Top 5 Business Trends of 2014… and how to capitalise on them

Beyond the buzzwords, what strategies and tactics will help you take your business to the next level in 2014? Trend forecaster and consultant Jackie Danicki lights the way.

What's the trend? Content marketing is king

Apple recently made waves by announcing they'd poached Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts – the person who's been pivotal in pioneering brands as media companies. In 2009, she created Burberry's first digital campaign, an art-meets-advertising initiative called The Art of the Trench. Plaudits and increased revenue proved the concept: E-commerce sales grew by 50%. By 2012, Burberry had shifted 60% of its marketing budget to digital.

How can your business capitalise on this trend?

The strategies and tactics employed by the likes of Burberry can be applied by any business – even if you're a B2B company.

Epiphany Solutions CEO Rob Shaw says: “We are seeing more and more SMEs understanding the value in spending their marketing budget on high quality, useful content. It's not just content as an SEO technique but content as good old fashioned brand marketing.” Whether it's capitalising on Twitter Amplify to place sponsored video clips in users' feeds or creating imaginative videos to build buzz, video is a key area of activity.

Do it right: High-quality, valuable content is non-negotiable. It's advisable to bring in outside experts who can help conceive, produce and deliver killer content. Key staff can give input while devoting most of their time to executing on core business.

What's the trend? Big Data

Big Data has been a major buzzword for the past couple of years. But this well-deserved hype has been focused on how data can reveal what happened in the past. In 2014, more enterprises will be using that data to innovate.

This often means taking data collected for one purpose and applying it differently. For example, startup Farecast processed 200 billion records for flight prices to advise travel shoppers whether the fare they were quoted was likely to go up or down. Farecast was such a hit that Microsoft paid more than $100 million to acquire it and then integrated it into Bing Travel.

How can your business capitalise on this trend?

Alignment with customers' demands can be gained with insights generated from analytics. Data technologies, increasingly more attainable to SMEs, can still be a significant investment, but one that most companies cannot afford to skip.

Not ready for a full-scale Big Data revolution? Even if you dip just a toe in the water, the benefits could be considerable. For example, try pulling data from GPS and fuel monitoring systems to analyse your supply chain and find inefficiencies. Once you start using insights gleaned from data to save money and do business more effectively in one area, you'll be eager to expand the approach to driving innovation based on data.

What's the trend? Pop-upification

The pop-up trend started in the early 2000s, with the London Fashion Bus being an early inspiration. A stylised double-decker toured the UK with more than 1,400 garments from 40 designers, giving valuable exposure in a fiercely competitive industry.

But this trend took years to move beyond quirky fun and into revenue-driving, mainstream business. Now that Hermes has jumped on the bandwagon it's clear that even heritage brands can find value in pop-ups.

How can an SME like mine capitalise on this trend?

Pop-ups are a low-risk way of testing new products and services, running trials in certain locations to see if demand exists, showcasing your launch in a new region, or pushing brand awareness during a special event.

If your business is based online, moving offline can help win customers. Broadband company TalkTalk used a pop-up shop run by celebrity shopkeeper David Dickinson to launch its latest service. Ethical smartphone startup Fairphone, which sells devices made from conflict-free materials, used a pop-up space during London Design Week to show off its prototypes.

Bonus: If you have empty space, pop-ups can market the space with something vibrant and lucrative. New York's subway stations recently began offering short-term leases for store space while they source long-term tenants. The first to open is a Uniqlo pop-up in Union Square station.

What's the trend? Localisation goes global

Last year the Government provided £9m in funding to enable more SMEs to expand into overseas markets. The overall aim has been to double UK exports to £1 trillion by 2020. Given that more UK SMEs are now growing on an international level, localisation is increasingly important. Epiphany CEO Shaw said his company recently opened an office in Sydney, as many of their clients are going global. “More companies are realising that they have a product that can be shipped internationally and still generate a margin,” Shaw says.

How can your business capitalise on this trend?

Global expansion may mean using a service like Voxpro, trusted by dozens of SMEs as well as companies like Google and Accenture to execute customer contact and support in 12 languages. This can include everything from admin, billing and tech support to sales. “The relationship starts with the first call,” says Voxpro co-founder Dan Kiely, himself shortlisted for Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2013.

You'll also need to make sure your web presence is highly targeted for local markets in order to drive both traffic and conversion to sales. Agencies like Epiphany can help, creating multi-currency and multi-lingual versions of your website, as well as localising search engine marketing.

What's the trend? Right-sized personalisation

People now place a premium on being able to give their custom to independent businesses where they can see the impact of their spend with people they actually know.

But SMEs often confuse formality with professionalism, trying to act how they think a “proper company” would. Many businesses have failed to capitalise on the advantages of modest size. Right-sizing means delivering transparency on the fact that you're not a mega-corporation, and surfacing the benefits of this. The ability to get very close to customers is unique to SMEs and can be used to drive personalisation in everything you do.

How can your business capitalise on this trend?

First, resist the urge to see your size as a problem when it's really an asset. If you're the owner or managing director, those who are subordinate to you will take their cue from the top.

Second, find ways to personalise. This can be something as simple as training staff to always introduce themselves to customers – and you, as owner or MD, should lead by example. Emphasise the importance of remembering names and particular details that the customer has shared previously.

Finally, never underestimate the power of picking up the phone and asking a customer what's working and what's not in their relationship with you. The mere act of asking can be a more powerful marketing tool than any advert.

Always drive to business objectives and make sure those objectives are rooted in reality rather than forecaster hype. That means surrounding yourself with clever people (indeed, cleverer than you), and seeking their counsel as a matter of course. Because following a trend for the sake of it is, as ever, also a trend – but not one that comes recommended.

In a nutshell

Openness to new innovations is more important than ever, with Burberry, TalkTalk and Farecast united by their ability to see, think and feel differently about their businesses, then adapting to changes quickly. That’s not to say that you should blindly follow a new trend or way of working. The true key to success is being aware of a new trend, then being discerning enough to identify if it’s right for your business.