In early 2000, investors were convinced that anything with a “Dot-Com” in its name would turn into gold. In 1998, Yahoo turned down the opportunity of a lifetime by declining to pay $1 million for a little company known as Google.
This leads us to one unavoidable truth in business: sometimes the road less traveled is the best way forward.
In the world of investing, “bucking the trend” refers to a company that surprises investors by offering different results from the other companies in the same sector. This isn’t always easy to explain. But in the world of business, bucking the trend can sometimes mean innovation that leads to unlikely success.
In retrospect, the success seems obvious. Yet in the early days of many businesses, going against trends in the hope that consumers will eventually discover them can be a difficult track to follow. How do you know when your business is innovating and countering these trends—and when it needs to change paths? Here are a few ideas:
Why It’s Sometimes Important to Go Against the Trend
There are countless examples of trends that never bore fruit—or at least not the fruit most people imagined. While the “Dot-Com” bubble did indeed precede a launch of massive tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Alphabet, the trend got carried away before investors realized what happened. Old technologies from horse-and-buggies and cassette tapes ultimately lost out to massive trends because of innovations in technology.
That doesn’t mean every trend portends an inevitable decline for some companies, however.
Warby Parker wasn’t content with leaving eyeglasses as the exclusive rights of in-person retail. But rather than make their eCommerce platform their sole focus, they added brick-and-mortar as well as smartphone-based applications to expand their offerings.
There was nothing about Warby Parker’s rise that seemed entirely conventional. Many strategists may have even emphasized the online retail scene. But Warby Parker created growth by seeing multiple channels of value for their customers—and their customers rewarded them with their business.
Using Trends to Innovate Rather than Disappear
“Cord-cutting” is more popular than ever, with cable subscriber losses only adding up each year. Yet Comcast isn’t having troubles. Why is that? Rather than try to “buck” the cord-cutting trend, Comcast decided to innovate in response to market demands.
By utilizing multiple platforms that reach out to cord-cutting customers, Comcast followed a strategy of simplicity: if they can offer a service that’s as good as cable cord-cutting, maybe it wouldn’t lose out on so much business. The results showed in the numbers, with Comcast “bucking the trend” of other cable providers and adding subscribers.
How to Use Trends to Your Advantage
Fortunate for sailors, you don’t need the wind to blow in a specific direction to go the way you want to go. Sailors can tack against the wind or run with it.
The same is true in business. Companies like Comcast can use trends to their advance to earn more customers and change the way they do business. Or they can stick to the old tried-and-true formula and watch their numbers decline as the winds shift around them.
How do you make trends, like winds, push you in the direction your business needs to go? Here are a few strategies to keep in mind:
Create value for your customers first. In the example of Warby Parker, they were less interested in going the “conventional” route of moving away from retail. Instead they focused on how they could add more value to their customers. The result was an increase in company valuations. Don’t worry about business trends. Those companies that innovate are the ones who keep their focus on improving the lives of their customers. When you can do that, customers are likely to follow you—regardless of trends.
Don’t make assumptions about your customers until you test out new ideas. IKEA is famous for its home-assembly furniture. Intuitively, you might guess that no customer on earth would want to do more work when buying furniture. Yet for the IKEA experience and their innovative designs, customers are happy to assemble at home. The takeaway: don’t make assumptions about what your customers want until you have real data to back that up. They might surprise you.
Never finish testing. Fast food companies like McDonald’s feature vast teams of chefs to experiment with new menu options. Although they throw ideas around constantly—ever hear of the McPizza?—only a select few ever make it through taste testing and into restaurants. And if the product doesn’t sell, fast food restaurants don’t force the issue. They let go of old ideas, even when it takes years to purchase enough blackberries just to introduce a new flavor of smoothie. They regard market response as the final stage of testing. When a product fails, they do away with it and move on.
When to Buck the Trend in Your Own Industry
No business has a crystal ball. It’s impossible to tell when one trend is in its infancy while another is on its last legs. But if you can reconcile your priorities with the needs of your customers, you stand a far greater chance of navigating trends in the future.
Look to your own data for true insights. If your sales increase while you buck the trend in one industry, should you really try a new strategy simply to keep in line with the dominant trends? If your sales improve by embracing a new trend, is it worth it to go against the current trends simply to be a contrarian business?
In business and trends, there are no predetermined rules. Customers move based on trends—but those trends emerge because of how they serve the customers. If your business can follow the road less traveled and grow its customer base, that’s every bit as valid as following an established path. Ultimately, it comes down to how well your business serves its customers—and that’s one trend that’s not going away any time soon.