Trends: Making Waves And Riding Them

Using creativity and data to make the most of trends and unique moments

Like waves, trends come and go. Sometimes they’re predictable while other times they seem to come out of the blue. How can one catch hold of a trend and ride that wave to success?

Dependable Solutions recently engaged a panel of experts at their Licensing Automation Summit Autumn 2021 to guide on riding the trend waves. The seasoned experts discussed how to identify trends, where one can draw inspiration from them, and the role that quantitative and qualitative data play in steering a licensing program.

How do you use data to identify trends?


Ecommerce is now 16% of US retail sales according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. For decades it’s been steadily growing. When COVID hit, there was a big spike.

This is no flash in the pan. As the world becomes more interconnected and technology becomes more available across the globe, e-commerce will continue to grow.

Kathy Cummins, Head of Data Analytics at Hinge Global, an e-commerce expert, sees the opportunity for all in the licensing world. In the panel discussion, she shared that e-commerce is the arena that gives the flexibility to be everywhere – it’s a lot easier to launch products and be found when products are accessible digitally.

Brand owners can also successfully launch product activations by bringing together qualitative and quantitative data.

Teri Niadna, Managing Director, Brandgenuity Europe, in regards to the data analysis point, suggests looking both inwards and outwards when assessing new opportunities.

Looking outwards includes assessing data like Category & Industry Data, Competitive Analysis, Industry Network, Retail Audits, Trade Shows, Trade Publications, Consumer Media, Market Research.

Brand owners need to look around the marketplace, pull in relevant information, and synthesize the data to figure out how the brand can utilize different opportunities.

Brands are encouraged to look at the numbers and interpret what the numbers are telling them to make the data useful for licensing programs.

In addition to this quantitative side, there’s also a qualitative side to looking outwards including industry networking. When looking at new opportunities, it’s important to talk to business partners, retailers, clients and find out what they are seeing and what the retailers asking the licensees for.

Being on top of these requests is important.

As much as it’s crucial to walk into retail stores and see what is on shelves, especially what’s new and what products are the best selling, another key for staying on top of the game is walking trade shows and identifying what’s next.

Pay attention to media–consumer and trade– and keep abreast of all the latest items coming up by turning all this information inwards.

Is there an angle that a brand can use or can the brand come up with an angle that makes the most sense to their business?

The answer to this question is, outwards data; which helps identify the trends that are happening. The data can only get you so far. Brand owners can ask internally how a brand can participate in an emerging trend.

Brands should take a look inwards and see if the brand can capitalize on that trend because it has to make sense for the brand.

Where can trends be found?

Assessing data is the starting point.

But first, Brands need to collect data to start assessing.

So, where can one look to find trends? According to Kathy Cummins, there are plenty of sources for trend data that everyone has access to including:

  • Qualitative Listening: talk to business partners, retailers, clients, etc.
  • Amazon Bestsellers List: Amazon shares the best sellers of every category which can give you indicators of what’s moving.
  • App Downloads: See which apps are the most downloaded or are trending up.
  • CB Insights/ Investment Trends / Venture Capitalists: follow them on LinkedIn.
  • Google Trends: This is a huge one and a must for trend watching.
  • Social Media: Leverage social media. One of Kathy’s favorites is to browse “Tik Tok Made Me Buy It” where independent entrepreneurs sell products they’ve invented themselves or are selling something that exists today.

It’s a fantastic way to see trends as well as influencers that are in a specific category (e.g. cosmetics, household products, organizational products, parenting/baby products, etc.)

With social media, one can immediately see the number of views, number of likes, and number of reviews. This helps make spotting trends easier.

Trends aren’t always what you think.

What do you think was the most searched product on Amazon in 2020 and 2021?

No. It wasn’t toilet paper.

It was the PS5. Sony’s PlayStation 5 was the #1 and #5 most searched product on Amazon (PS5 was #1 and play station 5 was #5). Other top 10 searches included Christmas decorations, face masks, and AirPods.

Something we don’t see on the list is keto snacks.

Before COVID, keto snacks were one of the top searches on Amazon. It’s no longer on the list. This could be a trend that’s ending or something else. Meanwhile, Baby Yoda is creeping up the list. For those who have access to licensing for Baby Yoda, that continues to be a big one.

To get more detailed Amazon information like what was shared above, brands and licensees must have an ARA Premium or Brand Analytics account with Amazon.

Hinge Global can help provide data analytics to brands and licensees.

What’s great about Amazon data is it can be thousands of items long and filtered by category. This can be truly helpful to spot trends but also spot opportunities–categories where other brands are succeeding whereas some brands have no presence.

Competitive Benchmarking Opens Up Opportunities.

To showcase this more effectively, Kathy Cummins shared the total dollar sales over a year broken out by licensed products by a variety of universities in the United States. The top 10 U.S. Amazon Licensing Sales by University were:

  1. Indiana University
  2. University of Michigan
  3. University of Arkansas
  4. Florida State
  5. University of Iowa
  6. UCLA
  7. Notre Dame
  8. Michigan State
  9. Ohio State
  10. USC

Source:  Hinge Global

You’ll see a big range from #1 and #2 universities versus the #6 and #7 universities.

To help drive revenue, university licensing programs need to keep improving their schools’ Amazon presence by creating a college-branded Amazon Storefront and working with their licensees to improve product listing quality. Learn more about why amazon is critical to drive college licensing revenue here.

According to Teri Niadna, a great way to source data is competitive benchmarking. Competitive benchmarking gives a sense of where a brand ranks versus competitors and can tell what the size of an opportunity may be.

If competitors are capitalizing in a category that the brand is not in, there’s an opportunity awaiting.

In the example above, UCLA is doing well but there’s more opportunity to drive business and engage with students and alumni that are currently not being taken.

Hinge Global looked at the total annual sales across all universities and found the average dollar sale per category for Amazon and ranked the categories. Here’s what they found:

  1. Clothing
  2. Home & Kitchen
  3. Clothing Accessories
  4. Footwear
  5. Patio, Lawn & Garden
  6. Toys & Games
  7. Sports Equipment
  8. Books
  9.  Auto Accessories
  10. Decorations
  11. Grilling and BBQ
  12. Office Products & Other
  13. Gameday & Tailgating
  14. Bags & Packs

By far and away, apparel was the leading category. This was expected.

What Kathy found surprising was how low on the list gameday and tailgating items were.

Was this just because it was Amazon and big items may not sell as well in this retail channel or was it something else like because of COVID, fewer folks were attending game day events?

By uncovering the data, brand owners can dive deeper into specific categories to find where changes are happening and where opportunities are presenting themselves.

What fascinated Kathy most was that footwear was so high up on the list. When she dug a little deeper, she found big differences across the universities.

Some universities have a ton of revenues in the footwear space while others had hardly anything at all.

For example, the University of Michigan has all kinds of products including lots of slippers, socks, athletic shoes, and more. Other universities had little to no licensed footwear available.

By doing this competitive benchmarking, it’s very easy to see the opportunity for other universities to grow their business through footwear licensing

Fads or Trends?

How can you tell if something is a fad that will come and go or is a trend that can provide a longer-lasting wave to ride?

Data- Plain and simple. Look at the numbers.

For example, puzzles were hot, hot, hot during the pandemic especially 1000 piece puzzles for adults. There was a giant spike during COVID and lasted for 18 months.

Since that initial run, the search volume for puzzles has tapered off. The data speaks for itself.

When looking at the numbers, what needs to be taken into consideration is what works for a particular business. If it’s a business like Hallmark that’s always played in the puzzle space and has a footprint there, it makes sense to continue to invest in puzzles.

While the search volume has dropped, there are still key consumers to go after.

If, however, it’s a business that’s looking for a growth opportunity, puzzles might not be the best place to invest in now as the interest in them has tapered off.

Instead, look out for the new trends and check where the company can take advantage of the opportunity provided by a trend.

Remember, because trends are like waves, it’s important to be flexible and move quickly to catch them. Certain trends can stay for a couple of years. But some are here today and gone tomorrow.

If it’s in the plan of taking advantage of a trend, everyone in the organization that needs to respond must understand that they are trying to capture a moment but they are not in control of that moment. So, it’s important to get aligned internally and be willing to fast-track the process to hop on a trend in the marketplace.

It’s possible to make the most out of fad or trend opportunities.

To catch the wave and ride it successfully it’s crucial to be able to identify the trend fast, know where to draw inspiration from them, and use the quantitative and qualitative data to steer your licensing program in the right direction.

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