4 Non-Obvious Trends and Why They Matter Now

Marketing expert and SXSW keynoter Rohit Bhargava on how paying attention to trends can create resilient businesses and careers. 

Author: Barbara Palmer       

Trend curator Rohit Bhargava dons silly glasses during a presentation that was part of the weekly, livestreamed SXSW Sessions Online series. He was making a point about using props to make digital presentations special.

Trend curator and marketing expert Rohit Bhargava is the author of a series of best-selling trend forecasts, featured in the 10th edition of his book, Nonobvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future, released in February.

Bhargava has been asked what it’s like to publish a book about trends right before the global outbreak of COVID-19 — something that few predicted. But Bharghava isn’t a futurist, he told the audience at SXSW Sessions Online, a weekly series of live-streamed talks featuring presentations that were scheduled for the 2020 event, which was canceled. Bhargava’s real focus is human behavior, he said. “What can we understand about people,” he said, “and, in turn, about ourselves by paying attention to trends?”

Noticing trends matters even more in a pandemic, he added, because change is happening faster. Innovations that once seemed to be on the fringes suddenly are making sense, such as robot spectators at sporting events or a vending machine that sells fresh meat — “now,” Bhargava said, “that’s looking like a brilliant idea.”

As to predicting the future, “it would be great to be able to know where everything is going, but it’s even better to have the sort of mindset where it doesn’t matter,” he said. “You are so resilient you’re paying enough attention to what’s happening in the world so that no matter what direction things go, you’ll be able to come up with a way to adapt for your business or for your career.”

Here’s our take on Bhargava’s talk, “4 Non-obvious Megatrends That Matter Since the Pandemic (and How to Use Them)”:

Revivalism: Rediscover the analog.

In a time of uncertainty, revivalism “is the sense that we can turn the clock backwards, that we can look at the things that we used to trust and go back to them,” Bhargava said. Examples include listening to music on vinyl and using physical film instead of digital photography. “We’re rediscovering that we can do these things outside of technology,” he said.

How he applied it: Bhargava has spoken at SXSW for the last five years, and as a keynoter for organizations including the World Bank, Disney, and Intel. But he was embracing the opportunities that presenting from his home office offered, including using props like Post-it Notes and a pair of goofy glasses, and pointing out the books on his bookshelf. “I feel like maybe we’re having a little bit more of a one-to-one style of presentation,” he said. “So, I’m kind of embracing that a little bit.”

Human Mode: Focus on empathy first.

In a world where we have lots of automation and technology, the experiences that are more human matter more to us — they are of higher value and therefore we are perhaps willing to invest more of our time or money in them. That applies to marketing and sales — “if you can’t deliver with empathy, then don’t do it,” he said, because it will backfire.

How he applied it: At the beginning of his talk, Bhargava acknowledged the “devastating” loss that canceling the face-to-face festival represented to the SXSW staff and the city of Austin and sent them his love.

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Trend curator and author Rohit Bhargava demonstrated his low-tech method for discerning non-obvious trends, sorting and clipping magazine articles from diverse sources.

Instant Knowledge: Connect people with knowledge.

“Instant knowledge is the idea that we now have access to information more readily than ever before,” Bhargava said. “And what that means is that we expect to be able to learn anything faster.” One example: the “Tasty” cooking videos, which answer “perhaps the most urgent question that many of us have on a daily basis,” he said, “which is: What’s for dinner?”

How he applied it: Bhargava’s presentation was long on practical tips. He demonstrated to viewers exactly how he mines media to discern non-obvious trends, including using Post-it Notes to catalog ideas gleaned from piles of magazines from diverse fields.

Flux commerce: Disrupt your business and how you work.

Everything in how we do business is shifting, Bhargava said, “and the lines that used to exist between industries are blurring even faster now because of the pandemic.” Examples of disruption include Apple getting into financial services, banks opening up as coffee shops, or Taco Bell opening up a hotel. “Crayola created a makeup line,” he said, “because … makeup is basically painting your face.”

How he applied it: Bharghava has pivoted his non-obvious trends series into a line of books that include The Non-Obvious Guide to Being More Creative and The Non-Obvious Guide to Emotional Intelligence.

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Author Rohit Bhargava said he believes digital events will become more cinematic, with more breakout opportunities, in the future.

What’s Going to Happen to Live Events?

During the Q&A, Bhargava fielded questions from the audience, including, “What’s going to happen to meetings like SXSW?”

His answer: “What I believe is going to happen is that every event is going to become a hybrid, and there’s going to be a way for people to participate virtually,” he said. People will be more selective about meetings they attend and there will be more engagement by the people who show up in person. “Events are probably going to be smaller and maybe the digital component will get much, much bigger,” he added. “So overall, as an event organizer, you have more people engaged.”


RELATED: Rohit Bhargava’s 3 Ways to Better Serve Your Audience


Digital events will be more cinematic — “we’re going to get better moving cameras,” he said. “But the other piece of it is that we’ll be moving people into breakout rooms. Let them have discussions and then come back out and listen to people and then share videos and bring in different content.” Content will be recorded and released as soon as it is produced, “because people will be participating right away.”

And “talks are going to be shorter for sure,” said Bhargava, who talked for an hour, nonetheless. “People will realize that you can’t schedule many things back to back and expect people to be able to pay attention.”

Barbara Palmer is deputy editor of Convene.

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