With ever-expanding technology and the global events of recent times, every industry is experiencing an evolution. People need and want different solutions than from just a few years ago. To maintain relevance for today’s savvy customers and create dynamic growth strategies, it is necessary for leaders to identify the right industry trends to follow.
What are trends, and why are they important?
A “trend” is what’s altering your industry right now and has potential long-term effects on a market. A trend is not a fad because it has had some time to prove it’s sticking for a while, and there are patterns you can see if you’re watching.
The challenge for leaders is identifying and jumping on the right trend waves at the right time ahead of the competition. Riding the wrong trend waves or trying to get a piece of the action too late can be costly and take a brand’s resources and people on a crash-and-burn course that is difficult to reset. Just because a trend looks attractive and other businesses follow it doesn’t always mean yours should, too. On the flip side of the same coin, however, is that if your company doesn’t follow the right trends, your competition can overtake you in consumer relevance.
Let me offer an example.
Take a look at my industry, education. I have two education companies. One offers online enrichment for students nationwide, and the other is comprised of franchise centers that provide tutoring services to their local communities. My team and I are watching two significant trends as substantial shifts are happening in our public education system.
First, many teachers who might feel overworked and taxed with providing quality education through shutdowns and challenging reopenings are leaving their positions in greater numbers than pre-pandemic times or are considering resignation. In January of this year, the National Education Association reported in a survey that 55% of the organization’s members are thinking about leaving the field sooner than they’d planned. These educators are still of working age and will likely be looking to shift into another teaching model or explore new careers. So, as I seek to grow my franchise owners and teacher teams, that’s a trend indicator I can’t ignore.
A second significant education trend is the growth of technological capacities. While technology has been an integral part of education for the past two decades and is widely used in post-secondary education, pandemic events greatly widened the use of technological capacities for all students. As a result of disruptions to traditional education delivery models, many parents are seeking supplemental education and are open to interactive technology platforms to help their children close education gaps, accelerate their learning and reignite their excitement for learning. Keeping the pulse on ed-tech trends and what parents need to feel confident for their children’s advancement continuously drives the programs we develop and offer.
How can you identify a trend that is wise to explore and follow?
Here are some questions I ask myself to identify which trends are critical to follow in my industry, and other leaders can do the same. With some research to answer these questions, you’ll gather the information you need to stay on top of trends and help you see what else is around the bend.
1. What data supports a trend worth following? Research takes time, but resetting the course after following a trend without enough research takes even more time (and money, I might add). Task your marketing team to gather industry articles, reports and competitor insights, and use your direct-to-consumer channels such as social media and emails to create polls or other consumer engagement. The information will reveal if the trend will likely solve a significant customer pain point.
2. What are you able to invest in time, money and team resources? You might choose to follow a trend with great potential, but without personnel, technology and resources, you will struggle against unsustainability. When you’ve decided an industry trend is one you need to be following, create a solid plan that allows your company to see its efforts through to projected profitability.
3. Does the trend align with your brand, core values and services? Your answer to this question might not be cut and dry, and you might need to deeply engage your leadership team to know if the trend wave you want to ride fits within the overall scope of your business. Will your customers understand your evolution? Will the trend shift your perceived mission altogether, or does it sync with your brand? By spending some time evaluating these key points, you’ll gain alignment with a trend or clearly see it’s not for your company.
4. Have you met with someone else in your industry to talk about interesting trend indicators? I’ve always been grateful for business mentors, peers and other educators to have open “shop” discussions on the business of education. Talking with others in your field can enlighten you to important perspectives to make the path ahead more straightforward.
5. Will following the trend make your customers’ lives better? I’ve always believed that if you do the right thing at the right time to serve people, profits will follow. So, perhaps you can define a good trend as one that simply improves the quality of your customers’ lives.
Examine what’s novel, shiny and new through the lens of these five questions. Stay relevant to your audiences by aligning the right trends to your brand’s direction. The decision to follow a trend should both inspire your stakeholders and have lasting impacts.