Many successful businesses were started by entrepreneurs with an ability to employ the best practices of trend spotting to see a trend before everyone else. They were able to take their insight and capitalize on it in a new and creative way.
Businesses from Uber and Lyft to Airbnb and HomeAway are just some of the most recent examples of entrepreneurs benefiting from emerging trends. But just because it’s been done before doesn’t mean it is easy to see trends first and find ways to capitalize on them.
Smart entrepreneurs are always looking for an edge. They want to know how they can identify trends and how they can use that skill to build and grow a business. Fortunately, there are steps you can take develop this skill yourself.
How do some people seem to know about the next big thing way ahead of everyone else? Because they know how to recognize early signs of change.
How do we define a trend?
A trend is a general tendency or direction in which something’s going to move, develop or change. It’s defined by a shift in mentality or behavior that then influences a significant number of people.
They are not to be confused with ‘fashions’ or ‘fads’ which increase dramatically followed by an almost immediate decline. Trends last much longer and have a much greater impact on society than either fashions or fads.
It’s important to be on the lookout for the newest trends so you can plan more effectively for the future and introduce more successful initiatives to your business. By focusing on what will happen next, you can make more informed decisions in less time, saving a lot of energy and money in the long run.
Firstly, you shouldn’t dive into spotting trends before you know why you’re spotting them and what you want to achieve.
For example, are you looking to find an idea that will make you money, or that will encourage your existing target audience to spend more with you? Who are you targeting? Establish your goals and chosen industry before you move forward.
Connect the dots
Once you’ve collated information and the latest news from your chosen area, you can start to group articles together, assess and find connections between the elements.
Some great tools for collating and bookmarking your findings:
- Evernote – A great tool that lets you assign photos, docs, scans, notes, for future reference.
- Pinterest – A great content sharing service that allows members to “pin” images, videos and other objects to their pinboard for future reference.
- Delicious – An online social bookmarks manager that lets you save, organize and discover interesting links on the web.
- Freemind – great free tool for creating mind maps
- Old fashioned pen & paper, sticky notes & white boards!
Once you have connected the dots between your findings and found re-occurring themes and connections, you can then assess the potential trends to see how they are doing in the current landscape. This can lead to making potential predictions for the trends future. The following are useful in this regard:
Google Keywords: By using Google keywords you can see the average number of searches that your potential trend is typed into Google each month, and compare them to other trends and keywords.
Google Trends: Google Trends is really good for seeing the fluctuation of trends, how well they’ve done in the past, how well they’re doing now and make predictions of how well they’ll do in the future.
Then ask yourself the following:
- What are the needs that the trend satisfies (is it a trend or fad)?
- How many people won’t be able to or be interested in taking advantage of the trend?
- What will affect the speed of the trend?
- Where is the trend now – who’s currently using it on the innovation curve?
Listen and observe
Today, there’s too much broadcasting and not enough receiving. Everyone is focused on pumping out information, but turning off our signal and receiving and digesting, that’s a skill that is rapidly disappearing.
I like to immerse himself in a topic by reading about it. I dedicate an hour in the morning, and again later in the day, to reading. I schedule it.
Look beyond your boundaries
You should look around and ask: ‘What are the general trends going on, even though they haven’t affected my business yet?’ Be sure and look well beyond your boundaries.
I frequently remind clients that the only constant changes. Believe it. Assume that change is coming and look for it. Change can be either social — as in the rise of socially responsible business — or technological, as exemplified by the growth of mobile commerce. Sometimes change can be both. Social media is a great example of that.
Don’t forget the cyclical, up-and-down, back-and-forth nature of business while you are looking. Change doesn’t have to be permanent to provide a viable opportunity for business creation and growth. When the real estate crisis hit in 2008, construction activity shrank, and many people were forced to make do with what they had.
But trend-spotting entrepreneurs were able to adjust their plans depending on the market. For example, savvy interior designers marketed their services to those who wanted something new but couldn’t find or afford a new home.
The basic tools of the trend tracker are seeing, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. In other words, every sense that can be used to get information about the world should be employed in looking for upcoming changes.
Start by reading and watching everything you can. That should include general interest news outlets, trade publications, blogs, government reports and casual conversations overheard in elevators. Be especially alert for problems people are talking about.
Consider using trend-tracking tools like Google Trends, Topsy, and Trendhunter to help you zero-in on trends that are worth investigating further. You won’t be the only entrepreneur looking for business ideas on these platforms, but you can use them to dig deeper to validate hunches.
Distinguish between short-lived and long-term
Strive to identify big changes that create lasting problems that lots of customers will be happy to pay to solve. The idea is to wind up with a business model in which revenues are much larger than costs for a long period, not one that limps by on slender profit margins before competitors take even that away.
To filter out ads, talk to the potential buyers of the solution to the problem. The more frustrated they are, the more likely they are to pay for a solution.
In extreme cases, potential customers may be willing to fund the development of solutions. Also, talk to experts. While they may not be able to write checks, they can provide insights and point to possible solutions that customers could not even imagine.
Best practices of trend spotting … be realistic
An online retailer that aims to beat Amazon at its own game is unlikely to show up on top of any fast-growing startup lists very soon. Make sure the solution you envision is one you can realistically provide with features and costs that will compare favorably to established alternatives.
Again, it’s vital to talk to potential customers. Don’t just brainstorm in-house. What you can do conveniently and inexpensively may be of little value to customers. The sweet spot for a trend-exploiting startup is at the intersection of business capability and customer need.
Create a competitive advantage
To get the biggest benefit, be the first mover. It is rare for any single entrepreneur to be the only one who sees an opportunity. Most will hesitate and not move at all.
Many others will not move swiftly enough. Lasting competitive advantage usually goes to the first entrant to stake a market out and capture customer loyalty. Those who come later usually have to settle for slimmer profits and more competition.
Being first is not enough, of course. Business history is littered with well-financed startups directed by well-regarded leaders who committed too much, too early and in the wrong place. So test before committing. Again, look for revenues that overwhelm costs and customers who are overjoyed.
For every trend that supports a future startup star, any number go ignored, leaving potential customers searching for solutions and opportunities for established companies to fill their needs. But it only takes timely identification of one trend to get a startup in flight, and these techniques can point you to the one you need.
There is no silver bullet when it comes to spotting trends. Trends reveal themselves over time from a variety of places. Spotting a growing pattern means you must have your eye on multiple sources long enough to notice changes. This takes some intentionality, but it doesn’t have to tie up all of your time.
As a blogger in the world of transformational travel, I follow like-minded bloggers online and develop personal relationships with other travelers who share my values.
Why? Because these folks filter all the overwhelming noise and deliver me information that I care about.
Often, I’ll start to hear more and more about a particular destination from various bloggers and travelers who aren’t connected to each other. This is the first inkling of a trend.
A handful of bloggers will visit the same spot and write about it. Then I’ll hear a former student of mine raving about their recent trip to the same place. Next, two different friends on Facebook are sharing pictures from this place.
These are destinations that, not too long ago, had almost no tourism to speak of. No one particularly wanted to go there. But pretty soon, the destination became almost mainstream.
Costa Rica became a very hot destination several years ago. Then Croatia was getting a lot of attention. In a recent trip to Ecuador, every long-term traveler we met had either just come from Colombia or was planning to go there. And every one of them loved it.
When I’m tuned into the people I care most about, and all of them are talking about the same thing, I know it’s worth paying attention to. The result of uncovering this growing trend for Colombia is that now it’s at the top of my list. I can be sure to travel there while it’s still relatively “untouched”—before it becomes overly touristy and travel prices get inflated.
Take care of choosing sources
Just as it took multiple sources—bloggers, Facebook, word of mouth—to realize that the time is ripe to visit Colombia, spotting a trend in other industries is much the same.
As you put together a list of blogs, news sites, social media channels, and other sources, here are some tips to help you hone in and filter extraneous content:
Follow trustworthy thought leaders
When selecting your sources for news and information, find reputable resources you can trust. These are people who are experts in their field, brands whose information you find to be reliable and valuable.
I follow some marketers who have been in the business for years. Most of them I’ve found through other people I follow or trust. When their blogs are too gimmicky or inauthentic, I stop reading. Be selective and filter out the noise.
Look outside your industry
In addition to watching what’s going on in your niche, it often pays to expand your horizons. Our world is so interconnected; true trends pop up everywhere. Keeping an eye on developments in other fields can sometimes be key in predicting changes closer to home.
The bottom line
To be effective in this new era of trend spotting, we as marketers need to see our jobs differently. No more just focusing on metrics like clicks, video views or social media shares. We must successfully integrate our function with other business functions to create entire trend experiences that serve the customer all the way through their experiences throughout the business.
We can do better. Much better. But first, we need to stop seeing ourselves as crafters of clever brand messages and become creators of positive trend spotting.