I thought I’d answer a question we get asked a lot at TrendTopics.

Why would a business – any business – be interested in tracking or measuring trends?  How does knowing the metrics behind a trend improve, propel or affect your business?

First, consider what “earned media” means.  Here’s where I tend to go off the classic script.  After completing years of client projects, the classic earned media question is always some variation on the following:

  • “How many mentions did my brand get?”
  • Or the more complex version,  “How many mentions did my brand get with respect to topic X?”

Both are valid questions.  Both can be measured, monitored and reported.  There are over 200 media measurement suppliers and an equal number of agencies which can supply those metrics.  They try to quantify how much earned media is associated with a given brand.

But here’s the rub.  Whether you’re a reporter for the New York Times or a blogger at MikeFloatingCupcakeNews.com, you rarely write about  brands.  You write about the issues, topics and trends that brands, products and companies are trying to address.   I learned this first hand after working with Genentech on a number of media projects.  In the pharma category, you sell the disease, not the drug.

Here’s an example using a familiar shoe manufacturer.

Nike.  Not exactly the smallest brand in the sport and athletic apparel category.  A few years ago the company launched a multi-year, $50 million global campaign called Access to Sport.  I love this program.  As a father of two girls I’m a firm believer that physical activity translates into better health and well-being.  But beyond those noble benefits,  physically exhausted kids fall asleep faster, earlier and sleep longer.  What parent wouldn’t enjoy those benefits!

But seriously, this program is intended to raise awareness of the affects of physical activity (or inactivity) on the health of teens and children.  It has partners, events, marketing programs and all the trappings of a serious global brand campaign.  Even Michelle Obama is on-board!

Back to our classic earned media question.

  • What’s Nike’s earned media numbers around this program?
  • How many mentions did Nike get in the media?
  • How many mentions did Nike get with respect to physical activity and children?

Nike – the brand – pulled 2.8 million media mentions across all media channels in July 2014, both traditional and social media sources.  That’s a lot of earned media exposure.  In terms of our TrendSignal metric, it translates into a value of 92 (out of 100)!

How many mentions did Nike get with respect to physical activity/inactivity in children?  Three.  Yes, let me repeat that, 3!

Almost every media measurement client I’ve ever worked with has run through the same logic. My brand.  My brand and some subject.  Wait, the numbers are TOO LOW.  You can quickly hear the air being let out of their earned media balloon…ssssssssssss.

But let’s ask a slightly different question and qualify it in terms of how it affects Nike:

How many mentions were there about physical activity/inactivity and children (just the trend or topic itself)?

The answer: 412,698.  And that was just during August 2014!  Now we’ve got a number.  These articles, blog posts, status updates were amazing – right on the subject of children and physical activity!

Here’s a tangible example of how a Nike ad leverages an underlying issue – obesity, children and physical activity – to promote its brand:

Seasoned media professional already know what I’m about to say.  It’s their internal clients that need a lot more convincing.  You can use a lot of different analogies here, surfing, drafting, riding, following, etc. but essentially you need to market the trend that your program is suppose to address/leverage.

Are Nike shoes going to get kids excited about about running in the local turkey trot?  Not likely.  But an article about the affects of running on teen development or a poster showing energetic, happy kids running in last year’s race or an inspirational TV spot showing an obese kid going beyond his limits to be physically active,  might get those parents into a retail store, which just so happens to carrying Nike branded products!  Sell the issue or trend.  Or as I learned from Genentech, sell the disease and they’ll find the cure.   Branded products are anything but deficient in promotional in-store resources to close the deal.

In Part 2 I’ll explore the application and use of trend metrics.