Digital tools and techniques to identify consumer trends

Keeping an eye on customer trends in your sector can inspire innovation, identify growth markets, emerging products and even spot untapped demand. We outline some digital tools and techniques that can help you.



Guide

5 min read

1. Overview

Whether you’re looking to develop your new business idea or diversify your existing business - keeping an eye on customer trends in your sector can inspire innovation, identify growth markets, emerging products and even spot untapped demand. Trends can also help you better understand your potential customers.

In this article, we’ll outline some digital tools and techniques that can help you identify customer trends in your sector.

2. What are people searching for?

An excellent way to find out what people are interested in is to see what they are searching for online. Over 80% of people use search engines to find a product or service online, with over 3.5 billion searches being made globally each day.

There are numerous tools available that let business owners and marketers tap into search data, some free and some on a paid subscription basis. Google is the largest search engine in the world and holds an enormous amount of data on what people are searching for and which search terms are growing in popularity. Fortunately, Google has developed some tools which allow you to tap into (a small amount of) this information - for free.

Google Trends

Google Trends lets users “explore what the world is searching” by showing a given search term or a topic’s popularity over time based on a sample of Google’s search data. It is a hugely valuable tool and it allows you to see whether searches for that term are increasing or decreasing. You can also compare up to five different search terms or topics to see how their trends differ.

Top Tips:

  • When you want to see a trend over time in Google Trends, set the widest possible time range (“2004-present”) to get a bigger picture of the trend’s rise or fall, and also to account for seasonality.
  • Change the geographic location of your search to see if there are any emerging trends for your search term or topic in other countries.
  • Always start by looking for trends within the main search engine (the ‘web search’ toggle), however if you are looking to create a product or sell online, you can also toggle the results to show search trends within Google Shopping.
  • Check out the ‘related topics’ and ‘related queries’ sections of your results for additional ideas related to your search term/topic.

Google Rising Retail Categories

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Google have launched a new interactive tool called Rising Retail Categories. This lets you see the product-related retail categories that are growing quickly in Google Search.

You can see the top fast-growing retail categories in a specific location over the last week/month and year. Then by clicking on each category, you will see the top-growing search terms in each one.

AnswerThePublic

Now provided by Google, AnswerThePublic is an interactive tool that allows you to see what phrases and questions users have searched for, for a given topic or search term. These phrases and questions are taken from the autocomplete search data from search engines like Google and Bing. This tool can be incredibly useful for showing what problems users are looking to solve and to give additional insight into how users are searching.

This is a paid tool, but you are able to run a small number of searches for free. To get the best from this, keep your entered search term or topic short and focused.

3. What’s trending on social media?

Social media is often a driving force behind new consumer trends. Because of this, having a look at trending topics and influencer activity on social media platforms can be very useful.

Instagram

Instagram is great for keeping up with trends in consumer-goods sectors such beauty, fashion, homeware, fitness etc. By using the explore function plus searching on relevant hashtags to your sector, you can gain an idea about what people are posting and interacting with. Also finding top influencers in your sector is very useful, understand what they are posting and if any trends are emerging.

Pinterest 100

As a social platform, people use Pinterest to find inspiration - searching for new ideas or ‘pinning’ things that they are interested in. Every year, Pinterest release the Pinterest 100. This is a ‘year in review’ report of activity on their platform, highlighting 100 trending searches from across the globe. Described by Pinterest as “your guide to what people want to try next”, it can be a useful place to look for inspiration and to see consumer trends.

Groups and forums

If you’re part of any groups (such as local Facebook groups) or if you visit any large forums (such as mumsnet or Reddit), keep an eye out for any trends emerging there. Are people looking for products that they find hard to source? Or are any recurrent problems coming up that you could solve. It's worth keeping a ‘problem solving mindset’ to help you spot emerging trends in numerous places online.

4. Market research and reports

There are a large number of organisations and think tanks who gather and research data on consumer trends within different markets and sectors. Whilst many of these services come with a fee, often these companies publish reports and insights that are available online.

Business Gateway Market Reports

Business Gateway offers free downloadable market reports for key information and research on your specific sector. If you need further information, Business Gateway can access more detailed research on your behalf and send you snippets from them.

Other resources

Many market research institutions and companies who own data or carry out research publish insightful reports. These can often be found by searching for your given sector and the words ‘research’, ‘trends’ or ‘insights’.

Some examples of sector wide ‘consumer trend’ reports are:

5. Reviews

Often by looking at reviews of similar products and services you’ll see gaps or niches where reviewers are looking for something the product is not delivering. Look at platforms, businesses and products relating to your sector. Depending on your business idea, some example platforms to look at could be:

  • Amazon reviews. If you are looking to develop a product, head to Amazon and look at 3 star and below reviews for products similar to your idea or in your sector to find any themes of issues that your product could solve.
  • Udemy reviews. If you are looking to create training, head to Udemy and look through 3 star and below reviews of courses in your sector to see if there are any trends in what users are looking for.
  • Trustpilot. You can also look at company reviews on sites such as Trustpilot to see if any trends are emerging.

Once you have identified key trends and developed your business idea, you will need to test your idea to check its viability.

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