Are you reading this while wearing a bedazzled Ed Hardy t-shirt? Is your ensemble rounded out with an airbrushed trucker hat perched atop a majestic mullet? If so, you might suffer from Style Blindness (SB), a type of trend disorder. While you should definitely see a doctor about that, your problem with trends doesn’t have to affect your business decisions. Like the world of fashion, the business world has trends of its own – and staying ahead of those trends means the difference between looking like a business maverick and well, just looking like an outdated idiot. What changes can you expect to see in the business world this year? Use these 12 predictions to stay ahead of the curve.
- Big business starts to socialize. Mitt Romney isn’t the only one who wants you to think of corporations as people. The corporations themselves want to get personal, and in 2012 they’ll be using social media networks to do it. Get ready for requests from corporate giants like Walmart on your Twitter and Facebook, and expect to see a change in the way these giants interact with their consumers online. With Occupy protestors calling attention to economic inequality and corporate greed, companies will create personal connections with consumers, partly in an attempt to manage their reputations. They’ll nix the business-speak and create conversations instead of sales pitches.
- Younger entrepreneurs take the stage. Like the future of the Twilight saga, the future of the global economy is uncertain. Asking when and how the economy will improve is almost like asking what will become of the Cullen clan – no one knows. That uncertainty is causing young people to break out of traditional molds. They know the business world is changing, and they’ve not afraid to adapt. Instead of taking the reins at Dad’s auto shop or accounting firm, they’ll continue to go into business for themselves, forming cutting-edge start-ups and changing the face of small business in the process.
- Social media works better. Business appraisers are starting to truly understand social media, and they’re now much better at determining which strategies will result in a profit and which will be a waste of time. As a result, social media practices are becoming more and more structured around actual ROI. Instead of constantly spamming consumers with emails and excessive tweets, businesses will slow down and focus on quality content that actually leads to sales instead of headaches.
- Businesses go mobile. Which members of N*SYNC were originally part of the Mickey Mouse Club? When important questions like these come up in conversation, all you need to do is whip out your smartphone and do a quick search for the answer. When you need to find a pizza shop, tow truck or repair man you probably do the same thing. Smart phones make it easy for us to Google on the go, and brands are finding ways to adapt. Businesses who want to stop you from stumbling onto a competitor’s contact info are creating vanity numbers that customers can easily recall. These 1-800 numbers are a traditional business tool that will see a surge in popularity as mobile culture grows in 2012.
- Green gets greener. Consumers are getting smarter. Brands that try to cash in on the green trend without truly upholding environmental standards aren’t going to get away with it anymore. In 2012, many new and existing companies will adopt green practices, but we’ll also see some companies get called out on their false claims and misleading marketing. Green will actually get greener, because these businesses will find they can no longer fake it.
- Health insurance shrinks business size. New insurance regulations and systems will provide insurance for the self-employed that is more accessible than ever before. Workers who had previously relied on company benefits packages at jobs they didn’t enjoy will now be able to afford to go it alone, and you can expect a lot of people to seize the opportunity this year. Businesses that want to cut rising health care costs will keep their workforce as small as possible and employ independent contractors whenever they can.
- It’s an app world. When’s the last time you checked your Words With Friends score? Five minutes ago? Ten? If you find yourself slightly obsessed with your mobile apps, you’re not alone. Think about Angry Birds – the mobile game is so wildly popular that you can now find Angry Birds toys, school supplies and even clothing. Businesses see our app obsession as a valuable marketing opportunity. That’s why you can expect to see an influx in corporate apps this year, from the useful to the downright silly.
- Retirees reenter the workforce. A lot of baby boomers who thought they had it made are now finding that their savings alone can’t sustain them through retirement. Grandpa knows his job options don’t begin and end with “Walmart greeter,” and he’ll be looking to apply his skills and experience at a job he can enjoy. Watch for workplace dynamics and demographics to shift as retirees reenter the workforce and apply their traditional knowledge and insight to new business systems.
- Daily deal sites cater to you. Sites like Groupon and LivingSocial experienced wild popularity last year, but consumers are growing tired of the flood of emails. More, they’re annoyed by all these deals that have nothing to do with them (laser liposuction, really?) The sites are evolving into something more customizable, like the system you’ll find on BigTip, the new deal site that allows customers to search through thousands of deals by category. This system will also pay off for business owners. They’re just not equipped to deal with a flood of customers who try to redeem their coupons all at once.
- Target demographics shift. The largest population demographic is made up of people 85 and older. Though many brands pander to the young and hip, businesses will begin to shift their focus to this much larger age group instead. Pay close attention and you’ll see a change in marketing strategies everywhere. Does this mean advertisers will finally stop slapping the buzzword “extreme” on everything from deodorant to cheese puffs? That would be such a welcome change, wouldn’t it?
- Businesses focus on the local. In a world where we’re constantly inundated with newsletters and pop-up ads, consumers yearn for that personal touch. They’re reaching out to find a real sense of community, and businesses are hoping to meet them halfway. From children’s sports team sponsorships to non-profit fundraisers, we’ll see more businesses getting involved on the local level.
- Everyone gets an online shop. From bill paying to gift buying, consumers are more comfortable with online shopping than ever before. Smart business owners will get in on the action in an attempt to get their hands on all those digital dollars. While giants like eBay and Amazon will stay strong, you can expect surprising new players to enter the field. The boutique down the street will create an online catalog featuring their vintage dress collection, and your local grocery store could even start taking delivery orders online. Consumers will start making more of their formerly “in-store” transactions online instead.
Style blindness is the rarest of medical conditions: an illness that actually is a laughing matter. But while you might require a one-on-one consultation with Dr. Tim Gunn to talk you out of those Crocs, remember this: you have the power to prevent your horrible fashion sense fashion from affecting your business decisions. Keep these trends in mind and you’ll be sure to stay ahead of your competitors in 2012. Sure, they might look a little more GQ at the marketing conference, but your profits will say what a million tailored suits can’t – that when it comes to business, you’re a true trendsetter.
Perry Sheraw is the founder and executive vice president of eBusiness Appraisals. She is a dedicated business owner advocate with a mission to ensure all business owners have access to critical information in order to make the right choices and achieve the highest possible value from their life’s work.Subscribe to the Podcast