Sometimes you see a business evolve and think, “I wish I'd thought of that.” With his trademark razor-sharp style, Laermer reveals the most functional forecasting secrets of professional trendspotters, which he divides into nine categories:
1. Read the signs
2. Influence the trends
3. Embrace new and reject stodgy
4. Anticipate change
5. Ask experts the right questions
6. Seek out visionaries and snub fakers
7. Separate the trends from fads
8. Use technology-for everything
9. Cash in on being ahead of the competition!
Question: How might alliances with large companies enhance a new venture's ability to build 'investment readiness,' thereby attracting investment capital?
Richard Laermer: Alliances are important but it's most important to get exposure via verticals (trade magazines or online forums) so that the biggies can see that you have what they can't build. It's also imperative to realize that sharing with the world (which so many new companies don't want to out of fear) is one of the most crucial ways to get others to think "the world" of what you have going on. Expand upon ideas by bringing in a ton of other thinkers — use the experts and get them involved. As for investment, that's how it happens. You get out there — investors see who you are!
Question: Has their been a time when reverting back to an older, simpler way of doing things has paid-off?
Richard Laermer: Simpler is about to become IN now. We are (fortunately or unfortunately) in a Pause right now where there's nothing connecting us as people. My whole focus is about embracing REAL technologies that help us as opposed to just COOL ones that make our lives really kind of "too busy" — in other words, they just are way too complicated — and while there will be change, remember that our world is and always will be cyclical. What I want to point out is that, after the Pause, honestly you will be able to pick up and join in on a simpler and less obtuse way of communicating.... less easy quick chat and more Full Sentence way of talking to each other. And yes I believe the phone will come back into style — real calls with people and total communication instead of all-SMS all the time.
Question: Say I have a new idea for a business but I don't have any immediate plans in the short-term to raise capital and get it going. In the meantime, is there a way to protect my idea before someone else snatches it up?
Richard Laermer: The way to protect your idea is to DO SOMETHING WITH IT so you are the first mover. People who sit on ideas are always sorry. Mission critical! Meaning if you believe in the mission of what you are doing — in your heart it's the ultimate winner, right — then go for it in any way possible. I see a lot of folks with very little money get their acts together because — well, face it, it's a totally networked world and people will start to see the value that you, the passionate idea man/woman, has going for him/her. In that way, I hate to be all Sally Jessy about it, but GO FOR IT.
Question: I work in a mid-sized software company, how can I help my team prepare for the future?
Richard Laermer: You need to make sure that people are using technology correctly and not over-using it, and also I really believe more than anything that I've found in my research, that tech companies need to get out of their own heads and learn more about the various verticals around them. Who are the customers, really? What are their interests? The near future is about expanding yourself to be the ultimate trendspotter and the way to do that is to stop being so "interested" in stuff that you already know, and find out more about what you don't know — in other words, force yourself like it's a part time job to get less personalized information... enough of the myyahoo.com and mywhatever... Get out there and see the connectives that come from finding out about, well, call centers, or prison life, or — you know, more politics and less Britney Spears!
Question: What should we do now for a business that is sure to have a bright future?
Richard Laermer: Business is about to head into a field or a time when — yep — we will all feel a lot better about not only the economy but about what connects us as — people! What to do now? Sit tight. I see the current era as one of (yes, it's true) pretty mediocre times — but that will end shortly.
Question: How do you think that marketing will change in 2011?
Richard Laermer: Everything about marketing will change. Everything. The truth is — consumers are now smarter than we marketers are. So in the near future, they will need ABSOLUTELY NOTHING from us (now they only need a little) because content will be gotten from a zillion sources, including toasters (you can imagine, right, a toaster that gives you viral videos on one side). And I also see marketers getting a bigger role in BEING THE ADVOCATE... in other words, not just assuming they know the product because they use it but going out there and finding out angles/good news/bad news/ideas/whatever from the consumers themselves since we are closer than ever to the consumer in this networked world.
Question: How will rising energy costs impact e-commerce-based businesses? Shipping costs will probably continue to go up, do these business lose their edge over brick-and-mortar stores?
Richard Laermer: Brick and mortar has lost its allure in every way plausible, and there is one reason for that: Customer service is dead. It's almost like no one wants to bother with it. Once you have a customer," seems to be the adage, "why bother doing anything for them?" So to answer your question, shipping will go up, then down, because yes again everything is cyclical. E-commerce will have to shift with those times. How? Conglomerated sites: One place for shopping that acts like a mall, where shipping costs are shared. But keep in mind. As for edge, I see fewer and fewer big retail stores and more online stores that happen to have a stall somewhere that you can check things out on. I see people buying everything via technology and that's not necessarily a good thing. But, welcome to our world. Oh and incidentally — stores that offer "a vivid experience," something that is wild like H&M and Abercrombie do, will always be around. We LOVE a good circus!
Question: What would you say is the most important one thing that someone who is looking to start a business should consider?
Richard Laermer: Businesses have to consider the location (I sound like a real estate guy). You can't start a computer biz in the middle of nowhere if you need to hire the right folks. Know the business and what its differentiator is 'definitely' before you even open the so-called doors. And have fun. If you don't have fun at first you never will have fun.
Question: I have noticed an influx of companies spending large amounts of money on SEM — do you think that there will be a "crash" where this no longer works and if so — how soon?
Richard Laermer: I think there will be a slight crash in that but again, it's cyclical. In 1997 there was a slight crash in the Internet ad business — look what is happening today. Incidentally, you need to be sure you are differentiating your SEO capabilities because, like Web design ten years ago, you are in a crowded field.
Question: Do you think water (or lack thereof) will be a (significant) business issue in certain areas of the country the next decade?
Richard Laermer: I am personally scared about water. Not just that the Colorado River is shrinking — scary stuff — but what about overseas in rich rich rich countries like Dubai. They need water and will get it any way. There's a theory (I am unsure but it's good to think about) that the next world war will be over water. Yes, I think you need to consider where you live/work in the next decade — and water is one of the top considerations. I spend half my time in the desert in CA and there's a shortage all the time there.
Question: What publications do you read to discover or find emerging trends?
Richard Laermer: I read every single magazine that is available to me. I read trades, local press, biz journals (local and sometimes free, always cheap, constantly online) from places all over the world. I read Newsweek, US News, O! The Oprah Magazine (she's a hoot, really), New Yorker, Los Angeles, Paper magazine, Flaunt... Gosh I could do this all day. I also read about 40 blogs a day--it's really fascinating to see how influential some of them have become. That, my friends, is a good thing: We need a citizen's media.
Question: What do you see as being the next big Media outlet? And when do you think it will emerge?
Richard Laermer: Wow what a cool question. The next big media outlet is the one blog that doesn't think of itself as important. I was hoping HuffPo would be that, but (I'm a contributor) there are way too many celebs writing gibberish. I want to see real hard news appear on blogs — and maybe one of the big media companies will start doing that. My final question to you all on this topic: Since opinion IS news now, why does it have to be so negative!
Question: Is there a particular industry that you feel is headed for disaster? Obviously, the mortgage industry is in crisis but do you feel there is another crisis looming?
Richard Laermer: I think consumer banks are going to be a problem, and I believe ad agencies are going to shrink a lot — because there's less for them to do now. Retail is about to shove off, too. I think Macys Inc. or Sears will be the next big "oh my God." And the auto industry will be all foreign-owned in a few years for sure. Get the pattern here?
Question: I run a small company with 5 employees, do you have any tips on how to keep them motivated and push them toward the future?
Richard Laermer: People forget that showing the slightest "big picture" to your employees — being transparent, opening books, getting them to see how you do what you do and what you have learned (Your Wisdom) — is the best manner in which to motivate anyone. Communication is key. Have you guys started an extranet that is free-flowing, where nothing is off limits? Do you have special speakers on an online chat site (you know, pay the speaker to come on with his webcam) to talk about stuff people want to learn? There's a world of good out there. Just don't go buying them the latest gadgets. Waste of money!
Question: Is there is one trend that you wish that you would have capitalized on sooner?
Richard Laermer: The one trend I wish I'd capitalized on many years ago was in this whole mania of disaster preparedness. I saw it even before 9/11. I do a lot of stock investing and I kind of missed the boat on investing that way. Also, yep, I wish I'd bought property in places like Costa Rica and Belize before it became a cliché. My grandma told me they wouldn't make any more land and I was always too busy. I have been researching where out of the US to become a part-time citizen and I'm leaning, and I mean this, toward Eastern Europe. They got the land, baby, and the water (the sea) and of course...terrific people who know how to party and don't whine! Whining has to stop.
Question: What is the one trend for the future that stands out above all others?
Richard Laermer: I think the fact that people are going to HAVE TO work in places they never have — in transit, at home, etc. — because that's how our new reality will make it (“Why waste the real estate?” will become a mantra). I'm thinking that corporations around the world will be learning how to socially direct their employees and work patterns will change in ways none of us believed were possible.
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