From supply chain bottlenecks to inflationary pressures, businesses across industries continue to grapple with a world defined by relentless change. In this unstable market landscape, business-as-usual approaches are nowhere near sufficient for survival or long-term success.
Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. corporate bankruptcies reached their worst levels in 10 years in 2020, and we aren’t out of the woods yet. Companies must adapt or risk getting left behind, but how do you find the right opportunities for business growth in a noisy, adrenaline-drenched environment?
Based on our experience providing market research to more than 10,000 clients per year across the globe, serving top management consulting firms, investment banks, and Fortune 500 companies, we’ve identified seven strategies to help you pinpoint new market opportunities for your business.
1. Look for shifts in customer behavior.
First, understand how your customers are using your product. Are they doing something different with it now than before? This is how makeup removing wipes and toilet paper alternative wipes came about. By talking to their customers, companies realized that there were other ways people were using baby wipes.
Consumer goods and food companies use this strategy frequently to create new product lines. To find ideas, you can start by scanning the internet and social media pages for people talking about “hacks” for your product, or creatively improvising to use your product in a new way.
2. Consider where waste exists.
Sustainability is now a core concern to most demographics, including your customers. Can you innovate to reduce waste in production, transportation, packaging, or at end-of-life? Can you make your (or someone else’s) product last longer? Can you make it modular so that broken or worn pieces can be easily replaced?
3. Investigate the pain points.
Understanding pain points is an obvious starting point for most businesses, but these gaps must be addressed because they can give your competitors a welcome edge.
Sometimes a pain point creates literal pain or added friction in a work process. Ask what causes potential injury or stoppage with the product or the workplace around it. For example, professional users began to adopt cordless tools at higher rates when they realized that they reduced job site injuries (no cords to trip over).
Another approach is to see where customers want to save time. Robots and automation show up where repetitive tasks can be reduced, freeing people to do other things. For instance, many people don’t like or don’t have time to mow their lawns, but they want to have cut grass—enter robot lawn mowers.
4. Track trends in your market.
Track general societal trends related to your industry and see if you can adapt a product line to take advantage of customer interest in that trend.
A recent example come from big changes in food packaging. Several years ago food bloggers, especially in health food circles, started coming up with bowl meals. Grain bowls. Veggie bowls. All the ingredients put in one bowl for a meal. Soon it spread to restaurants, often healthy or Asian-themed. Then mainstream restaurants, even fast food like KFC, came out with their own versions.
Seeing the continued popularity, the trend finally moved into retail food with a number of brands coming out with frozen dinners in bowls. Now bowls are starting to move to other food products as well.
Take a larger trend in your market or an adjacent market and make it work for your customers with your product.
5. Get ideas from a related industry.
Instead of duplicating your competitors, look at what the most successful companies in a functionally related industry are doing, and see if you can apply similar approaches to your business.
Wearable technology like Fitbit took off among consumers, and now pet companies have launched similar trackers for pets with products like FitBark and Whistle. Similarly, at-home DNA testing gained traction with 23andMe and AncestryDNA, and now several at-home DNA testing kits have been designed for dogs to provide information about a dog’s breed and genetic background.
6. Think bigger when it comes to your target consumer.
Take a holistic approach to product development and sales by targeting the entire customer base for your product or service, not just the obvious or traditional one.
How does your product meet the needs of your entire potential customer base, not just a certain type of company or one job title within a company (such as the purchaser versus the end user versus the decision-maker)?
Focus on the total benefit of your products to the company as a whole and not one particular customer group and communicate that to those involved in purchase decisions.
Take for example packaging machinery. Machinery producers may deal primarily with purchasing departments to sell new machinery. However, they could broaden their outreach efforts by targeting users and top executives:
- Targeting engineers and production managers could provide supporting arguments on how new machinery could improve work flow and efficiency
- Targeting executives such as chief financial officers to promote the long term cost savings of new machinery could help with approval of new machinery purchases
7. Look for products or services that complement your existing business.
What are your customers doing that requires your product, and what do they do after they purchase your product? Are there things you can offer that make that entire process better for your customer?
For example, movie theatres added in-seat dining with restaurant-type meals because they understood that many customers went out to eat before going to the movies. Some parking garages added car washes or car detailing services since customers were already bringing their cars to the location.
Re-imagine your business.
The COVID-19 pandemic and all the changes that entailed has caused a great re-thinking of so many things we did before. Take advantage of these changes that started so many movements, shot others forward, and nipped others in the bud.
One of the gifts the pandemic presented to businesses is the chance to find new opportunities and new markets in old places.
About the author: Robert Granader is a 20-year veteran of the market research industry and the Founder and CEO of MarketResearch.com—a leading provider of global market intelligence products and services. He also owns trusted brands including The Freedonia Group, Packaged Facts, and Simba Information. As a former journalist and an English major, Granader offers a unique background that combines entrepreneurial business leadership with engaging storytelling. He has published more than 400 articles, essays, and short stories in over 60 publications including The New York Times, Forbes, The Washington Post, and Washingtonian Magazine. Find his new short story collection Writing in the Q at Politics and Prose.