Many successful businesses were started by entrepreneurs with an ability to see a trend before everyone else. They were able to take their insight and capitalize on it in a new and creative way. They did this by employing extraordinary trend spotting best practices.
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.
Trend spotting results
Before telling you more about some of these trend-spotting best practices, let me tell you a story about Walt Disney and his trend-spotting results.
Walt Disney and his abilities in trend spotting and rifts. Rift … what is a rift you may ask? A rift is a big tear in the rules we live by. Not a small tear, a fundamental change in the game type of tear. One that creates a small number of BIG, new winners, and bunches of losers who were sticking steadfastly to the old rules.
Walt was a three-time rifter. Can’t think of any others in that category. He was one of the few people who has successfully managed to find a rift in the continuum of business life, to bet everything he had on it, and to then make a great profit in doing it. And, amazingly, he did it three times.
Let’s examine these rifts as a way to learn about spotting trends and acting on them.
Rift 1 … Motion Pictures
The first rift, or trend that Walt discovered was the motion picture. He noticed early on that movies would drastically change the world of entertainment. Anticipating that there would be a huge demand for family-oriented entertainment, he pioneered the development of the animated movie. His first film perfecting the form was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. And the fantastic growth of the rift was launched.
But he was not one to rest on his success … not at all. He kept looking for another change in the rules that would create further opportunity for his business enterprises.
Rift 2 … The automobile
The second rift was in the form of the automobile. Walt speculated that the car was going to change the way that families would get to entertainment. His vision was a strategically located, extravagantly designed theme park could add a new leg to family entertainment and vacations. And take advantage of the new way of family travel rift. So, beginning with California’s Disneyland in 1955, he added a new business around this rift and it has dominated the theme park industry to this day.
Rift 3 … Television
He was now a giant in the entertainment business, but he was able to spot a third rift and opportunity: television. Many people regarded television simply as in-home movies. Walt, however, saw it as an entirely different medium. So with properties like the Mickey Mouse Club, he established the third business to produce a never-ending stream of content for this new market.
Smart business people like Walt Disney, 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 best practices you can take develop this skill yourself.
Here are six best practices to spotting trends and capitalizing on them before your competition does.
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.
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!
Trend spotting best practices … test assumptions
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, and make potential predictions for the trends future using the following:
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?
Once you have a solid idea that’s on trend and that will survive within the current landscape, find out the following:
- What demographics are you targeting (get to know them and ask them questions)
- What is the investment required and how profitable is the idea?
- What’s the longevity of the concept?
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.
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 has disappeared.
How do I do it? I like to immerse myself in a topic by reading about it. I schedule an hour in the morning, and again before bed to this to reading. I schedule it. I also carefully observe things going on around me. It is amazing how much you can learn. Pay close attention and take notes.
Look beyond your boundaries
You have to look around and ask: ‘What are the general trends going on, even though they haven’t affected me or my business yet?’ For example, many noted that people weren’t yet ready to buy music by the download. Few also noted that the way they found new music was shifting. They could see how companies could become major players launching new music, such as Apple through its commercials, or Starbucks with its stores. What was the trend? It was where people weren’t necessarily interested in discovering music by walking into a record shop or watching MTV anymore.
I frequently remind clients that the only constant is change. 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.
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Mike Schoultz is a digital marketing and customer service expert. With 48 years of business experience, he consults on and writes about topics to help improve the performance of small business. Find him on G+, Facebook, Twitter, Digital Spark Marketing, and LinkedIn.