Blueprints for Building Your Own Crystal Ball

businessman Hand holding a crystal BallA couple of weeks ago, I was at a trade show and after walking up and down the aisles, it occurred to me just how much of the same-old, same-old I was seeing. Nothing really new (unless you consider irrelevant modifications like changing the color from blue to orange and different shaped bottles as new).  There was nothing that I can say showed me that companies were spending any amount of time and energy in looking at the marketplace with an eye toward identifying the opportunities that trends in customer purchasing or behavior would present.

With that as that backdrop, on my flight home I started thinking about the ways that the marketing department within an organization can start the process of getting out in front of their competitors in order to seize on untapped business opportunities and identify trends before their competitors do.  It’s really not as difficult as a lot of people think, but it does require that one to think more about the future by asking questions around the idea of “so what does that mean?” As an example of this, watch the video clip that stars Kevin Spacey for E*Trade.

In short, imagine if you could get a 12-18 month head-start on everyone else in your industry. Wouldn’t even 6 months be nice? Wouldn’t that make a huge difference in how your business runs? Maybe you could get the jump on your competitors every single time you make a move. Heck, this would even apply not only to products and services but also to channels, processes and even personnel hires.

Before we get into the ways that one might start spotting new trends, it’s important to understand a few things. So here goes:

  1. Don’t try to predict the future. Instead understand the longer-term trends and today’s new approaches and develop products and services that will succeed moving forward.
  2. Fads come and go. Trends emerge and evolve.
  3. Be careful about the market research you use as lots of it is backward-looking. Trends are about the future.
  4. What’s important is identifying the opportunities that trends produce.
  5. Don’t just look at trends within your industry. Look outside for possible implications to what your company produces.

OK, with that as the backdrop to trend watching, let’s walk through the process of how and where to find possible trends:

  1. Social Media – It’s a great place to track discussions on your products and those of your competitors. It also provides insight that you get from customer feedback and engage customers and prospects in a conversation. Use Facebook and Twitter to identify key influencers and trendsetters among your customers or markets. Reach out to these individuals to see if they’ll be part of a “customer advisory board” or if they’ll be open to providing you thoughts or ideas on new products or things they’d like to see in the market.
  2. Sales Department – Spend time having conversations with the sales team to see what they’re hearing and seeing. They’re out in the marketplace meeting with all sorts of people and could provide some insight into new developments regarding what customers or prospects are doing.
  3. Online Resources – There are a variety of online websites that deal with spotting trends from TED (series) to Google Trends to Trend Hunter and others.
  4. Look Outward – One way to get ahead of the competition is to see what companies outside your industry are doing; understand how that idea or model might apply in your industry and then be the first to apply it to your marketplace. Look internationally as well. How many times have you read about an interesting product that was launched in another country…lots of times, right? In short, be curious and ask yourself why certain companies are now doing what they’re doing. Maybe they’re seeing something that you can use for your own business. And let’s not forget about just keeping your ears and eyes open as you go about your daily business. Don’t wear blinders as you live your life.
  5. Be Open to Collaborations – Look at organizations that might have a similar customer base to identify how what you do might work with way they do in order to identify opportunities for both. Check out their websites and what they might be saying about the future as they see it.

Now that you’ve identified some trends, where do you go from there? First, think about the consequences if a trend continues to spread. How will the trend change what people buy? What will happen if the trend grows in strength? Here’s where you have to ask yourself a lot of questions about “what does that mean?” In short, imagine the future (and your future) if the trend plays out. After you have in your head what the trend might look like, identify what need is currently being unmet that, if created, will help customers take advantage of the future scenario. And then lastly, define what the product or service opportunity is— that being the space between what is currently available and what people who would be effected by the future trends will want.

Here’s the choice you have:  As a company, you can sit around and talk about strategies year after year. You can even hire consultancy firms to tell you what’s hot…last year. You can scratch your heads at all that new stuff that you’re seeing but end up sticking to known quantity. Or, you could wrap your mind around the potential that a new product or service has to offer.  You create your own crystal ball!

Maybe the people who are good in spotting trends and anticipating what people want are able to imagine what others can’t. These trend spotters collect relevant data from what they read and hear and can read between the lines.  Hopefully you’re one of those people.

Just remember, the sooner you spot an opportunity, the more time you have to leverage the tar out of it.  And the faster you can move on an opportunity, the more likely it is that you will score a win.   Keep your eyes open.

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Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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