We contended in a recent post titled Do You See a Trend? that companies best prepared for the future are those that most accurately forecast industry, technological, and sociological trends. How do you do that consistently and effectively? We’ve got 21 ideas. Go ahead, try some of these on for size. Happy trend-watching!
- Watch your values. In building your business, you have established the core values that guide your decisions, drive your efforts, and point to your corporate north star. As you see trends developing and even beckoning, apply the filters that your values provide. Don’t blindly chase the shiny object. All that glitters is not gold.
- Make trend spotting part of your daily routine. Get into the habit of researching every day at a time you choose. Make it a habit to spot trends. Remember that this isn’t for leisure; news, data and even changes you see can be useful in predicting future opportunities. Each time you research you are bettering not only your company but also yourself.
- Set aside time to read the news. Take at least 30 minutes every day to read the latest news in your industry and beyond that will impact you and your business. Although newspapers and news sites are sometimes overly simplistic, beat reporters can spot industry trends as well as anyone. Check out the news app at Circa, which is free in the App Store and on Google Play. The tech section is known for its industry news. Circa allows users to “follow” certain areas they find intriguing for regular updates. NewsBlurand Pulse aggregate news articles from online sources to help you target key news relevant to your industry.
- Set specific days for deeper investigation. Set a regular day or days, perhaps quarterly, to research your sector for new trends. Protect these times on your calendar.
- Persistently investigate competitors. Dissect your competitors’ offerings and compare them to yours. Do they have an advantage that you can meet or beat? If so, a change in plan might be needed. Observe your competitors Sometimes you`ll want to zig when others zag, but looking to see what your competitors are doing can sometimes help you figure out if they`re responding to what you see as an emerging trend. Though you may sometimes be unable to decipher the method to their madness, it can`t hurt to take a look.
- Set up and use free Internet resources. Let existing tools work for you.Use Google Alerts to notify you by email when a story featuring your industry is published. Set up an RSS feed with key industry terms.
- Watch the trend watchers. Keep a tab on trends at sites such as trendwatching.com, TrendHunter.com and Springwise.com.
- Study the gorilla. Unless you are creating a whole new industry category or product, chances are you have a leading giant in your industry (or you are the giant). Things to look for while watching your industry giant: their strategy, chinks in their armor, their overall direction, what businesses they are selling and buying.
- Pick a “smart metric.”A smart metric is a metric that indicates the future of your business. For example, a smart metric (or “future indicator”) for a lumber wholesaler would be the number of home building starts in their market area. Using that metric, they always know if a major portion of their market is growing or shrinking.
- Find an expert. Identify an expert in your industry you can get to know personally or can “follow.” When you either “build a relationship with an expert in your industry, it’s amazing what you can learn. And now, with blogs, you don’t even need a personal relationship with that person to be mentored by them (although the personal touch is always preferable).
- Follow mergers and acquisitions. An enormous amount can be learned about where your industry is headed based on where private equity firms are investing their money. You can also learn a lot by paying attention to what the major players in your industry are merging with or acquiring. Don’t especially at the intellectual property and the strategy behind the acquisitions. Find an investor that has invested heavily in a company in your industry and read what they are saying about it.
- Network at conferences and industry meetings. Conferences can blow through a lot of money and time. Butdon’t underestimate a conference’s ability to provide insight into industry trends. It’s at least worth a low-budget swing through the conference to get an overarching, high-level view of how service providers from a particular industry are trying to position themselves, and an occasional opportunity to talk personally with people in your industry. Discussing your industry face-to-face with colleagues can be particularly enlightening. Get out to conferences or local events, and sign up for training sessions. This is an easy way to keep up-to-date with what`s happening. Make sure to speak with colleagues as well as expert panelists. These two groups often have very different perspectives.
- Join online interest groups. It never hurts to be a part of industry interest groups. Service providers and customers are unusually transparent in LinkedIn Groups and other interest group forums. You can learn a lot by taking a few minutes to read through Q&A’s and the open dialogues that takes place in these forums. Even though discussion boards can be difficult to sort through unless they`re heavily moderated, you can sort through the rubble for real gems of insight.
- Subscribe to trade journals. Subscribe to journals that`s are devoted to covering specific issues in your industry. And then read them, in print or online! Make sure the information is getting in your brain rather than simply lining your shelves or taking up space in your inbox.
- Read some consumer magazines. Even if you`re reading a magazine that`s not specific to your industry, you’ll be looking at it through a very different lens than other readers. And if you see something that`s relevant to your line of work, you can get even more insight as to how your field is viewed from an outsider`s perspective.
- Scour Websites and blogs. Identify a short list of meaty sites that provide good value on your industry and work and scan themeach morning to see if there are any new studies or data that might interest you. Blogs and news sites will also often analyze key statistics and research that`s relevant for your industry, and break it down into bite-size chunks, in a form you can understand.
- Talk to your customers. Although scanning social networks and sending out surveys can be insightful, talking to people—especially your customers—one-on-one is invaluable. Discussing concerns with prospects can be equally enlightening.
- Track trends in your own business. Got something that used to sell well that people are barely looking at now? Noticing clients and prospects asking specific questions that they never used to ask? Puzzling over these changes can help you predict potential threats – and opportunities.
- Leverage data and reports. Useful tools and resources like the Census Bureau or LinkedIn can help you find certain types of information on the industry, including competitor activity. Keep these pages bookmarked and keep track of when reports are published weekly, monthly or annually.
- Find the demographics of your market. Research size and growth information for your overall market and for the various market segments your company serves. Cite experts, refer to census data, excerpt industry analyses, present findings compiled by media organizations that serve your customers, or show a recap of your sales history to prove market momentum.
- Use what you learn. Turn your research into an asset by applying what you learn to improve your business and create new products and services. This learning process will help you use your time effectively and take action with conviction.
[Hat tips to writers who have contributed heavily to this post through their own compilation of trend-watching tips. These include: The 7 Most Effective Ways to Track Trends in Your Industry, 10 Winning Ways to Keep up with Industry Trends, and 4 Tips to Stay on Top of Industry Trends.]