cars, and newspapers disappear in favor of small internet screens, you have to wonder: How will the long shift of demand affect the products that you sell?

Photo: Envios

$4.19 gas, or why Apple will design your next car

$4.19 a gallon. Today, in central Connecticut. We actually turned our SUV around, pulled over, snapped this photo — and realized, like that little corn we ignored on a foot until it struck a deep nerve, man, we have a problem.

You see, we Americans are an insular lot. Most of us couldn’t name four countries in Africa if you paid us (Egypt is in Africa, true or false?), yet the news rumblings are starting to get through. Costco is rationing rice; James Kunstler predicts peak oil will end suburban sprawl; The Economist says another 100 million people will tip into absolute poverty due to food shortages this year. When the price of bread and milk and, yes, gasoline goes through the roof, we get it.

And that means design will change.

Not design in a trivial sense; not layouts or brands or women’s clothing. We mean the design of how people live. Kunstler explains better than us that as oil supplies are tapped out, all the cheap habits based on petroleum will be squeezed away — long commutes, big-box stores filled with oranges from California, even the plastics that create the keypad on the computer in front of you.

Which means people will need new designs to structure how they live. Some marketers are ahead of the curve on this. BP rebranded beautifully a few years back as “Beyond Petroleum.” Honda has launched a hydrogen-powered car prototype that could be fueled from a home power station, circumventing the need for hydrogen gas stations on every city corner.

If your business isn’t thinking 10 years out on the designs that people will clamor for in a world of diminished energy, you are going to miss the boat.

It all reminds us of a trip to Italy years ago. We, as Americans, couldn’t believe how small the cars seemed, how elegant the shoes and phones and food; heck, ice cream had less sugar and pasta less salt. We eventually acclimated to the lean culture only to return to the States and be stunned again by the apparent bloat of American consumers — walking around in sweat pants and sneakers, drinking from oversized coffee sippy cups. For two days it was like being at recess.

But American habits are changing. The iPhone is an elegant handheld computer. The Mini Cooper has won raves for its sporty handling. People are investing in home theaters instead of going out, learning how to cook again in remodeled kitchens. McDonald’s and cinemas have responded by adding wood paneling, to say, look, we can be streamlined, too.

When gasoline hits $5 and then $6, lean will be the aesthetic of choice. The designers, like Honda, who have proven they can think ahead in new markets will be the first to capture emerging demand.

So look at new markets. Start designing lean things. Watch out for outsiders with brains who are evaluating your own industry. Because our bet is Apple will not only do music and video; soon they will be rethinking your car.

Google’s fascinating peek at market demand

Ever wish you could see the month-to-month market demand for your product or service? Go to Google Trends, type in any topic, and you can see how many people around the world search for it. The above graph, for instance, shows the annual cycle of demand for home heating oil, peaking as the weather turns cold each fall.

The charts have several uses. Google compares search volume (the top line) with news report volume (the bottom line), so marketers can draw correlations between news reports and market interest. Here’s a look at searches for “mammography,” with a spike each fall, a trough each Christmas, and an interesting peak in September 2005 when released a news report promoting the health benefits of breast screening.

Trends in search can be illuminating. In our own business, advertising, we note that searches for “advertising agencies” are down about 50% since 2004. So for our agency Mediassociates next year, we recognize we will need to expand other marketing channels to build national awareness for our media planning services.

Could be worse. Pity the poor folks at Amazon watching consumers walk away from its e-book reader Kindle. If your product search trend line looks like this, it’s time to find a new product.