Editor's note: Based in New York, Tim Kenyon is vice president, consulting in the Consumer Life division of research firm GfK. 

Identifying consumer trends before they reach critical mass is a challenge – part art and part science. Today’s consumers are more confident, demanding and dynamic; their world moves at unprecedented speeds and their relationships with brands are constantly evolving. 

When we do find that new, emerging movement – one that illuminates untapped consumer needs and desires – we may have the beginnings of a great new product line or an award-winning ad campaign. But unearthing a trend is truly just half the battle; unless our story speaks to leaders throughout the organization, this great new discovery may never grow up to be anything but a theory – a great notion that ultimately leads nowhere.

To become truly impactful, trends need structure and context. One trend, discovered and presented in isolation, is not nearly as convincing as a “family” – a series of interconnected trends, possibly based on different sources, that holistically describe all the issues impacting consumers.

Take the automotive industry. Multiple trends are impacting this crucial sector – from automation and technology to environmental regulations, to shifting attitudes towards car ownership and even changes in urban planning. Having watched these trends taking shape and knowing how they might interact, the most successful automotive companies now see themselves in the business of mobility (moving people) not just “selling cars.” They recognized the signals that were whispering that change is coming and they are now adapting to how people want to travel, today and in the future.

Over the past decade, many successful companies have been able to recognize trends before they hit critical mass – like the rise of environmental concern and eco-citizenship, which brought us success stories such as Tesl...