Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
With trends always coming and going, it can seem like businesses are always just trying to catch up with the next big thing. But to be a true innovator, you’ll need to get ahead of the trends and maybe even set a few for yourself.
In order for your business to be the first to capitalize on upcoming trends in your industry — and earn the respect and consumer attention that follows — consider these strategies recommended by the members of Rolling Stone Culture Council. Implementing even one could give you a major head start with the competition.
Build Relationships With Customers
Keeping in touch with trends tends to come from my relationship with customers. Making the time to speak with customers, whether a first-time customer or a repeat client, always yields invaluable foresight into emerging interests and behavioral shifts. Even as COO, I try to plug into a conversation with a customer at least once a day. They’re the best research source we have in business. – Michael Thomas, Kindercore Vinyl
Observe the World Around You
As humans become hyper-digitally connected, I think we forget to look up and observe the constant evolution of the world around us. When I travel, I budget time to walk or ride public transportation, taking pictures of things that catch my interest. Thumbing through that collection of images from multiple venues often helps me uncover trends or areas for future exploration. – Lisa McClung, Coda Signature
Follow the Data Trail
Established trends leave a trail of data to see and react to; this will help you react to new trends. If you want to stay ahead of the trends, then you’ll have to trust your instincts and be willing to take some chances. Stay close to the data, listen to your customers, watch developments in other industries and take some time to consider it all. But in the end, you’ll have to trust your gut. – Brian Framson, Citrus America Inc
Brainstorm With Your Team
We have intense and captivating internal meetings and are always discussing changes and innovations in our industry. We will rarely post or share what our ideas are until they’re through research and development and are launched. We also like to research end results before we put them into motion. How will these ideas affect sales, the brand, our mission and direction? Being ready and open to change is key. – Chris Martin, Hempful Farms
Research Trends in Similar Industries
One way that I stay ahead of trends in our industry is by researching and understanding the trends in industries that have common threads with ours. By researching consumers and data that have crossover potential or that parallel what we are working toward, I can continue to come up with new ideas and stay ahead of our competition. It also helps me stay open-minded and resourceful. – Julie McQueen, CarbonTV
Become a Reader
Read voraciously. Subscribe to the most credible and digestible media outlets and thought leaders. But don’t chase every shiny object. Ask yourself, “Is this really relevant to my business?” and “How will it help my customers or my own bottom line?” Just because something is “on trend” doesn’t mean you need it! – Nancy A Shenker, theONswitch
Look for Gaps and Fill Them
Placing too much focus on a current trend is counterintuitive to becoming a trendsetter and innovator. Look for gaps in the market your organization operates within and seek to provide a solution to them, inherently creating the trend. Always be curious by exploring new approaches and technologies, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Learning from those mistakes can often reveal a new trend. – Amanda Dorenberg, COMMB
Stay Plugged in to Social Media
I hate to say it, but keep your eye on trending topics on social media — or at least hire or consult with someone who does. Youth-powered social platforms like Instagram and TikTok are, for a lot of industries, a bellwether that determines where the wind will blow in the future. Savvy entrepreneurs should monitor influencers within their industry to note what early discussions are taking place. – Tyler Gallagher, Team 33
Be an ‘Insider’
Get intimately familiar with your customers. Get in proximity and be a part of the culture you seek to affect. It’s much easier to notice and even lead the creation of trends if you are an “insider.” Leave your office and experience the points of emotional tension that exist among your customers. This often leads to the discovery of new ideas, trends and ways of living. Culture doesn’t stand still. – Salim Holder, 4thAveMarket.com
Look at Social Behavior
Trying to predict a trend without spending a lot of money to create it is like predicting a black swan event. Instead, try to focus on the system to provide signs of where the trend may show up, which allows you to be prepared to meet the opportunity. Human social behavior can be a good place to start because trends need people to agree on something before more people can join in. – Chris Murray, FoxNRTH Inc.
Understand the Pulse of Your Industry
The main thing is to be truly included in the industry in which you do business. You must know and understand how the trend changes happened and how they continue to happen. If the resources of your business do not allow you to set trends for now, then keep your finger on the pulse and jump on the train of hype that is relevant to your business and your customers. – Igor Dunaevsky, AskGrowers
Lean in to Your Instincts
Trust your instincts. Just because no one else is talking about or thinking about your idea does not mean it is not good or viable; it means it is ahead of the curve. Lean in to that and be the first to break through, not the one behind the person cutting the path. – Amanda Reiman, Personal Plants