Why global trends matter to small business

As a small business owner in a rural community, you might wonder how global trends apply to you? You might also be so busy and overloaded that you simply 'switch off' anything that isn't urgent. Trends come and go, you say. Who has the time and brain space to stay on top of them?

But finding time to keep up with global trends and issues is critically important. Your customers are not just shopping locally. They're exposed to global trends, so you should be too. Doing so gives you the field vision to see what's coming before it gets there. It exposes you to different perspectives that can drive innovation. It alerts you to emerging opportunities you can capitalize on. It keeps you fresh and ensures your business doesn't become outmoded. And, it helps make you more sensitive and in-tune with different people and viewpoints.

Not all trends will be relevant, nor can you adopt every one. But you certainly should be aware of them. Trends might take root in far away places with population density, but they affect how everyone - including your customers - sees the world around them. Leaders who learn to identify the trends that matter, and use them to shape products and services, achieve business breakthroughs. Those that don't, risk being left behind.

Community Futures NextWatch is a regular posting of curated trends that are coming your way… for example:

  • Automated Commerce: the consumer trend to outsourcing everyday retail experiences to smart devices, such as "auto-touch re-ordering".
  • Post Demographics:  we can no longer put people in neat demographic boxes, because people of all ages, in all markets are constructing their own identities.
  • Glass Box Brands:  thanks to the radical transparency made possible by a world that is connected 24/7 in real-time, businesses exist in glass boxes where outsiders can see the people, processes and values at work.

We live in an era of volatility and change, no matter where we're located. Our goal in publishing NextWatch is to make it simpler for small businesses to turn change into opportunity. And, along the way, we'll share examples of small businesses doing it well.

How to Mine the Gold In Trends

At first blush, spending a lot of resources to incorporate elements of a seemingly irrelevant trend into one's core offerings seems hardly worthwhile. But consider Nike's move to combine its reputation in high-performance athletic footwear with the iPod's meteoric success. In 2006, the company teamed up with Apple to launch Nike+: a digital sports kit comprising a sensor that attaches to your running shoe and a wireless receiver that connects to your iPod. As you jog and listen to your favorite music, the sensor tracks your speed and distance and the calories you've burned, and transmits that information to your iPod in real time. Back at your computer, you can upload your data to nikeplus.com, which stores your information and provides a user-friendly interface that lets you track your progress. It was breakthrough technology at the time and Nike sold over 2.5 million kits.

But the Nike+ story is about much more than the revenues and sales. This example represents one of three broad innovation strategies that any size of business can embrace to address powerful trends by:

  1. Infusing aspects of the trend into existing category to augment products or services.
  2. Combining aspects of the trend with attributes of a category to produce radical offerings that transcend their traditional category and create a new one (as Nike did).
  3. Or, counteract negatively perceived effects of the trend by developing products and services that reaffirm their category's distinctive values

Excerpted from Harvard Business Review.