How cultivating trendspotting skills
can help us identify and capitalize on opportunities
The era that we’re currently living in represents the largest fracture in the status quo in human history. That makes it an unprecedented time to identify and capitalize on new marketing and business opportunities, according to marketing expert and futurist Mark Schaefer.
During Cultivate’s recent webinar, Become a Market Trendspotter, Schaefer outlined the challenges that most brands face today. They include a tsunami of content that’s fighting for our audience’s attention, massive changes in customer behavior and buying habits, plus sociological forces that tend to reinforce incumbent advantages in many markets and areas of our society.
But Schaefer points out that any company, team or individual can generate momentum to command attention, build momentum and power growth – if they develop the mindset of a trendspotter. First, we must be on the lookout for random ideas and events that may be the seeds of future advantages. We must also pay close attention to patterns and trends we can leverage to grow the value of our idea and build our advantage in the marketplace.
“Times of major change, like we’re experiencing now, create a host of unintended consequences. Things happen. We try to understand them. Most of the time, we don’t get it right the first time,” Schaefer reflects. “This trial-and-error process creates what I call seams of opportunity that you can take advantage of to build momentum.”
How can you uncover these nascent opportunities? Schaefer outlined five simple tactics anyone can use to identify and leverage them:
1. Cultivate the qualities of genius: Shaefer emphasizes that we need to be constantly connected to our customers and relentlessly curious about what’s going on with them. That will empower us to detect new patterns in their behaviors and beliefs and understand what they mean.
2. Serendipity: Great insights and innovations, what Schaefer calls initial sparks of advantage, begin with chance encounters with something you weren’t expecting. “When you encounter something like this, do you stop and explore it more? You should because it could represent a new insight or opportunity,” he points out.
3. Go to gemba: This Japanese business concept is all about observing processes, trends and things that can be improved. We can’t do this sitting in our office. We need to get out in the field and deliberately expose ourselves to new inputs, ideas and insights.
This isn’t easy to do, because many of us have been working in isolation due to the pandemic. Conferences and trade shows, which have traditionally been hotbeds for new ideas, haven’t been held for the last two years. Plus, we’re so busy trying to survive and solve day-to-day business challenges that most of us don't take time to brainstorm, think and explore.
“I’m worried that serendipity and innovation are really lacking right now. We may need to schedule time to create these random events that lead to opportunities,” Schaefer cautions. He practices what he preaches: He participates in a weekly online networking group, where he can discuss and share ideas with other marketing professionals.
4. Opportunities come through crisis: The pandemic caused many of us to change our buying habits. We adopted new sources, services and products that we wouldn’t have normally considered, such as home delivery of groceries.
“Every crisis creates underserved and unmet customer needs,” he emphasizes. To discern them, we need to cultivate a deep awareness of how their behaviors and habits have changed and then dig deeper to understand why.
5. Is the dog barking? Schaefer was fortunate to study under the legendary business thinker and author Peter Drucker, who taught his students using case studies. He encouraged them to follow their curiosity. If they were reading a case study or a business article and something struck them as being out of the ordinary, they needed to pay attention to that.
“If we think the dog should be barking, but it isn’t, that’s a sign. You need to stop and explore why.”
Schafer emphasizes that relentless curiosity is essential for success in today’s turbulent business environment:
“This is a historically important time for communicators and marketing professionals. Everything we know about our customers or audience has been changing and will continue to change. We need to be alert and connected and listen carefully to what’s going on. We need to be willing to go down rabbit holes. If we see new patterns or other things we didn’t expect, we need to stop, listen and learn. That’s where the opportunities are.”