Staying on top of industry, customer trends

Cartoons and comics have always been interconnected with business. It’s an art form that is very tied to commerce.

But like many other industries, cartoons and comics are changing with the times. More people are reading comics online. Also, through self-publishing, more creators are able to reach audiences on their own via minicomics.

I’ve learned all this and more working on this month’s Uniquely Columbus on the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. And it brings up an interesting question: What do you do when your industry and its customer base shifts beneath your feet?

I think the most important thing is to stay on top of the trend(s). If you ignore it, the problem only gets worse. It won’t go away.

You want to be on the cutting edge, not always reacting late.

Yet, how do you even know what the trends are, and more importantly know in time to do something about it?

Make the right connections

In many instances, you can actively gather intelligence. Usually the kinds of technology changes like the cartoon and comic industry are facing are further along with younger customers, so find ways to hear from them directly.

Use your connections in local universities and colleges. Pick the brains of your summer interns. Ask your children and their friends. Step into their world.

Last year I spoke with Greg Booth, the CEO of Zippo, about this very problem.

He said they needed to connect to younger consumers who didn’t have the iconic connection to the brand that their parents did. The company made a point of talking to a younger target audience and getting involved in something they enjoy by sponsoring concerts.

It’s all about making meaningful connections in the ways your customers want — that’s social media for the younger generation — and then using that connection to stay informed.

Your customers should feel like they are a part of your organization, and one way to do that is two-way communication — if they provide feedback, it actually builds loyalty.

Add outside research

Another useful tool is outside research. JWTIntelligence recently published its annual report, The Future 100: Trends and Change to Watch in 2015. You can find out more by reading Kelly Borth’s column.

I read over their report and it was very interesting. There were some things that I already knew — we are all strapped to our smartphones and are increasingly sophisticated consumers who expect so much more. But a few trends, especially the international ones, made me think. Who’s heard of a mipsterz? You know, a Muslim hipster.

I’m sure a number of organizations provide research like this, which you can add to your own intelligence gathering.

Only after you’ve wrapped your mind around what’s going on, can you determine what decision to make. Of course, you still might make the wrong decision. But you’ll definitely make the wrong decision if you don’t have a feel for where the industry is going.