Why is Earl Grey/Green Tea/… popular and proposed/drank in most places? How do trends begin? Good questions indeed. When I was asked about it, I began doing some research and I found some information on how trends were born in fashion. After looking and thinking about it, I decided that it could translate into the tea industry.
So how are trends born? Humans being social animals, we are “victims” of several documented phenomenons that facilitate the adoption of “successful” behaviours. First, the bandwagon effect increase the probability of an individual adopting a belief, idea, trend with the proportion of people who have already done so. The other effect is named the chameleon one after the animal that is said to blend into its environment. However it is a bit trickier as some works and experiences say that some people try to follow the choices made by others, ie the norm, however some others say that some people try to do the exact opposite trying to do what no one does. This shows that the human mind is quite complex but that we always compare ourselves to others and that we are influenced by others in a way or in another.
These factors explain how trend/fashion spreads among individual people, be it for fashion, food stuff or tea and today, you could add advertising (whatever the way it takes), economical situation (with the need for ones to distinguish themselves from others be it by looking for luxury products or rather upper class ones), technology (making production available at cheaper prices, thus increasing the potential market)… and today also social media, which are in a way mega-advertising things, with several people known as influencers (celebrities, people with an audience and recognised for their expertise in a domain…). However, they don’t really explain how trends are born and what makes them appear.
First and foremost, it is important to understand that like in the spreading part, we are not alone to decide. “We” as people have tastes but sometimes we don’t know about them and companies are eager to “help” us find about them before we knew what we want, creating a market and ensuring they can sell us what we need.
To do so, companies do a lot of research on what their customers might want, either directly through market researches, asking group of people about what they want, what they value the most… or looking at researches made by others. One interesting example I found and that might be reflected in the tea industry too is the brand design agency. These people are paid to feel the air and look at what the next ideas in a certain industry might be and this at different moments in time (tomorrow, the day after tomorrow…). They produce trend books that are sold at a high price to other companies that make the fashion collections we see in the shops.
You might wonder how this is related to us and to the way trends in tea are created. If you are referring to normal brand design agencies, it is only in an indirect way as their books display not only all the things needed to create a fashion collection (colours, designs, key words and concepts) but also a lot of other things that are in the air and that can be translated in concepts for other industries. In a more direct way, some of these agencies are focusing on other industries (food, cars, cosmetics…).
Obviously, some companies are able to do this job all alone, be it because they are big enough to have a department doing the same thing or because they have someone with the talent to perceive the future trends. To quote Steve Jobs (I couldn’t write on this topic without making a reference to him), “It’s not about pop culture, and it’s not about fooling people, and it’s not about convincing people that they want something they don’t. We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That’s what we get paid to do. So you can’t go out and ask people, you know, what the next big [thing.] There’s a great quote by Henry Ford, right? He said, ‘If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘A faster horse’.”
As in most things in life, there is no simple answer to any question and the way how trends begin and spread is a complex one, a non written and non spoken deal between us as consumers and the companies selling tea (or any other thing) with the addition of people trying to find out about what we might need and our unconscious trying either to make us look like all the others or trying to differentiate us. This is why there is no winning combo to ensure ones success and also why there are so many companies following the lead of others: it is easier to find out what works and do it too, rather than try to find out what is going on. However, this only works because customers are loyal to a brand or to a couple of brands and are unwilling most of the time to widen their experience and look around.
This echoes to the title of this blog, which is a quote of Mad Men, a TV show I still have to look at that focuses on the life and business of advertising agencies throughout the 1960s.