Have you heard anyone declare that 2014 will be "the year of the tablets"? Or "the year of wearable devices"? How about "the year of big data"?
While the business world is full of ordinary trend predictions like these, the problem is, most of them are so obvious, they hardly offer any value to entrepreneurs at all.
For the past five years, I've compiled an annual trend report that attempts to offer something a bit different. I spend nearly 12 months gathering information, interviewing people with their finger on the pulse of a variety of topics, and speaking at events around the world about the future of business. This week, I launched my 2014 report, which looks at the trends in five categories: culture and consumer behavior, marketing and social media, economics and entrepreneurship, technology and design, and media and education.
Here's a brief look at five of the most relevant trends for small businesses that will matter this year, as well as suggestions for how to use each of them.
1. Desperate Detox
As mobile devices and the “Internet of things” keeps us connected at every moment, consumers are desperately seeking new ways to more authentically connect with others and enjoy moments of reflection by intentionally disconnecting from the technology surrounding them.
How to use it: Create more mute buttons. What happens when you email customers too frequently? They unsubscribe. What if instead of opting out and leaving for good, you gave them a way to turn on a mute button for a period of time—or at least turn down the volume a bit? The best email marketers know there's a forgotten third option besides letting people opt in or out: You can let them opt for less. In doing this, you give people a way to reduce the noise without leaving altogether.
2. Instant Entrepreneurship
The barriers to starting a new business are beginning to disappear, as anyone with an idea has the ability to create a startup for it, no matter how small. For some, this means exploring an idea on the side while keeping a day job … while others plunge in, knowing the costs and risks of failure aren't as high as they once were.
How to use it: Join the community. One of the nicest things about the move toward more coworking spaces is that there are more opportunities for businesses of all sizes to become involved with their local community of entrepreneurs and startups. So even if you don’t happen to be launching your own startup right now, you can find great benefits and valuable connections by joining networking events, business competitions or other gatherings hosted by these coworking spaces.
3. Branded Utility
Brands use a combination of content marketing and greater integration between marketing and operations to augment promotions with real ways to add value to customer’s lives.
How to use it: Address bigger problems. It's often said that the best products solve a problem for consumers. The only problem with this mentality is that it can lead many brands and teams to become so focused on that one problem that they forget to think more broadly about their customers’ world outside of that problem. For years, Coca-Cola has known that the “problem” they want to solve isn’t thirst but the universal desire for happiness, which led them to create their global brand tagline: Open Happiness. Think about what you can do to think on a larger scale when it comes to addressing your customers' needs.
4. Subscription Commerce
An increasing number of businesses and retailers are using subscriptions as a new commerce business model to sell recurring services or products to customers instead of focusing on one-time sales.
How to use it: Distribute through gift boxes. One of the fast-growing areas for subscription commerce is curated gift box services that let people consume a certain type of experience in a recurring way. Depending on the products or services you offer, there may be a good connection with an existing gift box company where your product could be featured in a monthly or quarterly collection to help introduce it to a new base of customers.
5. Obsessive Productivity
With thousands of life-optimizing mobile apps now available, instant advice from social media-savvy self-help gurus, and tech platforms that plug into one another, becoming more productive has become the ultimate obsession and one that always seems temptingly within reach.
How to use it: Fix your inefficiencies. As consumers become more conscious of every aspect of their interactions with brands, they have less and less patience for any sort of delays or inefficient interfaces. The result is that customers can be won or lost in microseconds as they sometimes decide—based on the smallest of details—to abandon interactions or not reward businesses with their time or money. Review each step of your sales process to make sure it's free from the hurdles that stop customers from doing business with you.
Want to learn more about the trends you should stay on top of this year? The complete 130-page trend report preview is available for free on Slideshare.
Rohit Bhargava is a trend curator and the bestselling author of five business books. He leads the Influential Marketing Group and frequently travels the world to speak to global audiences about the future of business, trends and how to prepare for the future.
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