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What Valentine’s Day chocolate can teach us about the importance of following trends…

Last Updated:

March 22, 2024

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Welcome to Edition #39 of Did You Know? (DYK), the weekly newsletter by Gorick Ng, Harvard career adviser and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of The Unspoken Rules, where we deconstruct the untold story of how someone (or something) became successful—and what you can do to follow in their footsteps.

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Did You Know? It pays to follow trends!

(1) A story from the past

Did you know? Heart-shaped chocolate boxes may not be a Valentine’s Day tradition today had this chocolatier not noticed the trend of Valentine’s Day gift-giving and invented the giftable chocolate box.

It’s 1861 and Richard Cadbury, the inheritor of the British chocolate company Cadbury, has a problem: competition.

It’s the height of the Industrial Revolution and, with the rise of trade routes and machinery that can make “commercially produced chocolates more accessible,” consumers have more options for chocolate than ever.

With a new chocolate formula on the way, Cadbury’s excitement quickly turns to anxiety: In such a competitive market, would anyone even care—let alone notice—that his company released a new product?

Then, inspiration hits.

Cadbury looks around and notices two emerging trends:

(1) Valentine’s Day has taken over the English-speaking world as a day of romantic love, and

(2) Victorian-era British society increasingly has an “affinity for ornamentation,” or a love of decorative objects that look good.

Cadbury wonders: What if he could tap into the two trends and release his new chocolate inside of an elegant, giftable, heart-shaped box? 

And just like that, the heart-shaped chocolate box is born.

Fast forward 158 years later, and Valentine’s Day is a $4 billion industry (annually) with 92% of Americans buying heart-shaped chocolates on Valentine’s Day.

So, the next time you find yourself wondering if your idea will catch on, remember Cadbury—who saw a trend and followed the trend with long-lasting results.

An original Cadbury Valentine’s Day-themed chocolate box (L) and a 21st-century Cadbury heart-shaped chocolate box (R). Images via Twitter and Hubspot.

(2) A strategy for your future

Did you know? It pays to follow trends!

Sure, Cadbury probably would have been fine career-wise even had his product launch failed. After all, he was heir to a chocolate empire.

Regardless of privilege, the lesson still remains: Selling chocolate (or selling anything) is more than just about selling the thing itself—it’s about understanding the “zeitgeist,” or what’s fitting with the times.

Trying to sell formal workwear? Good luck—with workplace attire getting more casual each year, you’re confronting a shrinking market. Trying to sell “athleisure” or “workleisure”? Your time is now.

Trying to sell an idea to your client or manager at work—and want them to listen? 

Ask yourself: “What is my client/manager (1) doing more, (2) liking more, (3) learning about more and/or (4) asking for more of these days?”

  • E.g., “My manager is asking more about whether Generative AI (“GenAI”) can help us do our work more efficiently as a law firm.”

Then, the time you talk to them, try framing your idea in any of the following ways:

(1) “Coming back to our discussion of _______, I learned _______. Have we considered _______?”

  • E.g., “Coming back to our discussion on GenAI’s impact on the legal profession, I learned that there is now software that can generate legal memos. Have we considered doing a pilot?”

(2) “______ has the potential of _______ by _______.”

  • E.g., “This new legal memo generation software has the potential to get the same work done in a fraction of the time by automating one of the most tedious parts of an Associate’s job.”

(3) “I know _______ is a priority. One option is to _______. Might this be worth trying?”

  • E.g., “I know increasing the attention to detail of our Associates is a priority. One option is to use inconsistency-checking software as a final check. Might this be worth trying?”

I know it because I’ve experienced it: When I was in the corporate world, I was lucky even to get five minutes with a senior leader. And when those rare moments came, I’d try to speak up, only for the other person to smile… and nod… and walk away. In retrospect, I should have focused not on what I wanted to say but what they wanted to hear.

Know what’s happening!


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