Current business trends seem to be always changing. But as new marketing ideas emerge and classic methods evolve, many businesses are finding that they're simply copying what others are doing. In a competitive marketplace, this behavior can prove fatal to a small business struggling to stand out.

One problem with trends is that by the time they're identified, they're usually already old news. Many professionals are reading the same trade publications and articles as you are, so you'll be behind the curve if you simply copy what you read. It's important that you read about current tactics that are working, learn from them, and use them as jumping-off points for your own creative strategies.

Find Your Style

One telltale sign of a trend follower is that they fail to project a style that's uniquely their own. Everyone knows brands like Coca-Cola and Target, but how many local plumbing companies can you identify by their logos alone? Your unique style sets you apart, identifies you, and defines your brand.

Once a company has identified its personal style, it should shine through in everything the company does. Make sure your business's logo, fonts, and backgrounds are incorporated into your products, promotional materials, and online identities to emphasize it in everything you do. Over time, consumers will come to recognize your business at first glance, leading your marketing efforts to stand out.

Filter Out the Noise

In my article, Signal to Noise: How to Stand Out from the Pack Online, I discussed the challenges many businesses face in standing out in today's crowded marketplace. The signal-to-noise ratio has only grown as businesses strive to reach customers through social media, email, direct mail marketing, and other forms of advertising. In the article, I stressed the importance of fully understanding your customers in order to reach them.

The companies that are the most successful know their customers well and use the right channels to reach those customers. While these businesses may pay attention to the most popular social media sites, they know which of those sites are most likely to appeal to customers who would be interested in your business. Over time, a successful business will also continually tweak its efforts based on the results each campaign is getting.

Surround Yourself with Innovators

A leader is only as good as their team. When you hire a staff that's creative and resourceful in their approach to planning, each time you need to approach a new problem, you'll have access to a trove of unique ideas.

To make the best use of the creativity you have at your fingertips, encourage brainstorming sessions to come up with great ideas. These sessions will help you push past the standard marketing tactics, coming up with ideas that will get customers' attention. As the boss, you can also think outside the box by planning idea-generating sessions to be held in a location outside the office. Even if you spend the day at a state park or an off-site meeting room, these getaways can sometimes be effective in inspiring creativity.

Get to Know Your Customers

If you own a brick-and-mortar store, you likely have the benefit of regular face-to-face interaction with your customers. For online businesses, however, website analytics tools are often the only way to understand your customers. Advanced analytics can offer information about referring sites and which pages get the most views and clicks, but when a business wants to tailor its marketing to a specialized customer base, a more personalized approach is necessary.

When handled correctly, online surveys are a great way to gather data from your customers. Research has found that customers find surveys disruptive and time-consuming, with many stating they wouldn't spend more than three minutes completing a feedback form. The vast majority of shoppers say they prefer to be the one to initiate feedback. For this reason, businesses often have more success by offering the option of completing a survey at the end of a transaction without making the request disruptive to the user's experience. A special discount offer can provide an extra incentive for customers to provide feedback when they might not have otherwise.

Trends Change

Consumer habits change; when that happens, unprepared businesses crumble. For lasting success, business owners must not only know the market but create a product that addresses a long-term need. A particular smartwatch app may be successful for a while, but an app that can work across a variety of platforms, from wearables to phones, is more likely to endure for the long haul.

When a small business seeks funding, potential investors will often research the market to determine whether similar ideas are already in motion. If an investor is copying a trend, chances are someone is already out there doing the same thing effectively. Unless the startup can show differences in what it will offer the market, it will likely fail to get the funding it needs. Even if it can secure funding, if the competition has established a place in the market, it'll be more likely to overwhelm the new company's attempts to get attention.

When You Should Follow Trends

As a trendsetter, your overall concept should be unique and innovative, but there are still areas were trends apply. When it comes to your back office and administrative tasks, paying attention to such trends as cloud technology and big data can help your business. These are tasks that aren't at the core of what you do, so by following the trends, you can save yourself time and effort by learning from what other businesses are doing.

Studying trends can also provide insight into the overall market in order to better find your own customers. Is your customer demographic more likely to use Facebook or Twitter? Do customers really use check-ins? Reading articles about these trends can help you learn more about social media demographics and habits that you can then use to tweak your own efforts.

As a business owner, you're likely a leader by nature. So, don't be a follower in the decisions you make. Pay attention to trends when it comes to running a business but ignore the trends when you're choosing a theme, marketing plan, and concept for the work you do. By being an innovator instead of playing follow-the-crowd, you'll enjoy years of success with your small, growing business.