Regardless of the type of business that you operate, every aspect of your operation, at some point, will point toward your customer. Customers’ needs or wants put you in business. They also keep you in business, and this fact will never change. Keeping on top of constantly changing customer trends is critical to your success, both locally and abroad.
If your business is a B2B (business to business) enterprise, or if your international expansion is targeting new suppliers or outsourcing services, please feel free to “translate” the advice to your somewhat different circumstances. For you, trends within your industry, your customers’ industries, and external conditions might be more important to monitor. But you will benefit from tracking consumer trends in your target market as well, since they may impact labor, manufacturing, finance and other major factors in your business abroad.
Trends usually emerge when fundamental customer behaviors collide with outside changes to generate new wants or needs. A trend in consumer behavior develops when a pattern of behavior starts moving in a general direction, tracking a particular course. Think of baby booms, downsizing, home solar panels and the latest food fad. Recognizing these cause-and-effect factors can keep you ahead of the curve. Some trends are short-lived, others play out over generations. Consumer behaviors and preferences can change swiftly and often, feeding an industry of trend-watchers.
In terms of your international business, you naturally will have to work a bit harder to monitor trends and identify the elements that could impact your business from some distance away. Even though it makes an already difficult task more complex, you still need to keep an eye on trends in your target markets. If you do, you won’t be surprised by changing behaviors and can stay not only relevant but successful, long term.
You may be surprised at how willing customers are to share their opinions about experiences in your target market. Your personal network may have leads to resources and insights into trends that could be really valuable. So in your daily contacts, even in your home market, ask if your contact has any news, impressions, contacts or experiences about your target market (this assumes you don’t mind them knowing you’re thinking of launching a business or purchasing goods or services there).
Most non-English speaking countries have an English language newspaper, and these often focus on issues and events that foreigners need to know about. Take a look also at the respected international magazines like The Economist or newspapers like The Wall Street Journal or Financial Times. They run features as well as news stories on business issues in all parts of the world. It goes without saying that you will need to keep an eye open for bias and propaganda in any information you discover.
Learn what consumers in your target market are saying online as they share their opinions and preferences. While this kind of research is not filtered and definitely can be time consuming, it still may give you a broader perspective of what consumers are saying about specific products and services, including your potential competitors or vendors in the target market.
Introducing yourself to local entrepreneurs and getting involved with local business organizations can be invaluable when looking to understand the new market you are entering. Local customs, buying habits and other elements will play a huge role in your success. What trends do your contacts see that are relevant to your business there?