Trends are, by definition, temporary. They come and go creating a ripple effect on the businesses investing in them. And more often than not trends being implemented into your business are not aligned with your overall product strategy, thus creating a fragmented plan that yields little to no return.
In product development, we inevitably come up against a trend and have to gauge whether it can facilitate business growth. Developing a strategy for trends can be difficult when we can’t predict the future, but there are effective ways to set your business up to deftly navigate the market.
Short vs Long Term Thinking
One way to approach trends and evaluate their value for product development is to look at the predicted lifespan. Gambling on a trend surviving the times is a fundamental risk of business. Focusing on identifying long-lasting value, rather than immediate gratification, leads to an extended lifespan for products and is a good way to determine if a new trend is worth your investment.
The predictive capacity of humans is very low, therefore businesses need to look for timeless principles and use those as a roadmap. Quickly shifting to capitalize on a trend can easily increase profit, but without an understanding of what drives its performance in the market, you lack the knowledge that’s essential to maintaining profits once the trend has run its course.
Signal vs Noise
Trends highlight where consumer interests are, providing companies with a pulse on what sells. The trouble with focusing product development on trends is that these strategies launch businesses into the fray with millions of small-scale challengers, all trying to do the same thing and reducing each other’s odds of success in the process.
On the other hand, it’s a common misconception that being the first mover in the market poses the most advantage. While that’s certainly effective if done well, it’s an incredibly risky strategy with high levels of failure. Identifying long-lasting value in your products and leaning into what you’re good at with incremental changes, on the other hand, is just as valuable while posing less risk. Looking further to understand how consumers are engaging with your product may take more time and effort, but it empowers you to make the strategies that actually contribute to generating long-term sales. By keeping discussions on trends focused on the core mission of the product, developers can hone in on the valued component of a trend to understand whether that fits with their current product offerings.
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How to Use Trends to Your Benefit
Offering a trending product is a great way to get a buzz going for your business. While an increase in engagement is great, vanity metrics only go so far in the landscape of product development and corporate innovation. If that engagement isn’t generating any return, you aren’t creating value.
Apple is touted as a trailblazer in tech, but looking closely reveals that they’re not always the first to market a new innovation. Instead, they focus immense amounts of energy on incrementally improving and ultimately perfecting their systems. Meanwhile, they let competitors go to market with unproven new features and they’ll carefully study how they perform in the marketplace. Afterward, that highly-touted new feature might later be shelved quietly, or if it proves to be sticky, you’ll see Apple later take it on and put it to market ten times better after paying close attention to its reception among consumers.
Companies like Apple are able to proactively leverage trends because they masterfully analyze the market to turn trends into long-standing innovations. For long-term business, leaning into established products and gradually improving them while keeping watch on the marketplace is just as effective as championing an innovation. Maintaining a close, analytical eye on trends allows businesses to step back and analyze trends without bias by taking what works from a trend and improving on it after it’s seen the market.
Championing or Challenging Innovation
Trends are a great way to drive business and engage with consumers where they’re at. However, businesses risk falling short on providing longevity and functionality to their customers by blindly investing in trends. Instead, take a step back and analyze the role trends can play in your current product strategy and the value they can provide to your customers. By challenging trends rather than immediately investing, you can use their momentum to power long-term competitive advantages and value.
Businesses should evaluate their product decisions to see if they will provide long-term value to their customers. Companies have the understandable concern that they will miss out on trends and therefore miss out on easy revenue-generating opportunities; but by evaluating the value of the product and the predicted lifespan, you can filter out the trends not worth pursuing and revitalize your product strategy by converting something timely into something timeless.