Too many business executives believe, wrongly, that differentiation requires blazing new paths or innovating something from nothing. Instead, paying attention to trends can help you differentiate and identify needs and opportunities like nothing else can. Being a “trend getter” is a best-kept secret among high-growth companies, with executives envisioning new ways to approach and leverage what already exists.
Here are some ways to make "trend getting" an ongoing initiative in your company.
1. Look beyond your own industry
Some of the most innovative ideas for business models, service offerings or products were literally stolen and adapted from one industry to another. This is why subscribing to some form of communication that can feed you what is happening from a trend standpoint across all industries is a smart investment. A number of business publications in print and online regularly share trends to watch and stories on trend-getting companies.
2. Mine trends based on geography
If you have looked at trends within your industry and nothing more, then you may also be falling behind depending on where you are geographically located. There is a geographic flow in how trends travel that, once understood, can be a goldmine of strategic insight. In most industries, innovations within the U.S. tend to first occur on the West Coast. They then travel to the Northeast, meander into the Midwest and then settle into the Southeast. We only need to look at “going green” to see this is true. Californians were living green in the 1970s. It wasn’t until the start of the 21st century that this trend hit the Southeast and the rest of the country in a big way. If you are in the Northeast, look to what companies like yours are doing in the West. If you are in the Southeast, look at what companies like yours are doing in the West or Northeast. If you are a global competitor or already located in the West, look at what businesses are doing in Europe in terms of product manufacturing or services, and to Asia for what’s going on in the technology or the alternative medicine front.
3. Relate with customers through consumer and lifestyle trends
Whether your company has a B2C or a B2B focus, the people you hope will purchase your products or services (even if they are a decision maker within a company) are not only consumers, but individuals. Understanding consumer and lifestyle trends can help you better communicate and relate to the individuals within your ideal target market. Take a look at the common denominators of your decision-making market and see whether there are any trends occurring within that demographic segment. A good example is the baby boomer generation, who are juggling parenting adult and younger children, being grandparents, and caring for their parents. A new multi-generational and inner-generational dynamic is affecting their lifestyle, including how they approach work. Businesses, products and services are being created at a monumental rate as this trend continues to play out.
4. Use surveys to benchmark and track trends
Using your own customer or client base as a study group can be a useful way to identify trends you can use to make better strategic decisions. Not only is this of value to your company, but it also provides value-added proprietary insight to your customers that competitors can’t provide. Conducting a survey among your customers to identify any trends or best practices can be an eye-opener. If your target market is other businesses, conducting a survey with a customer’s customer base can offer valuable insights for both you and your customer.
5. Track trends as a strategic initiative
Make trend getting a part of your business operations. Assign someone to gather information on trends and monitor them on an ongoing basis. Include trends in your strategic planning discussions. Don’t let a shortage of time or people put this important secret on the back burner. Trend watching and analysis is a great task for college interns.
The greatest reason for being a trend getter is that many of your competitors are not. There is no time like the present to make trend getting a powerful tactic to grow your business.
Cornerstone United, Inc. – Banking on Trends
At the crux of the "great recession" in 2008, a 30-year family-owned international warranty company was experiencing growing pains. Having been fiscally strategic, Cornerstone United, Inc. had cash reserves to invest in expansion, people, marketing and infrastructure to make the necessary shifts to get its continued growth under control. The problem was, it was clear that everyone in the company, from the CEO down to the front line, was spread too thin. Leadership knew they needed to get a handle on this quickly.
Leveraging and understanding trends played a pivotal role in key decisions embraced by Cornerstone United during this reassessment period. With the help of a strategic consultant, leadership first analyzed the multiple markets being served. Markets that were once the company's bread and butter had become stagnant or money losers due to big-box competition in the extended-warranties product line. Additionally, the consumer trend of Baby Boomers being strong purchasers of power sport and recreational vehicles highlighted the opportunity of merging with a sister operation in Canada possessing a strong track record in providing extended warranties with much higher profit margins.
As the target markets were re-prioritized, the geographic flow of where customers of Cornerstone United’s dealer clients were most concentrated was a focus for locating sales regions and offices more efficiently and effectively in the U.S. This was done to mirror the success of best practices in Canada. Starting with 10 key U.S. areas of focus, the company has grown to having service centers in all 50 states in the U.S. and throughout provinces in Canada, serving more than 30,000 retail dealers, contractors and service agencies.
Led by president and CEO Richard Swartzel, Cornerstone United is now headquartered in a 32,000-square-foot landmark manufacturing building. Swartzel was committed to restoring the 1897 Piedmont Wagon & Mfg. Co. building to its former glory as Cornerstone United's new corporate headquarters with the acquisition of the property in 2014. Honoring a historically relevant property not only made good business sense, given with the trend of economic development incentives and tax credits targeting rehabilitation projects — it also reaffirmed the company’s sense of community as a dedicated corporate citizen.
Sherré DeMao is author of the nationally acclaimed books, 50 Marketing Secrets of Growth Companies in Down Economic Times, www.50marketingsecrets.com, and Me, Myself & Inc., www.memyselfandinc.com, Her column seeks to help business owners build and grow sustainable enterprises and businesses with economic value and preference in the marketplace.