CHICAGO — The loudest voice in the room commands the most attention, but it may not speak for the masses. Likewise, social media fads may not reflect actual trends; there’s a mismatch between what consumers say they want and what they actually buy. In an environment rife with misinformation, startups must tune out the superficial noise to acquire real insights into their target market. Entrepreneurs will benefit from learning to recognize discrepancies in data, understanding the why behind industry patterns and finding the true trends embedded within.

While consumer opinions are everywhere online, it can be difficult to distinguish between rise-and-fall fads and long-term trends with staying power. Conflicting media messaging can skew both consumers’ and businesses’ perceptions, amplifying concerns that do not reflect genuine market demands. For example, celebrity- and influencer-driven trends and shock value content propel quick peaks in interest and sales of niche items. While this phenomenon creates the illusion people have replaced their morning coffee with mushroom elixirs or gained an insatiable thirst for palate-scorching flavors, actual sales data show otherwise.

Studies show a clear discrepancy between what consumers claim to want versus what they put in their shopping baskets. This distortion is due to aspirational thinking (how people wish to be); rampant sharing of novel ideas; and the fact trends accelerate twice as fast as they used to. Mike Kostyo, trendologist and associate at Datassential, said that in the past two decades “we went from trends taking … 12 years to go from inception to ubiquity — to 6 years.” Consumers are surrounded by rapid-fire news and images, leading to equally fast trials and product development — but not always staying power.

Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at the market research firm Mintel, said social media, restaurant menus and product launches seem to indicate Americans have turned vegan overnight.

“However, Mintel data shows that only 3% of consumers identify as vegan” — a constant figure over several years of market research, she noted.

To avoid faulty assumptions, startups must focus on controlled data collection and careful listening. Digging deeper, Mintel revealed the real trend behind the vegan talk: people are still eating meat — but they are now more likely to self-identify as “omnivores” and “flexitarians.” The interest in veganism indicates consumers’ openness to exploring plant-focused diets. However, startups in this space must still clarify whether people are only willing to try milk and meat alternatives or if they would buy them long term. Since meat eaters have no real incentive to switch to substitutes, replacement products must be superior in quality and taste to compete for long-term adoption.

Having recently pinpointed a need in the market makes entrepreneurs uniquely positioned to analyze and understand their consumers’ wants. By building communities around shared values, startups can get close to their clients, collect front-line data and even help consumers reach their aspirational goals.

Still, “it’s important to realize that survey answers are not 100% accurate,” cautioned Ms. Dornblaser. Carefully crafted surveys that avoid leading questions and instead ask similar questions worded differently may uncover discrepancies in customer reporting. Even the most accurate indicator of performance — sales data — must be viewed in a wider context to identify real trends. New and promotional products can skew results, added Ms. Dornblaser, so brand owners must consider data from before and after events.

For entrepreneurs, the challenge is to bridge the gap between algorithm-driven messaging and what people will actually buy.

Sifting through the quick flashes of content and widening the lens to focus on the big picture will help startups save time, improve their marketing approach and uncover long-term trends that sell.

Natalie Shmulik is the chief strategy and incubation officer at ICNC and The Hatchery Chicago.