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Q&A: Terry Young, CEO, Sparks & Honey

Terry Young, CEO of trend-spotting agency sparks & honey, on why brands need to embrace real-time culture or get left in the dust.

Q: Why is trend spotting more important now than ever?

A: We think of trends as culture. There’s fast culture, which are things happening in real time, like the Harlem Shake or when the lights went off at the Super Bowl; and then there’s slow culture, where trends play out over time. The key for brands is to be able to synchronize with culture. If a brand can’t do that, it’s going to become obsolete.

Q: How do you know when a trend’s a trend and not just a cultural blip?

A: We do scoring and analysis. First is an energy score that allows us to understand how big something is in the here and now. Second is a prediction score; is this something that looks like it’s going to last for one day, two weeks, or two years? Then we analyze its historical patterns and think about it in the same way as a database marketer might look at segments and analyze past behavior to predict future behavior. Scores shift daily, so we’re constantly watching to see if there’s been movement and if there’s an opportunity for the brand.

Q: Are there any brands out there right now that you’d commend for being particularly clued in and having their proverbial fingers on the cultural pulse?

A: Red Bull does a great job understanding cultural cues and producing and creating content that’s synchronized with culture. Other companies are trying to do this, but they’re doing it in a reactionary way. Brands must be careful not to just jump on a trend because it’s big. It’s important to understand how a trend matches with a brand’s DNA so there’s authenticity in the conversation.

Q: How would you define “conscious media” and why is it important?

A: It’s a heightened awareness of how all things are connected, which has also become an umbrella concept for the green movement, and corporate and social responsibility. Nearly 100 million Americans are involved in this consciousness space in some way. The implication for brands is that with all this content being created around this consciousness space, it’s not just about making products, it’s about having a larger purpose in society, and creating authentic connections.

Q: The name “sparks & honey” is memorable. Where did it come from?

A: The idea came from little sparks of culture—the sparks that become the fuel driving the waves. The honey creates a connection between the brand and the culture, that stickiness.

Q: Can you explain how the Wave Branding platform works?

A: It’s our idea that you can capture culture early when it’s still just the faintest little fringe signal. Once we understand the emerging culture, we can build content for a brand that’s distinct in the marketplace.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your time in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan.

A: I worked with small businesses in the area, helping with micro-financing, putting together incubators, and training kids from orphanages in language skills. I saw that there are the things that people put currency on in corporate America—and then there’s the currency of the soul and actually connecting with the individual.

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