If you want to be a bad product manager, react to fads. Your product needs to adapt to popular culture to keep it relevant. Pick the cool fad of the year/month/week and make your product relevant to it. It’s a great way to get attention and free publicity. You don’t want to be left behind as competitors take advantage of the hot fashion of the day.
If you want to be a good product manager, be on the lookout for trends. Trends are usually longer-term movements indicating larger shifts in behavior, attitudes, or beliefs. The decrease in traditional land-line phones, more meals being eaten outside the home, population movement away from rural areas, and increased reliance on web-based services are examples of current trends.
Fads are crazes where there is short-term and perhaps irrational attention paid to the current fashion. Hula-hoops, pet rocks, the Atkins diet, and Mahir (the “I kiss you” guy) are all examples of fads. How many of these are still relevant today? Fads change so quickly that by the time you react the fad you are chasing is probably old news and there is a new popular fad taking over.
Good product managers can look into the future and spot general trends as they begin to impact the market, if not before. While it may seem tempting to jump on the fad bandwagon — Create a branded Chia Pet! Put a dancing hamster on our home page! Set up a MySpace account for our product! — you will get more long-term benefits from identifying trends that may impact your business. There are massive changes going on right now in the global economy, media consumption, spending habits, technology adoption, and social behavior that will be much more relevant to your product and company than the current fad of the week.
As a product manager, you need to be able to identify emerging trends and capitalize on important ones. This will ensure that your products — and you as a product manager — are relevant going forward.