Customer demand can be fickle. What’s hot one day can be totally counter-culture the next. How, then can a small business ensure that their product or service will be marketable in the future? What steps can they take to ensure that they stay relevant and in-demand?
While there’s no guarantee that your offerings will always be in vogue, there are some strategies to think through now, so that you’re able to navigate rocky markets later. Short of learning to read minds or see the future, these savvy steps are key.
1. Do reliable research.
If it’s been over a year since you got customer or market feedback, make this a priority. Certain market factors will be completely out of your control and won’t be dependent on how buyers feel about your products right now. Market research can, however, alert you to the beginning of a trend in buyers’ emotions or responses to your offerings, giving you ample opportunity to change courses or make those improvements you’ve been putting off until now.
Research can also let you know if customers are responding to the market – or to you. If loyal customers have your business but are cooling off your product category, you may not have many options for keeping them around in the long-term. Likewise, feedback on your specific business that doesn’t reflect the market at large can be used to reposition yourself to move in on the competition. Listen to what your customers say, making sure to ask questions that clearly separate market feedback from personal product/service feedback.
2. Have changes ready to go.
Timing the market is a constant struggle for businesses, but a successful business understands that changes in demand can happen at any moment. For this reason, smart leaders will have a backup plan for creating new products and services that are only slight adjustments from their original offerings. Use the feedback from your focus groups to tell you what enhancements customers want, and make solid plans to moving forward on them.
These changes can be as simple as a new color offering, or as involved as providing tech upgrades or pairing a product with a new service plan. Have these upgrades ready to go at a moment’s notice if the market tells you they’re needed to survive.
3. Educate whenever you can.
It’s amazing how many products are really good ideas (needed ideas, in fact), but the market just doesn’t know it yet. Market demand can change when customers don’t fully realize the capabilities of a product and how it can enhance their changing lifestyle. For example, a customer that only uses a household cleaner for one use may cool off the idea when another product seeks to take the place; educating the consumer on the multiple uses for a product, and how having an all-in-one hack for cleaning is possible, may be the best way to renew market demand.
Education is difficult because people are in a hurry and won’t seek out this type of info on their own. Use your ad spots to create short, savvy educational videos that entertain as well as educate. Use your product packaging to share innovative uses, or work with influencers to create awareness for what’s possible with your brand.
4. Put customer trust first.
Without a customer, there is no market. As we mentioned before, loyal customers can often ride out ups and downs in trends, preferring a trusted brand over going with something new and untested. To earn that place in the market, you’ll need to do these things:
- Share testimonials – Frequently ask customers for their feedback, and highlight the kudos (with their permission) as part of your marketing outreach
- Own your mistakes – If you mess up, don’t try to spin it. Customers appreciate when people take responsibility for their messes, and with social media being what it is, they’ll likely found out the truth anyway. Own up to things early, apologize, and promise to do better.
- Empower employees – There should be no one in your company who doesn’t feel they have the authority to make customers happy. From the management to the front line, ensure your workers can do what’s needed to ensure satisfaction at all levels of the organization.
- Highlight achievements and partnership – Name dropping still works. If you’ve partnered with a prestigious non-profit or have earned community awards, include this in your profile. You don’t need to be extra braggy about it, but do make sure that those unfamiliar with your business can easily see what you’ve been up to.
- Protect your rep – No everyone agrees with the old “all PR is good PR,” so do your best to take negative reviews or attacks on your reputations to task. Regularly follow up with disgruntled customers and own up to your mistakes. Be on alert for shady players who use bad SEO or other web threats to cause harm to your internet presence.
- Reward loyalty – If you don’t treat your long-time customers any better than the new ones, you may have a problem. Start working out a VIP program to let your best buyers know they matter.
5. Learn how to forecast.
Finally, while all of these tips share what to do to keep and even grow your market, it’s wise to know how to read the market, too. Not everyone is a pro at this, and there are many factors that go into forecasting. Your marketing department should have a handle on the process, but if you’re a solo proprietor or someone with a limited staff, consider hiring outside talent that has a good grasp on market factors – preferably someone very familiar with your specific product/service category and that is not working with your competitors.
Your market forecast should be able to use the correct data for your niche and demographic, as well as know what to do with the variables for your particular business. Continually refine your market forecasts as they catch up to real-time, and use what you’ve learned to make future forecasts more accurate.