The American business landscape has changed dramatically since the industrial revolution. In the late 1800s cycles of “rapid change” took decades to complete. Today large scale change in the business world occurs on a timescale at least ten times faster. The rate of change is so fast that many businesses struggle just to stay relevant, never mind grow.
One of the key drivers of this accelerated pace of change is the Internet. The Internet changes the way businesses and consumers find, research, and purchase goods and services. Businesses that have the mindset, the resources and the technical wherewithal to monitor their consumer’s preferences have an extraordinary opportunity to grab market share at competitors’ expense.
- Sports — The NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament is a perfect example of the way technology has changed the way people view sports. This year a record 15 platforms will have live streaming capabilities, the newest additions being Amazon Alexa and Xbox Live. NCAA March Madness Live, CBS’s digital platform for tournament coverage, boasted a record 1 million live streams over the first weekend. This 24% increase in live streaming set a record for the first weekend, with total tournament streams also expected to break records.
- Books — Amazon revolutionized the way consumers purchased their reading materials. Similarly, e-reader tablets such as Kindles, gave readers the ability to carry hundreds of books with them, in a device smaller than most books. One unhappy result of all this is that more than 35% of book stores have closed over the past 10 years.
- Food — Any quick-order restaurant listed on apps such as GrubHub, UberEats or Postmates will almost certainly see an increase in delivery sales, as consumers browse endless options via their mobile devices. The impact of technology on the food delivery sector is reflected in long term projected industry growth from $30B to $210B.
These examples demonstrate the ways that technology (and other factors) can disrupt an industry — opening doors for some and closing them for others. Now more than ever it is important to stay connected to your customers. Business owners who want to stay in business need to keep on top of trends. Key questions they should ask include
- Where do prospects go to find information about your industry?
- How do customers like to shop for your goods and services?
- Are there new platforms where your product or service could be listed?
- What is your customer’s preferred method of payment and delivery?
The answers to these questions can reveal market opportunities, gaps in service, emerging trends, and much more. But accurately capturing this information is often easier said than done and there are multiple starting points to consider.
For some businesses, market intelligence can be acquired by deploying product/service reviews after purchase, reconnecting with previous clients, or simply dedicating more time to reading industry journals and online publications.
For other businesses, more in-depth market research may be appropriate. Market research can be performed internally or by a 3rd party, and allows for a deeper understanding of current clients, prospective clients, employees, competitors, industry trends and market opportunities.
A variety of methods can be used to gather information, and it is best practice to utilize multiple sources. A few market research methods that can help capture pertinent information are:
- Roundtable Discussions
- Focus Groups
- Secondary Research
Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses. Not all of them will be appropriate in every situation. For example, a survey will allow you to get information from a large population easily, but may not offer depth into the issues uncovered. Conversely, a roundtable discussion or focus group allows participants to expand upon their opinions, but enticing participants can be challenging and often requires offering incentives.
Once you have gathered the information, you need to analyze it. This is not as easy as it sounds. Is all of the data accurate? If not, which sources are reliable and which ones are not? Are some of the reports and results biased (intentionally or unintentionally)? Sorting through all of this can have a dramatic effect on your analysis.
Once you’ve analyzed the data, you need to do something with it. Here are a few steps that will help translate your information and analysis into results:
- Create a plan with realistic goals.
- Execute the plan.
- Evaluate your progress, collect feedback wherever possible, and adjust accordingly.
Keeping in-tune with the ways customers prefer to interact with your industry is not a one-and-done transaction. Bookstores provide a perfect example: While the number of independent bookstores fell dramatically from roughly 2004 through 2012, the number of new independent bookstore openings has increased by over 30% since 2009. The independent bookstores are not sitting still. Amazon is fighting back by opening their own brick and mortar stores. The battle will likely continue for many years, as smaller independent stores find and exploit weaknesses in Amazon, and Amazon defends and grows their empire.
The pace of change in world of business will probably continue to accelerate. The Internet will continue to evolve, and new technologies and trends will appear (and disappear) at a faster and faster pace. Businesses need to design and implement customer, partner and vendor feedback loops, and business executives need to keep an ear to the ground. By making a regular practice of gathering customer feedback, conducting targeted market research, and adapting to change, businesses can avoid being caught off-guard when the next trend shows up.