Our first Rise event of 2019 kicked off with a myth-busting, how-to presentation on working with leading edge audiences. Get the inside track below…

You can download our Leading Edge report here.


At the end of February, Crowd DNA’s managing director Matilda Andersson and senior consultant Roberta Graham talked about how leading edge consumers can take insight projects into fresh spaces and new ways of thinking. Setting out by asking whether the leading edge can help predict what’s next (spoiler: yes it can), Matilda began answering by tackling the common fears and misconceptions associated with this methodology.

She quickly established that these participants are not only the cool kids, hipsters and early tech adopters, but instead display a core set of attitudes (self belief, optimism, openness, collaboration, network-orientated, critical thinking) and behaviours (consultative, creativity, curiosity, go-getting, persistence). Matilda also emphasised that it’s these behaviours that set them apart from the mainstream – rather than cosmetic factors like their job or their sense of style.

So, how do you find leading edgers if you’re looking for these (sometimes hard-to-spot) behaviours? Matilda highlighted that the concept of leading edge is relative to the brief and the category, and that’s where you can get specific about what you want and need. Roberta then explained how less conventional recruitment methods can help clients get to the best people that fit those criteria. Street casting, Instagram ads and hashtag analysis can all offer effective routes to cultural gatekeepers, ready to give new and interesting perspectives. Leading edge methodology is all about the power of the (right) one, able to speak on behalf of many.

But, the most important thing to remember when working with leading edgers is collaboration. These consumers are people genuinely interested in shaping culture – talking to them as participants rather than respondents can lead to massively insightful concepts. Co-creating, giving them ownership and immersing yourself in their lives and their views lets you get inside their world. It might even answer questions you didn’t know you had. It’s also important to look for weak signals, from which you can build strong signs and forecasts by rooting those signals in wider culture – leading edgers often offer up more abstract ideas that can lead to bigger thinking. Roberta explained that adding a semiotic lens in this way means that you can question where leading edge behaviours sit within current cultural trajectories, defining which may have longevity and which behaviours are unlikely to make it to the mainstream.

Lastly, Matilda pointed out that even when leading edge behaviour doesn’t make it to the mainstream, it can still give us valuable clues – we just have to look beyond the obvious. Leading edge strategies can appeal to a mainstream mass market in an aspirational sense – people want to buy into brands that are relevant and ahead of the curve.

Matilda and Roberta left us with three key takeouts for using the leading edge effectively:

– Ask yourself whether the behaviour is rooted to current human tensions or needs to assess whether it will enter the mainstream

– Establish whether you want to focus on identifying fast culture (ie fads) or slow culture rooted in our values and societal codes (rituals). Then ladder these behaviours back to what’s happening in a wider context to spot bigger shifts on the horizon

– Decide whether you’re looking at global futures or local realities. Not all ideas flow in the same direction, some trickle out across geographical borders, but others don’t – and this will affect who you talk to, and how you translate your findings into strategies