The way consumers act and buy is constantly changing, and business who ignore global trends are often left behind. But how can a business figure out what changes are here to stay, and which ones should be driving their business if they’d like to meet needs of their customers and clients?
Today we talk with Daniel Levine, the founder of the Avant Guide Institute, a business consultancy firm which helps business make sense of the social trends which are influencing the global marketplace.
Learn about how things like the wearable tech and TED Talks influence modern consumers and audiences, and how to recognize and adapt to the changing trends in your market.
Interview with Daniel Levine
Q: What topics do you speak about?
A: I run the Avant Guide Institute, and we’re a trends consultancy based in New York City. We focus on consumer trends across the industrial spectrum, which is about what is driving people to act, why do people buy stuff.
Also, importantly for audience members and business people, what can you do to understand those trends that will get you closer to your customers, make you more relevant, and at the end of the day help make you more money, because that’s really what it’s all about.
What I speak about is using major social trends, and how they are relevant to you, and how to benefit from them to help your bottom line.
Q: When someone comes to your session what can they expect to get out of it? What should be their takeaway?
A: The takeaways are understanding customers better, and understanding what other companies are doing to attract those same customers that you can use in your own business to increase sales, and be closer to your customers.
Most business people are not very good at understanding what’s driving their customers to act. When people look at their competition they’re usually looking at other businesses in the same industry, or similar industries.
What I bring to the table that is really unique is having audience members take a step back, and take a look at their customers from a much larger perspective to see what other companies in other industries are doing to attract those same customers. Then to use that information, that knowledge in their own business.
I will help them understand, first of all, what those major trends are, and second of all, how those trends are being successfully used in other industries to attract those same customers.
Then finally the takeaway is coming up with ideas for this specific audience about how they can use these same trends in their own businesses to attract those same customers, and get them interested in whatever they happen to be selling.
Q: It’s not just about what’s going on in your industry, but it’s about what’s going on globally, what are the trends that are happening.
A: Yes. In fact, I don’t presume to know anything more about whatever industry I’m going in to speak with. If I’m speaking with the American Floral Association, which happens to be something I did recently, I wouldn’t presume to know anything more about the business of flowers than those experts who are sitting in the room.
But what I do know more about is their customers, and I will help them understand what is motivating their customers to act. Why do people buy things? Why do they make the decisions that they make? What buttons do they need to press to get people more interested in their products and services?
Most people in business and industry are specialists, they know their thing really, really well. The special thing that I bring to the table is I help them see what other people are doing in other industries. I’m that connector who is connecting all of the different companies and brands all around the world to show them what is working for their customers.
Because when it comes to these kinds of trends, trends are not siloed by industry, from the customer’s perspective. People, you and me, and all of the listeners are looking for those same trends to be answered in every part of their lives; in the cars they drive, the clothing they wear, the travel decision they make. It is about lifestyle.
What I do is I show them what the lifestyle of their customers is, and how they can benefit from using those trends.
Q: How did you become an expert in trends? What was that process? How did you get there?
A: What sets us apart is that we have a very large team of trend spotters around the world. These are thousands of people around the world who we work with, who every day send us things that they are finding that are new, and unique, and unusual in some way.
What we do in our New York office is when we start to see the same kind of thing happening in the same psychographic, or demographic, or geographic, we connect those dots, and say hey, these are trends that are forming.
If we work with a company, if somebody hires me to give a presentation, the first thing that we’ll do is we’ll look at the audience, but more importantly we’ll look at the customers of the audience.
Then we will canvass our trendspotters around the world who fit into that same demographic, or geographic of that audience member’s customers. We’ll look at what they’re buying, and why they’re buying things, and we’ll put together a very customized presentation specifically for that audience.
I’ve never given the same presentation twice. We spend a lot of time researching, and putting together very unique presentations for each audience that are really meaningful, and speak to them. The basis for that comes from our trendspotting network, and our very unique vantage point overlooking consumer oriented business.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about what the latest trends are, especially when it comes to marketing? What are you most excited about?
A: First of all let me make the differentiation between a trend and a fad. I think that’s often conflated in people’s minds. One of the biggest differences between the two has to do with longevity. A fad is something that comes on quickly, and also dissipates fast, that flash in a pan. Fads are really fun.
Q; Like Pokemon GO, is that a fad?
A: Thanks for bringing that up. Yes, Pokemon GO may very well be a fad, but augmented reality, the platform on which it is based on, is the trend. I think that’s a really good way of thinking about it.
Augmented reality is likely here for the rest of our careers and beyond. It will get even more intense.
Pokemon GO is the first application that has come along that has really been embraced by popular culture. That is probably a fad. It is here now, and next year people are going to be onto something else that will likely be using that platform of augmented reality.
Another thing, I’m often asked: what will a trend look like in five years.
The answer is almost always that the trend will be even more intense, because trends have a lot of inertia. Once they get going, they keep going, and they keep getting stronger, unless something big comes to stop them, or change their direction. When we see a trend coming along, like augmented reality, it’s going to be something that will be even stronger five years from now.
Another perhaps really good example that I’m often asked about is wearable technology. People say, is that a trend or a fad? The answer is that wearable technology is a trend, and one of the reasons why is its longevity.
Wearable technology has been with human beings since the beginning of time.1,000 years ago people used to wear swords by their sides, that was the technology of the time. The specific technology that people are wearing does change.
The Apple watch may indeed be a fad. I mean it’s not the biggest fad even now. But the specific technology that people are wearing are often fads. But wearable technology in general as a category, that’s a trend.
Q: That’s a really interesting insight, comparing the Apple watch to a Medieval sword. That’s a nice image. Could you talk a little bit more about your presenting, and the talks that you give? Specifically some advice that you might have. Because I know you are speaking all the time, and you must have some great insights for other speakers about how to communicate their messages. Do you remember what your most memorable talk was?
A: My most memorable talks look like this. This actually happens fairly frequently, and it’s the reason why I love speaking. Because I’m up on stage, and I’m explaining this idea about trends, and what they mean, and specific things that people in the audience can use to embrace these trends, to do something a little bit different, or think differently about their customers.
I can see that "AHA" moment on people’s faces when they get it. There is a change happening in their mind where they’re looking at their world a little bit differently.
The best conferences are the ones which ask the delegates or the attendees to take a step back, and look at the big picture of what they’re doing. Because people are so often involved in the every day of their lives; their full inboxes, getting rid of their email messages.
When I’m able to be up on stage, and speak to them in a big picture way about to look at their customers a little bit differently, then I see this "AHA!" moment, and that part is priceless.
The second part of that is that it’s fairly common now for me to get a lot of emails and phone calls, I would say, three to six months after my presentation from people who were in the audience.
Where they’re calling me up, or sending me emails to say “When I was sitting in the audience I had these ideas about doing such and such because of something that you spoke about. I went back to my office, and we implemented these, we built this.”
It was either a new marketing initiative, or perhaps they created a new product or service. They are so excited about what is happening to them, and they are sharing that with me.
When people share that with me, for me that’s why I am in this business. That is truly changing people’s lives for the better. It’s priceless for me. I love it.
Q: It’s about making those connections, and helping people do their jobs better.
A: Definitely. I did a presentation in Europe for a large tourism event. Six to nine months later I got a call from the head of marketing for a large hotel chain. They created a new spa hotel based on these "AHA" moments, and insights that this woman had while sitting in my audience.
She invited me over to see it. It was just amazing what they were able to do, that was really something quite different that no one else was doing, and they have been having an incredible amount of success with it. That’s one example of something that happened relatively recently that just got me really excited about the kind of work that I’m doing.
Q: Daniel, you have used the phrase "AHA!" moments a couple of times. Can you tell us what you mean by that?
A: Yes. An “"AHA!"” moment is the moment when an audience member gets it. You can see it on their face that their mind is working in overdrive. It’s that tipping point when they finally get how that relates to them, and changes their world.
That is the holy grail of speaking, to be able to give a presentation that works up to that point, and then has this "AHA" moment. It’s like having a breakthrough with the audience that gets them buzzing afterwards online, at water coolers, and makes you the star of the conference. The "AHA" moment, I would say, is the key to public speaking.
Q: Do you have any advice for other public speakers on how to get those "AHA" moments from your audience?
A: Speaking in general, keynote speaking especially, is one part education, and one part entertainment. I think it’s really important for a speaker to be a dynamic speaker. To be wearing a headset, walking around, connecting with audience members.
Making it interactive, if possible, which is more of a challenge the bigger the group is. But it doesn’t have to be. There are a lot of things you can do in interactive ways even in groups of a thousand and more.
Building to that "AHA" moment is really about working on your presentation to say what you have to say in a concise, interesting way that moves the audience along with you. It’s about having a story, and unfolding the story in the right kind of way to get audience members to come along with you.
The typical structure of a successful keynote presentation is to bring up a problem that audience members have, and then give them the solution to that problem. The "AHA" moment comes with a very creative solution and way of looking at things.
A huge part of that is when I’m onstage I never say to the audience, this is what you should do; A, B, and C. What I do is I show them by example things that are working, and have them in their own minds work out how they can use that same information in their own businesses. That’s where the "AHA" moment comes from.
I don’t know exactly what these people in the audience are doing every single day. Only they know what they are doing every day. I’m not giving them the fish, I’m giving them the fishing rods. I am giving them the tools to figure out how to think differently in their own businesses, to grow and prosper.
Q: What are some of the trends that you’re seeing in the public speaking industry?
A: That’s funny, of all the trends I have thought about that’s not one that I think of in particular. I would say this. I certainly see trends in conferences.
One of the biggest trends that has changed in the last decade has happened because of TED conferences. Maybe that’s also an exponent of this idea that people’s attention spans are shorter, and conferences are looking for pithier, fun, engaging, entertaining speakers, and for speakers who are doing something a little bit different.
There are so many conferences out there, and people go to a lot of conferences. Event planners are always looking to hit their attendees up on the side of the head, to make them think a little bit differently, and give them a different experience.
The best presenters, and this is the biggest trend, are new, different, and unusual, but of course still fit in with the theme, needs, desires, and goals of a particular conference.
With what I’m doing I’m always trying to shake it up, and be different from everybody else. I think that’s really key. What that means is having a lot of interactivity from even big keynotes. That is not something you see very often, but it is beneficial.
Also, being so different so that when you get off stage you really leave audience members with a meaningful impression. At the end of the day it’s more about what audience members keep with them after you go away than what they see when you’re actually right there.
You’ve got to give them something meaningful that speaks to, not just the head, but the heart when they go away, and have that water cooler conversation, and share everything with their friends, both online and off.
Q: What you’re saying is it’s not quite enough to just be an expert, and relay information. You really have to show the audience how to use that information, and inspire them to use it.
A: Yes. The best speakers are not experts, or just experts. They are not just experts who speak, they are also speakers who are experts. They have spent a lot of time working on their presentations, their presentation style, and the way that they’re getting across that message.
It’s not enough just to drone along, you have to be dynamic. It’s speaking 101 to be talking about things like changing the sound of your voice. Sometimes speaking softly, and sometimes speaking more loudly. Moving around the stage, making eye contact, projecting to the back of the room.
Feeling confident on stage, coming on stage and acknowledging the audience. Looking around, and having a confident voice, and standing like you own the room. All of these things are speaking tips and tools that one, you have to practice, and two, comes with practice.
A speaker who has been speaking for a while is usually a better speaker. Like a lot of things, part of it is nature, it’s what you’re born with, and another part of it is nurture, and it’s about learning. It takes both sides of that to be an excellent speaker.
Q: My last question for today is what’s coming up next for you? What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a lot of exciting projects. The thing I love about my work is it’s like being in school every day. I learn so much every single day with all these amazing trends that come through our office.
The thing that I love best is connecting those dots for the different organizations, and companies, and brands that we’re working for. Next on my roster, as I think I mentioned to you earlier just before this interview, I do a lot of traveling.
I’m on the road. I’m on an airplane once every two weeks on average I’d say. I travel all over the world. I go to every continent, except Antarctica, multiple times every year.
What’s so interesting for me is to be able not just to connect the dots of what’s happening, but to connect people. To help them understand what’s happening in different parts of the world, and what different companies are doing to attract those same customers that they’re looking for.
This year I will be going to East Africa. I just came from this amazing trip where I was in Guam, and from Guam I flew to Northern Ireland. I’m making those connections, helping them understand what people are doing in different parts of the world.
Because, as you well know, the world is becoming more and more global. Not just online, but offline people are mobile now. The nature of work has changed.
The trends that I’m speaking about are social trends, consumer trends, tech trends, and business trends. Helping businesses across the world understand best practices of what’s working in various business environments. All of those things are coming down the pike for me. I absolutely love this kind of work.
I appreciate that you’re giving me this time to chat on this podcast. I hope that I’m being helpful to listeners, both future speakers, and if there’s meeting planners listening as well, let’s chat.
A bit about our speaker:
Daniel Levine is a leading authority on business, tourism and consumer trends. His creative keynote speeches and workshops inspire audiences to use the power of trends to gain new business and meet their consumers ever-changing needs.