5 Trends to Ignore in 2013
This article is part of Inc.'s special report on How (and Where) to Make Money in 2013 (and Beyond). Follow the links at the end of the story for more game-changing trends, bold predictions, and hot markets to watch next year.
'Tis the season for forecasting, prediction-making, and soothsaying. It's fun. It gives pundits, vendors, and journalists something to talk about. And it can be smart to try to keep your eye on legitimate trends that may affect your business.
Then again, sometimes a trend is nothing more than a lot of lemmings plunging over the edge of a cliff. Or it's something that makes sense for only a few select businesses. As you sift through the forecasts for what 2013 will bring, here are a few things that should make you raise a skeptical eyebrow.
1. QR Codes
You've seen those two-dimension bar codes on advertisements, product packaging, and even signs in stores. The idea is for a consumer to take a picture with a smartphone, use an app that can decipher the squiggles, and then land on a marketing website or perhaps download some enticing content.
QR may stand for quick response, but it might instead be an abbreviation of quixotic response. Back in June 2011, comScore estimated that 14 million Americans scanned QR codes with their mobile phones. It sounds like a big number--but it was only 6.2% of the total mobile audience. So, using them as a strategic marketing tool will likely mean you're reaching a tiny portion of your potential customer universe.
Plus, many consumers don't know how to use them and multiple types of 2D barcodes exist, just to make the world more complicated. So don't. Spend your time on communication forms that all your customers will readily understand.
2. Big Data
Everyone needs big data, if you read the business and technology magazines. But the term has become an amorphous catch phrase that covers everything. Real big data involves millions or even billions of data points. We're talking complicated tasks like predicting the weather, or Google looking for trends among all the search queries it sees day in, day out.
That level of data analysis is probably nowhere near what you need for your business. Most decisions are built on small data: dozens or hundreds or maybe thousands of data points. If you don't have systems in place that let you regularly and predictably make effective use of the data you already have, then looking at big data is like saying you want to jump into the ocean to avoid getting damp from a summer shower.
Also, making sense of lots of data is far harder than people think. There are few Nate Silvers out there, but you probably can't afford to hire them. Instead of trying to sift through massive amounts of data, spend more time in 2013 fine-tuning your products or personally connecting with your customers.
Tech industry watchers have lots of opinions about BYOD--that's short for bring your own device. The idea is that by letting employees use their own computers, smartphones, or tablets they'll be more productive. The other bonus, according to fans, is that it allows businesses to get out of the hardware provision business.
Time for a reality check. Sure, let workers bring mobile devices in, where it makes sense. But don't assume that just because they use their favorite iDevice employees will suddenly hit untamed levels of productivity. And don't assume that passing off the hardware mantle to your employees is sensible. What happens if they don't get an adequate degree of support? Are you ready for them to be out of commission while they wait for some unmotivated third party to repair their machines in a few weeks?
Figure out what employees need to do, what resources that requires, and when they need to do it. And if letting people use their own devices makes sense, do it bit at a time. Don't move everyone over wholesale.
Games are engaging. Games are fun. Games are interactive. It's no wonder businesses have jumped on the band wagon to bring game mechanics to things like in-house applications and consumer-facing mobile apps, not to mention other company initiatives. Why shouldn't a customer get an achievement badge for staying in a hotel or frequently "checking in" to a restaurant?
It might help some companies, but this has all the smell of a silver-bullet solution. If you don't have practices, insights, offerings, and ways of doing business that can bring customers closer to begin with, using games won't help.
Gimmicks can work to improve sales, employee productivity, or virtually anything else for a while. In organizational psychology, it's called the Hawthorne Effect. People start working harder because management is paying attention. But eventually things slow to back to normal levels, because people get used to the new status quo. When all is said and done, games rely on consumer whimsy and can be ephemeral in nature, which probably isn't what you had in mind for business improvements.
5. Consumer Internet Companies
Last year was strong for consumer Internet companies. VCs poured money into the sector--first- or seed-round deals accounted for 57% percent of deal flow in the third quarter. Notable start-ups like Cheezburger Inc. and Glam Media closed significant rounds. And just look at the money you can make through an acquisition: Even after the value of Facebook's stock crashed, Instagram still sold for $741 million this year.
Not so fast. Consider the hundreds of consumer Internet start-ups born in 2012 through accelerators, incubators, and start-up contests. Then consider how many of them fell right into oblivion. Despite the continued interest in this sector, there are already signs that at least some VCs are starting to put more of their money into less faddish concepts. This year, the B2B sector offered a few bright spots, especially in financial services and IT, in an otherwise down VC market.
Instead of turning every idea into another consumer website or application, consider what you can do that might have lasting value for some group of people. You might not get invited to all the cool Silicon Valley parties, at least not in the beginning, but you'll have some revenue to show for your efforts.
ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist
Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.