Trend surfing refers to the use of trending matters or topics in a community to market your business. It is useful in the creation of viral content. We have seen examples of this from Nandos, Mambos chicken and a few other businesses in Zimbabwe. However, trend surfing can go wrong as we recently saw when a DNA testing centre offered Zoolian the breadwinner a free DNA test. This is not the only time trend surfing has gone wrong but it may be the worst. With that in mind, perhaps we should look at the concept of trend surfing and how we can get it right

Understand the culture

First things first all viral stories or trends have a culture within which they are spawned. This means that when you see something go viral like the Chicken Inn couple did you need to understand the underlying reasons why it is a viral story and these come from understanding the culture. This is easy for the most part if you are part of the culture but from time to time you will come across trends which you are not to the culture they come from. In any case, it is important to make sure you understand the cultural context that the viral idea comes from fully.

Loosen up

To execute trend surfing properly you are going to have to relax a little bit. In many cases a comical approach such as Mambos chicken likes to employ may be your best bet. It’s not just about humour though. It is not always an opportunity to sell products. When young Zoolian’s video went viral bakers and other providers of breakfast food donated breakfast foods. This made sense. What was most interesting was how brands responsible for cornflakes, porridge and other breakfast items successfully rode the wave. It’s easy to ride the wave by using the young man’s image and saying you have a product at a particular price but easy doesn’t get you very far. Trend surfing is about getting your business and maybe your product out there but it never about you. So loosen up and join the trend.

Customize it

This may be a little confusing after what I just said but hear me out. You must connect your brand with the trend. This is where the case of the DNA testing laboratory offering the young man and his father a paternity test went wrong. I’m not sure if there was a way to do this right but no effort was made to connect the brand with the trending story. For the benefit of those not familiar with the story, Zoolian rose to prominence when he was recorded complaining about eating mbambaira (sweet potatoes) daily for breakfast. We can connect bread, cornflakes, porridge and other products to that easily. A paternity test is another kettle of fish. To illustrate customisation being executed well a supplier of LP gas pledged 12 months supply gas to ensure Zoolians family could make breakfast every day. You must find the connection between the trend and your brand. If you cannot, consider partnering with someone who is connected.

Preserve the context

Trends are essentially stories and stories have context. While you must make best efforts to connect your brand to the trend you must also maintain the context. You may remember the lady and cat memes that, for the lack of a better word, terrorised us in the recent past. A company which I will not name made an advert that used the cat and tried to explain how the product was better only with them. The problem? Without the lady or something representative of her, it is no longer connected to the lady and the cat. Small differences can ruin the context. This is another point where the DNA testing laboratory fell foul of the trend. There are many, high profile paternity cases in Zimbabwe including the one that spurned the “tinenge tichiitirei bogus” (why would we do bogus things” trend.

Brand alignment

Not all trends are for you. Simple. After all not all trends are good trends, to begin with. Even the seemingly gung-ho Mambos chicken chooses the trends they surf. You must choose trends that align with your brand and to do this you must have a well-defined brand. Knowing your brand voice and target market will prevent engaging with non-aligning brands or content. As a rule of thumb, you either find trends that match your brand or find ways to relate to trends that match your brand. Remember you are communicating with human beings with thoughts and feelings. They will form opinions on your efforts regardless of how good your intentions are. No publicity is bad publicity, true. But not all publicity will bring desirable results.

Overall let us remember to have fun when trend surfing. We are in unprecedented times and a lot of change has been thrust upon us. In essence, we are finding our feet again. Plans will have to change and so too the way we do things. I cannot reiterate enough how important it is to have your brand and brand voice figured out before you embark on this journey effectively.