Understanding trends is a crucial skill to have in a modern economy that keeps changing rapidly. Almost every business relies on some kind of a trend. And even those that are seemingly immune to trends, like hairdressers or bakeries, are also changing by using newer technology or adding exciting and different ingredients to make their clients happy and give them what they want. What was fashionable or popular 10 years ago probably isn’t in fashion now. So how should you approach understanding trends from a business perspective?
Broaden Your Horizon
First of all, no matter what business you’re in, you need to keep your eyes open for potentially disrupting ideas. Remember this Forbes cover from 2007 that asked whether any other company would be able to challenge Nokia’s dominance in the cellphone market? You know what else happened in 2007? The very first iPhone debuted, totally reshaping the way we communicate and do business. The iPhone was a game-changer. Its easy-to-learn UI led to greater access to the mobile internet and, ultimately, to more people using smartphones.
Nokia didn’t identify the trend in time and when the company finally turned to smartphones, it was already too late. The market was dominated by Apple and Samsung.
Not all trends that could impact your business will come from the same niche as you, however. In fact, some of the most threatening ones may be from markets that seem totally unrelated. For example, Blockbuster Video probably didn’t think that the internet was going to sink their company. The chain had more than 9,000 locations at its peak in the early part of the 2000s. Less than a decade later, they were facing bankruptcy due to the emerging popularity of streaming and video-on-demand. Today, the once-mighty chain has just one location left open in Bend, Oregon.
The lesson is clear: In order to stay competitive in today’s global economy, your business needs to constantly innovate. That means finding new products and services, tweaking old ones, adding new features, rethinking strategy, looking for new markets and so on. In other words, you must understand trends and their long-term implications to make your business as future-proof as possible.
So let’s look at which tools you can use to spot and leverage trends as they emerge.
Tools for Catching Trends
In previous years, the first place to go to learn about trends would have been business and tech magazines, Today, however, if it’s on paper, then it’s already too late to cash in on a trend because the change has already happened. Fortunately, with the internet, you can find trends much more quickly.
If you already know a niche you want to investigate, then Google Trends will help you to understand what search terms are popular right now. Trends is a free tool from Google that you can use to see what terms folks are searching for. It also allows you to go beyond searched terms by suggesting some basic related searches. For example, imagine that you’re looking for a good headline for your article or book about artificial intelligence, and you have a couple of ideas. You can use Google Trends to check what’s most popular to boost your visibility, e.g., by learning that “AI business” is searched more than “Artificial Intelligence business.”
The con of Google Trends is that it won’t tell you much about the niches you know nothing about. Arguably, these niches are even more important. After all, Blockbuster got upended by a trend they didn’t see coming at all. If you just stick to the things you already know, the likelihood of your getting blindsided is much higher.
That’s where Ahrefs and Buzzsumo come in. Both services are similar in that they allow you to look into particular keywords and then discover related searches. This way, you can discover not only what people are looking for on the internet, but also:
What type of content is underserved. That is, what subjects are people searching for often that relatively few articles or sites address?
What’s buzzing on social media, from Facebook to Reddit to YouTube and beyond.
How your website or your competitors’ websites are ranking for particular keywords
Both Ahrefs and Buzzsumo are invaluable tools for researching your business niche and looking to expand into new ones. You can use them to see what articles in your niche are the most popular or what kinds of things are trending on social media. This is a great way to learn about your competitors or your potential audience.
They are also perfect for SEO purposes if you want to boost your site visibility by ranking for the right keywords. For example, if you’re running a website focused on education in the IT sector, you could search for “IT online course” in Ahrefs. This search might lead you to discover that people are often looking also for a master’s degree or an online college, and so you might want to rank your website to leverage these keywords as well. Or you could check what websites rank on top for “IT online course” and see what they’re doing well.
Another good source for tracking trends is e-newsletters, which have grown in prominence recently. One particularly good one for exploring other areas broadly is Exploding Topics. This weekly newsletter shows new trends based on growth in search over time. From large trends to nanoinfluencers to niche products, you’ll find something worth exploring further or that will inspire you. You may also want to follow other newsletters in your niche or adjacent niches to get up-to-date information from a variety of sources.
All in all, catching global trends is an art, and seeing patterns takes time and experience. That might involve ways to solve a growing problem, tracking customer demand or a method for improving upon previous common processes. Understanding trends is as important for running your own business as investing in stocks or thinking about what to do next. It’s even more important in our times of continuous change. Use these tools to see what will be trending in 2021.