A “meta-trend” is something that doesn't get a lot of attention from either the general public or the media, with the simple reason being that it isn't fleeting or momentary. People are fascinated by what's happening now, in part because of the fear that it won't be around tomorrow—fear and anxiety are the great motivational factors, leading us to embrace something temporary out of the feeling that it must be enjoyed while it can be. This is why trends in our culture and our society today are here one day, and gone the next; in contrast, however, the meta-trend is a deeper, longer-lasting cycle. It flows smoothly from one phase into the next, following trends in technological capability and understanding. It doesn't simply go away, or disappear, and it isn't subject to notions such as whimsy or fad so much as it rides on the wave of broader, more long -lasting changes. It is invisible to the common perception, in the sense that most of us can't grasp the concept of the truly momentous: we can't picture a billion of anything, for example, or take in the whole of the night sky at one time, or truly contemplate the size of the planet that we live on.
For the sake of a simple comparison, a trend might be the planting of a new food crop in land that was considered to be used up, to take advantage of different nutrients and to restore the soil for the original crop. By contrast, a meta-trend would be the advent of that initial switch from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to one of settled agriculture: the planting of crops, and the raising of livestock. The trend happens within the meta-trend, but only during a time of sudden change—the first generation to take up farming, and permanent habitation—is the meta-trend overtly obvious to most people. We live at such a time now, no less momentous, important, or sweeping in the changes that it is bringing to our society. The meta-trend we are currently transitioning into right now is the growing advent of the digital economy, and the exponential growth in digital and virtual technologies as opposed to the purely mechanical nature of the previous industrial revolutions. Said revolutions were new waves in their times, but they were also a sign of an era drawing to a close: the beginning of the end of the previous visceral, brick-and-mortar meta-trend. Now we're advancing into the future, and it's something that's tangible to almost everybody.
Meta-trends both reflect and advance sweeping changes in the way we do business, particularly in the fields of marketing, IT, and the digital technological revolution. Information-based fields such as marketing are rapidly becoming completely and utterly intertwined with the rising digital technologies, which have provided the biggest technological boost to the way in which marketing is carried out since the invention of the movable type printing press. Digital technology represents a much farther-reaching step, however: a leap, as opposed to the previous crawling pace. Like Armstrong landing on the moon, we now find ourselves able to reach out and interact with hundreds of millions of people, no matter what their station in life—or where they might live. We can interact with people via their home computers, their electronic notebooks, their cellphones... now, even their wristwatches, with additional facets of the digital revolution only months around the corner: already, your car is likely wired for the conveyance of information technology, and soon it will be in every household appliance. Futurists have predicted refrigerators that place grocery orders when a specific item is running low, and microwaves that automatically stop when the required temperature for the recipe you are following is achieved.
These things were not possible fifteen or twenty years ago—not because the technology wasn't there: it was there. Functional early prototypes of the internet, email, and instant messaging have been around since at least the 1970s. There were even cyber-criminals and “black hat” hackers committing acts of theft and sabotage via networks established for electronic communication. These things weren't possible because we had yet to latch on to the mindset of what could be done—of just how far we could go with these new digital technologies. They were curiosities various important, but at the same time very narrowly defined worlds: the US Department of Defense, or the University of California at Berkeley, or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or a variety of major corporate interests. Now, of course, you would be hard-pressed to find either a private citizen or a small town business who doesn't utilize digital technology as a part of their daily lives—and in the case of business organizations, sales and marketing are now almost exclusively a matter of digital technology, advancing in their ability to reach new and interested audiences even as the pace of digital advancement itself accelerates.
There is an excellent article by Scott Brinker on the subject of marketing meta-trends. It covers the correlation between marketing in the modern day and the necessity of information technology as its henceforth eternal partner. If you found this brief summary of the concept of the “meta-trend” and how it ties into the dynamics of modern-day marketing interesting, you can read a great deal more information on Mr. Brinker's blog, Chief Marketing Technologies