Mintel has thought leaders watching nearly every consumer sector. Their expertise converges quarterly to identify key themes currently impacting US markets. Here, Mintel’s Trends Expert Carli Gernot shares important takeaways and considerations for winter 2016… On the side Mintel’s thinkers can’t ignore what’s going on around them outside the office. More individuals are hustling to create side projects, whether it’s a t-shirt line, homemade skincare products, or photography services. The “Shark Tank” mentality has many people set on developing their hobbies or passions into businesses that will hopefully one day allow them to leave their day jobs and follow these dreams of their own making. How do we know this start-up golden age is reaching critical mass? CES’ Eureka Park, home to start-up booths, had to be moved to its own floor when it previously was housed in a section of the main Sands Expo and Convention Center floor. The number of “unicorns,” the term given to a venture-backed private company with a valuation above $1 billion, increased to 140 unicorns globally in 2015, up from 75 at the end 2014. Clients ask often about what start-ups are doing right, what makes them succeed, and how they can incorporate those approaches, strategies and philosophies into product development and beyond. People are figuring out ways to earn cash by leveraging their assets, skills, or free time in creative ways: rent out a driveway to those in need of special event parking; share your space/car/bike and make some cash. What it means Businesses will need to incorporate some of the start-up flexibility and innovation into new ventures in order to stand out and deliver what consumers want. From finding creative ways to provide delivery services to leveraging crowd-sourcing in new areas, brands should re-think offerings in order to highlight innovation and embrace creative flexibility when it comes to ownership, earning, and consumption in general. Follow me In addition to considering this new entrepreneurial spirit, Mintel thought leaders suggest that brands also pay attention to the emerging marketing opportunities that are brought about by quirky internet sensations that are rapidly rising to fame. Brands should harness the power of these online celebrities by finding ways to partner with them where it makes sense. For example: After more than 4 million YouTube views, James Wright’s hilarious viral video about singer Patti LaBelle’s line of pies, the desserts have sold out at many Walmart locations and the line is due to expand to other items. Wright also got to meet LaBelle and has been signed to her record label. “Unboxing” videos also have been viewed more than 1 billion times on YouTube, many of which depict only people’s hands as they unwrap toys, sneakers, electronics and other consumer packaged goods. This past holiday season Target, Walt Disney Co. and Toys R Us joined the trend, releasing their own “unboxing”-inspired videos for toys. Power can also come from a collective of online brand advocates. For instance, more than 96% of BMW’s global YouTube views come from fan-generated content as a result of encouraging BMW owners and enthusiasts to talk about their favorite cars. What it means Leveraging internet sensations, celebrities and experts can be beneficial, but those partners should be sure to name the specific arrangements of their relationship with the brand in order to ensure that consumers won’t feel duped by sponsored content. Equality for all This evolution in approaches to business and marketing also is inspiring new opportunities for members of so called “under-served” demographics, including, but not limited to: various gender identities, specific ethnic backgrounds, people with disabilities, those with food allergies and criminal records. What these groups have in common is that more attention is being paid to equality. Specifically, companies, brands and governments will be expected to develop services and solutions that recognize, accommodate and empower every niche of society. Diversity is reflected in the following analyst observations: A portable device called Nima has been designed to allow people to test food and drink for gluten content, which may help those with Celiac disease/allergies avoid accidental exposure. Leading ride-share service Uber plans to hire more women and minorities as drivers. In addition, Uber maintains that it helps to rehabilitate certain ex-convicts by including some drivers who have a criminal record that is more than seven years old. What it means Consider how to recognize — and ideally, empower — more groups of consumers through corporate policies, new product development and marketing. Carli Gernot is the Manager of Trends for North America. She’s been contributing to the success of Mintel Trends since 2010, spotting trends and shifts in consumer behavior all over the world. Carli is responsible for creating content for global trends, North American, and EMEA regions as well as ensuring that North American consumer trend content is relevant and insightful. You might also be interested in: Trend Tracker: North America Consumer Trends 2017 (1/2) Trend Tracker: North America Consumer Trends 2017 (2/2) Love it or hate it: Is Marmitegate the start of things to come?