How to write about a trend

Trends are great topics for writing, because they’re always changing; people are eager for advice on what to do about them. But to write persuasively about a trend, you need to know what stage it’s in. So let’s go over strategies for writing about trends.

I’ll start with the Gartner Hype Cycle, which is a great way to think about the stages trends go through.

Graphic: Jeremy Kemp, concept by Gartner, via Wikimedia Commons

Whether you’re writing a blog post, a white paper, or a book, you need examples and case studies. But how you apply them will differ based on where the trend is on the adoption chart — and how you choose to differentiate your insights. (In addition to the detail analysis below, I’ve included a chart that sums it all up at the end of the post.)

Brand new trend (far left of the Hype Cycle diagram)

The good news: You have the field pretty much to yourself — very few people are writing about it (blockchain gambling, perhaps?).

The challenge: There are very few examples to cite, since almost nobody is aware of the trend yet.

How do differentiate your analysis: Spot the trend first.

Your title: A startling statement of a previously unknown truth

How to use case studies: Identify the few people who are doing the new thing, and interview them. (There will be little in the way of results yet, but you can show the promise at least.) Also describe people doing things the old way and how your trend would help them do things better, quicker, or more profitably.

How to argue: Explain the conventional way of doing things. Project known changes and new technologies that will create new opportunity. Then show how the new opportunity could benefit people.

A note about tone: If a trend is new, there will be a tendency to be tentative. Don’t. The penalty for being wrong is the same regardless of whether you predict timidly or boldly.

Emerging trend (the rising part of the Hype Cycle diagram)

The good news: This is the part of the trend where thought leaders emerge. If you know (and explain) more about the trend than anyone else, you’ll be in great demand.

The challenge: Keeping pace with new developments in a rapidly growing field is challenging. There will also be failures along path, which you’ll need to explain.

How do differentiate your analysis: Demonstrate unique insights into trend drivers and factors that lead to success for those who adopt the trend.

Your title: How to benefit from xxxx

How to use case studies: You are a natural ally of the people who are adopting the trend. Get to know practitioners, vendors, and fellow experts. Write up their stories as proof of the trend.

How to argue: Show how early adopters are benefitting; illuminate lessons or other insights from their experience.

A note about tone: If a trend is emerging, there will be a tendency to be a cheerleader. Don’t. Rein in your enthusiasm and focus on real-world examples and measurable results.

Peaking trend (the highest part of the Hype Cycle diagram)

The good news: It’s frenzy time. Everyone will be excited about the trend.

The challenge: The market will be frothy with irrational exuberance. You’ll also be competing with many other analytical thinkers and pretenders who have jumped on the bandwagon.

How do differentiate your analysis: Two possibilities: Become a contrarian and argue the trend is wrong, or analyze many practitioners and become the expert on the state of adoption.

Your title: Winners and losers in the xxxx trend

How to use case studies: At this point there will be hundreds of people adopting the new trend (think “digital transformation” or “sharing economy”). Rather than cite the same hackneyed examples that got popular in the previous stages, write about some new people with new insights. Also, survey practitioners and publish a quantitative analysis.

How to argue: Explain what differentiates those who succeed from those who fail. If you are a trend contrarian, illuminate the factors that show the trend is a false hope.

A note about tone: If a trend is peaking, there will be a tendency to be exuberant. Don’t. Sober analysis will stand out from the cheerleaders.

Backlash (the downslope and trough of the Hype Cycle diagram)

The good news: Everybody is aware of the trend.

The challenge: People think the trend is overdone.

How to differentiate your analysis: Explain how the trend is a good business practice, but only when applied successfully for the right type of customer.

Your title: Xxxx is still worth pursuing — if you use the right strategy

How to use case studies: Use case studies that show the difference between successful and unsuccessful implementations and focus on strategy.

How to argue: Explain why and how the trend is still relevant, with detailed examples.

A note about tone: If a trend is the disillusionment phase, there will be a tendency to be back away from it. Don’t. Use an analytical tone to explain what works, when, and why, and also what fails.

Trend maturity (approach to the plateau of productivity in the Hype Cycle diagram)

The good news: We’re finally in a position to learn how to implement the trend effectively.

The challenge: There’s a lot less excitement than there used to be.

How do differentiate your analysis: Focus on details of effective implementation. Alternatively, find a new iteration of the trend to write about (start the cycle again).

Your title: Tools and tactics for xxxx

How to use case studies: Focus on vendors, timing, skills, staffing, strategies, and tactics that succeed.

How to argue: Write a detailed “how-to” guide.

A note about tone: If a trend is the plateau phase, there will be a tendency to be bored with it. Don’t. Use your knowledge to help practitioners make decisions and succeed; they’ll be drawn to that.

You will be wrong. That’s ok.

When it comes to trends, there are many pitfalls. This is why so many thought leaders are so often wrong. But the job of a true analyst is not to be right at all times, but to push the thinking out beyond where there is certainty. Being wrong comes with the territory.

Differentiation is key. Being one of the crowd is never an effective strategy. You need not just knowledge, but a unique perspective.

Here’s a table summarizing what’s in this post:

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  1. Typo: How to

    How do differentiate your analysis: Explain how the trend is a good business practice, but only when applied successfully for the right type of customer.