Aug. 19 2019 06:00 AM

Taking note of broad cultural trends and addressing the concerns behind them is a great way to build your business.

Every business owner wants to be successful. But many, in fact most, don’t get there. Of those that do make it, what is it that separates these leaders from the followers? In my experience working with, observing, researching and growing successful green industry companies, one thing consistently stands out, and that’s the ability to identify trends and embed them into a company’s business model.

Embedding trends into one’s overall strategy shouldn’t be an “OAYE” — a once-a-year-event conceived at an annual planning session but rather an ongoing process, part of an organization’s DNA. If you don’t believe in or understand the power of trends and the impact it has on your business, you may be headed down the path toward obsolescence. I can’t stress this enough — trends consistently present opportunities, and it’s the team that can spot and leverage them that will sustain its leadership position.

A trend is not the same as a fad, a short-term phenomenon that typically affects just a single industry. Think of the pet rock or the Tamagotchi, something that burns brightly then quickly fades.

Trends on the other hand, are longer-lasting cultural shifts that reflect changing customer needs, attitudes, behaviors or expectations and affect more than one industry. Consider sustainability, a trend that kicked off with the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. Its roots are deep and wide, and its tendrils have found their way into many industries, including health care, automotive and equipment manufacturing, food, fashion, real estate, landscaping and irrigation. The desire for sustainability continues to have a significant impact on the green industry and on your business.

Leveraging change

How are trends created and what drives them? Remember that trends happen as a result of a change in customer needs, attitudes, behaviors and expectations. Basic human needs, like food, shelter and safety don’t change, but the means of obtaining them do. An organization’s ability to address ever-changing customer demands by identifying the gaps that exist between what customers want and what the marketplace currently offers is where opportunities unfold, innovations are created and leaders are born.

What kind of innovations am I talking about? They include everything from creating new sales channels to new products, services, brands and pricing models, marketing campaigns and startups.

In order to analyze and identify change, you need to understand the shifts and triggers that drive it. Shifts are longer-term macro changes, whereas triggers are more immediate, shorter changes.

An easy-to-remember acronym for longer-term shifts that drive behavior is PESTLE, which stands for political, economic, social, technological, legal, environmental and ethical. Environmental shifts, for example, include the effects of climate change and the decline in the supply of natural resources such as water, food and energy.

Triggers are the more immediate, short-term forces that drive change and create trends. Think of the events that triggered the #MeToo movement or the data compromises that major technology companies have suffered that made people wary about sharing personal or professional information with businesses. Weather-related events such as hurricanes, fires, tornadoes and floods trigger changes in where and how people live and what they buy. Gather your team and ask how these shifts and triggers have affected your company and what you can do to leverage them.

This is your opportunity to shine, to differentiate your business by leveraging these trends. Offer new products and services, forge new partnerships and utilize social media tools.

Shifts in weather patterns have triggered concerns about health and safety, both basic human needs. There is a plethora of opportunities in addressing people’s fears about the changing weather.

Think differently

Gather your team and start thinking differently. Is it possible to build a new business model while positioning your company as a thought leader? What new services can you develop that address these needs and concerns? Has your area been hit by wildfires or tornadoes? What if you launched new services such as “firescaping” (landscaping to mitigate the danger of wildfire) and post-tornado cleanup? Or perhaps your business expands into erosion control, stormwater management and engineering services all under the heading of “stormscaping.” You may just have created a new trend and the name of your latest brand. You get the idea — trends can be turned into tremendous opportunities for new partnerships and higher profits.

The sustainability megatrend encompasses several microtrends including “better business,” the concept that doing good things for people and the planet is good business. It includes the trend toward “betterment” that focuses on people’s aspirations toward self-improvement and living healthier lives. And it takes in the “local love” trend, where the key drivers are people’s need for safety in their communities, neighborhoods, schools, shopping areas, workplaces and houses of worship.

This is the reason why brands like Seventh Generation and Patagonia are so successful. It’s why products like smart irrigation controllers, soil moisture sensors, drip systems, robotic electric mowers and chemical-free weed and pest solutions continue to climb in popularity and profits.

It’s never been easier to spot trends nor a more exciting time in which to do it. Simply read the latest stories about new innovations and companies that pop up in the news, both inside and outside our industry. More than likely, these new innovations and companies are newsworthy and successful because they’ve addressed an unmet need or catered to new behaviors. The combination of greater environmental awareness and the growing number of successful eco-friendly brands that address it are driving the demand for still more sustainable products and services.

No more excuses

With so much free qualitative and quantitative data available nowadays there’s no excuse not to look for trends. Jump on the web, of course, but don’t forget about traditional media such as magazines, newspapers, radio and television. Explore business and industry trade publications and niche media resources such as blogs, podcasts and newsletters, case studies and research reports. Discover new products via press releases and company news feeds, K-1 filings (schedule K-1, an Internal Revenue Service form issued annually for investments in partnership interests) and social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Set up Google alerts with targeted phrases such as “U.S. landscape company plans to launch” or “latest sustainable products in irrigation.” Build a trendspotter network inside and outside your company. Visit crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to see what’s popular there. Watch “Shark Tank” and note what products attract interest from the sharks.

Going to conferences and events will provide you with an abundance of insights. Attend talks by thought leaders and influencers and check out their websites, blogs and podcasts. Don’t forget that professional associations and universities provide compelling research, events and education, some of it free.

Use your eyes and ears to catch the buzz. Pay attention to what people are currently ecstatic over, complaining about or Googling — that’s where you’ll spot trends in the making. Remember, the teams that can spot, leverage and even create trends will be the leaders. They’re filling in the gaps and meeting customers’ changing needs, behaviors and expectations in unique ways that are not currently being met by the marketplace.

Which would you rather be — a follower, or a leader, an influencer and a trendsetter? I think you know the answer.

Judith Guido is the chairwoman of Guido and Associates, a company dedicated to helping companies grow their people and profits. Follow her on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Look for her upcoming educational podcasts, blogs and talks on how to profitably scale up a company at www.guidoassoc.com.