As the calendar year changes, two things are persistently predictable: Articles will abound about new year's resolutions and hot trends for the year ahead. I think business leaders should think about and possibly take action that's based on an analysis of the lists of 2021 trends.
These lists highlight forces outside your company that could benefit or hurt your business. This raises questions: If you have not acted on these forces, how should you decide whether they are a headwind, a tailwind, or irrelevant to your business? If relevant, how should you change your business strategy to make the force a tailwind that will boost your growth?
To answer that question, here's a list of nine tech trends that The Wall Street Journal says will "change your life in 2021":
- Products that solve pandemic-induced problems such as better webcams, masks, and tools that de-virus the surfaces of your devices
- Quieter, cooler, and more energy efficient laptops
- Watching more new movies at home, rather than in a cinema
- "Assisted reality" glasses that project text, images, and video feeds into a user's field of view
- More remote workouts and doctor visits
- Rise of e-commerce from Amazon competitors
- More monthly subscription-based services
- Replacing office-based work with work from home and in-person company events
- Bigger electric vehicles -- such as SUVs and trucks
Here are five questions to consider as you decide whether to change your business in response to these trends.
1. Is the trend an opportunity or a threat?
Business leaders should hire an independent analyst to categorize each trend as either irrelevant, a potential opportunity for growth, or a looming threat to the company's survival.
If, for example, your company delivers candy to movie theaters, the trend of releasing new movies online and in theaters simultaneously represents a threat to your business -- at least until the pandemic ends. However, you could offset some of the lost revenue by providing a quick candy-delivery service to people's homes before they watch a movie there.
2. If an opportunity, will it benefit customers or employees?
Guide the analyst to ask customers and employees what binds them to your company. Ask customers why they buy from you rather than from rivals; ask employees why they keep showing up for work at your company and are not looking for a new employer.
Ask the customers whether any of these trends will make them more or less eager to buy from your company and why. Explore with employees whether any of the trends would make them more or less likely to want to keep working with your company and why.
Opportunities could emerge from the customer and employee interviews. If you are fortunate -- as companies like Wayfair and Zoom experienced -- your company is already in the right place at the right time to satisfy a surge in demand.
3. What new products or changes to operations should you launch to capture the opportunity?
Opportunity for a new product could also emerge from a shift in customer demand. As I wrote last August, Eden Park, a company that made ultraviolet lighting for diamond dealers, altered its product to meet workplace demand for killing viruses during the pandemic -- boosting sales 10-fold.
Or consider the rise of Amazon competitors trend. If your company sells its products on Amazon, perhaps there is an opportunity to improve your reach and profitability by tapping into that trend by contracting instead with Shopify. In so doing, your company could regain direct contact with buyers while lowering its e-commerce fees.
4. If a threat, does it weaken your links to customers or employees?
The conversations with customers and employees described in question two, above, could also make it clear that some of the trends are threats to your company's relationships with these key stakeholders.
For example, if your employees are all working from home, the conversations may reveal that they are feeling disconnected from their peers and are exploring new opportunities with companies that host activities that boost employees' sense of camaraderie with their colleagues.
5. Can you change your strategy to turn the headwind into a tailwind?
Consider ways to turn a trend that could threaten your business into an opportunity that accelerates its revenue growth.
An example from my book, Goliath Strikes Back, is showrooming: Consumers visit a retail store to decide which product -- say a flat-screen TV -- to purchase. They then go online and buy the product at the lowest price.
Best Buy's then-CEO, Hubert Joly, turned that revenue-sapping trend into an opportunity by matching the lowest online price and selling the consumer, say, a TV stand as well.
Answer these five questions and you could turn 2021's tech trends into growth for your company.