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The story of Jeremy Gutsche and his journey from successful, yet restless Chartered Financial Analyst to award-winning author, highly in-demand innovation keynote speaker and CEO of the largest trend spotting community in the world is an inspiring one. His experiences not only make Gutsche a great Canadian success story, but an expert on entrepreneurship, digital media and small businesses. Smarter Business Ideas magazine recognizes Gutsche’s expertise and thus, found a chance to sit down with him on Monday to discuss what he’s learned over the years and how you can apply it to your business.
Jonathan Seidler of Smarter Business Ideas delved deep into the story of our Chief Trend Hunter, addressing the common concern that a small business can’t make a difference in the long run. Gutsche responds for the contrary, stating that “Small businesses are much better at understanding the changing patterns in consumer behaviour. Historically, if you look back, some of the world’s most iconic companies were started in these periods of uncertainty as entrepreneurial ventures, and that includes HP, Microsoft, Apple, Fortune Magazine[...]”
The two go on to discuss the advantage small businesses have in the digital sphere, how to deal with a crowded market and customer advocacy.
SMARTER BUSINESS IDEAS MAGAZINE
By Jonathan Seidler
Jeremy Gutsche started TrendHunter as a frustrated entrepeneur back in 2005, and it’s now grown into one of the biggest ideas sites on the planet.
If you’ve never taken a look at Trendhunter, now’s the time to do it. The portal is literally bursting with new ideas, and is live-updated around the clock. Jeremy and his team now also advise some of the biggest brands in the world, from Pepsico to Kraft, based on their insights. In Melbourne last week as a keynote speaker for the Australian Chambers Business Congress, Gutsche took some time out with Smarter to discuss what he’s learned from years of watching trends in business evolve, both on and offline.
So we’re very interested in what you do because your big idea is all about how small businesses can be disruptive. I was interested to know what you would offer as advice to those businesses who think they are so tiny that they’ll never be able to make a difference in the way that someone like Apple would be able to?
What I find interesting about these time periods of chaos and change is that in large organisations, they start to think about how successful they are because they’re not moving quickly and they’re stable. They’re more conservative in uncertain times and they hold their wallets a little tighter and cut their innovation and marketing budget, relying on their deep relationship with the customer. And when they do that, they don’t adapt. This becomes a big problem for big companies for a second reason, which is they don’t really have really close connections with their customers they way a small business would.
So small businesses are much better at understanding the changing patterns in consumer behaviour. Historically, if you look back, some of the world’s most iconic companies were started in these periods of uncertainty as entrepreneurial ventures, and that includes HP, Microsoft, Apple, Fortune Magazine…I can give you a list! They all come from these time periods where consumer attitudes evolve, and the little guys are able to see those shifts and make new products.
In regards to what we’re living in right now, we have a trend called Instant Entrepreneurship. It’s never been easier to establish a company, or go to a site like 99designs and get 99 logos for 100 bucks or start your website for a small amount of money. Basically, people can create products and services and prototypes in ways that have never happened before and I think that levels the playing field a bit.
Do you think that sort of democratises it a bit, because you imagine the other reservation for a small business owners is that they just don’t have the cash to make a big swoop at anything…
Yeah. The interesting thing is that on one hand, you can create a brand presence faster than ever before, and the other you can actually create a prototype showcased online on something like Kickstarter where you can see how many people would actually buy your product or idea.
Finally, you have the ability to market, and have a voice. It used to be that you could only get your message out if you bought a TV or newspaper ad, which was seriously the only way you could do it on a large scale. But now you can make a viral video, you could do a Twitter or Facebook campaign, and when you’re doing those online approaches, it’s interesting to note that the big dogs haven’t even figured them out yet. Social media is still a platform where large companies are very conservative, because they don’t know how to prove that it might work. But it’s just another example of why now is the time for the little guy.
Absolutely. Do you think on the flipside that perhaps it’s more crowded in the space than it’s ever been before?
I think that it’s never been easier to get in the game, so there are definitely more competitors. But it’s also worrying for the big guys, they’re worrying that now almost anyone could come and eat their lunch. And chaos is an opportunity, it’s a risk and a danger but it’s also an opportunity at the same time. Yeah, it’s going to be a little bit more intimidating to know that your competitor can take your market share faster than they ever could before, but at the same time, you can take theirs!
You were talking about social media campaigns before. Now, a lot of what you do is centred around finding trends and things that people kind of latch onto. Do you think there’s a new kind of obsession in creating that will travel worldwide? I frequently hear people say ‘I want to make something that will go viral.’ That’s pretty funny, because even though there are people like you helping pick out where things are going, there’s always something random about what gets traction, right?
Yeah, I think that’s definitely an element of it. Another way to think about it is that you might not have an idea that will get 20 million views, but you have created a product that you presume is desirable and you assume your customers will want. But if you create something irresistible to a group of people, then your message will travel to that group. They’ll be more likely to share it with their friends and colleagues and people in the street. You have the potential to reach these niches that you didn’t have before. So I think from that perspective, it’s not about getting 20 million views, it’s about getting that customer, hitting that sweet spot and getting them to pass it on. That’s the real opportunity.
It’s like customer advocacy, right? They can spread that message for you?
Do you feel like social media, at least in the TrendHunter sphere, has really helped push you to the next level? Or do readers still come mostly organically to the site?
We have about two and half million Facebook fans, as well as the Twitter and all that kind of stuff, but we also have a lot of content. At the end of the day, having a lot of content is the key to getting more traffic. It ensures that there’s more thing people will share and you have more opportunity to show up in a Google result. So for any small business, it’s looking for ways to grow your content if you want to improve your online presence. The social media for us is an avenue that people can find us on, but the only thing we’re selling is our own information. Really it’s about ideas, so if you’re a business, it’s about creating ideas around your given product, about new things you’re doing, you culture and lifestyle. All that does is create more of a chance for people to find you and learn a lot more about what your company does.
Since we’re on the topic, there does seem to be this tendency to be really fixated on the Internet as the way to innovate. When you think about when Trendhunter started [back in 2005] most of the great stuff was happening offline. It might end up online as a result of people sharing or videoing it or whatever, but they happen in the real world. Do you think some business owners get disconnected from that?
Absolutely. When I present at conferences and we talk about what makes something ‘go viral’, we always try and apply those lessons more broadly. What I think is that all social media has done is give us insight into how communication works. It’s not so much that you need to know how Facebook or Twitter work, but if you understand what makes a message travel, you’ve now unlocked how word of mouth works. It’s the Holy Grail, and previously, we could never as a culture, study word-of-mouth. People tried but it’s very hard to quantify and very tough to understand. But it’s not that different to how users share something on Facebook or Twitter. They share a headline or an idea of something neat they found. I think by studying what happens what happens in social media, you can more broadly realise how you can market your product, how you can pitch, what you’re selling and who your customers are. We look at it as a big research base.