Many entrepreneurs have been successful because they spotted important market trends ahead of time – and adapted before their competitors.
Adam Neumann of WeWork spotted an explosion of new startups wanting low-cost, high-quality; Tom Chapman of Matches recognised that customers increasingly wanted to buy luxury fashion online; and Howard Schultz recognised that people wanted better quality coffee – as well as a place to sit down and relax. How can you do it?
1. Commission new market research
The best way to stay ahead of your competitors is to get your hands on your own proprietary market research. There is a reason that the market research industry is worth over $46 billion annually; because it works.
It gives you a quick and effective way to find out what your existing and potential customers are thinking, detect changes in habits ahead of time, and also identify challenges that your customers are currently struggling with.
Remember that most trends start in response to customer needs and wants. They do not come from nowhere, springing up randomly. If you understand how your customers are thinking, you will have more raw information to take an intelligent, considered and informed guess about where your industry is going, and how you can take advantage of it.
2. Track influencers and follow publications
But while many trends spring up as a result of new customer needs and wants, others pop up because they have been popularised by influencers or the media.
Think of new haircuts: when a new haircut suddenly becomes popular it isn’t because it solves a new challenge for the customer, it is probably because a footballer, pop star, or YouTuber has been seen wearing it – and, more likely or not, posted about it on Twitter, Instagram or somewhere else on social media.
To show you the power of influencers, just consider this statistic: according to Twitter, 49% of consumers depend on influencer recommendations before making a purchasing decision. That is a huge number.
If you want to stay ahead of the trends in your industry, you need to identify, and then follow, the influencers in your sector. This will certainly mean subscribing to industry publication and checking our popular websites in your niche regularly, but it will also mean finding those people that the rest of your industry track religiously, and starting to follow them too.
3. Use Google Trends
In the age of the Internet, we are very lucky to have tools at our fingertips that wouldn’t have been imaginable in the past. Google Trends is one of them – it provides entrepreneurs, executives and other interested people with real-time statistics on what people around the world, or in specific countries, are searching about online. It also enables you to analyse search terms to see how popular they have been over time.
This is a powerful tool for discovering trends in your industry. If you find the right topic – one that is on an upward trend and just about to explode upwards – it could lead to lots of exciting and profitable opportunities for your business.
For example, if you had searched ‘fidget spinner’ in February 2017, it would have revealed a very small increase in searches. By May the same year, the number of searches was in the hundreds of millions. If you had spotted this ahead of time and launched a fidget spinner e-commerce business, you would have (probably) made millions.
In the future, if you are out and about, and think you have spotted something that others haven’t, noted it down and remember to stick it into Google Trends when you get home. You could be on to the next big thing.
4. Listen to your customers
But, finally, perhaps the best way to pick up trends ahead of time is to listen to your customers – and encourage feedback.
This is not the same as running market research or polls; instead, it is about having long-form, considered and open discussions with your customers on a regular basis: hearing what they have to say about your product, the market place, and your competitors too; understanding what they are thinking about right now; and piecing together how they are making decisions, and how that is changing.
One of my favourite quotes is from Sam Walton, founder of Walmart. “If you don’t listen to your customers, someone else will,” and that has never been truer. Walton was constantly listening to his customers, engaging with their thinking. In the early days of Walmart, he recognised that as shoppers’ spending increased, they wanted more options on their shelves. They wanted more choice. He gave them it and, of course, the rest is history.
We are now living in a world that is constantly changing, driven by technological innovation and demands for better service. You need to stay in tune with your customers. Making sure that you spot trends ahead of your competitors is the best way to do it.