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  • The Right Way to Respond to Trends
  • Trends affect your business. If you are on trend, the impact is positive. But, trouble can easily brew when the trends go against your business. To succeed, it is important to respond to those trends the right way. Yet, too many businesses do not.

    Two major problems often occur when businesses respond to trends:

    First, many businesses make the mistake of responding far too late. They wait until a trend is well underway, often taking action only after the trend's impact makes a response seem urgent. They then change their products or services in an attempt to fit with the trend.

    Second, and far more serious, is the mistake of responding to the trend in an ineffective way. Even when the response is prompt, an ineffective response to a trend can be as bad as, or worse than, not responding at all.

    An ineffective response to trends often focuses too much upon the trend, when in fact, a business's strengths should play as prominent a role as does the trend itself. A successful response to a trend generally entails a good fit between the business's strengths and the trend. It builds on a business's past foundations and heritage. Yet, businesses often err by focusing primarily upon the trends, without paying enough attention to their own strengths and without building upon past foundations.

    An example is the trend toward healthier eating and fast food chain KFC. With this trend, many consumers perceive grilled chicken as far healthier than fried. So, KFC introduced grilled chicken. Focusing on the trend, however, and not on its own strengths, KFC advertised its new grilled chicken as unfried. Much of what KFC did seemed to give the impression that the company wanted grilled chicken to replace its flagship fried chicken. But, KFC's grilled chicken fared far more poorly than hoped. As a result, franchisees voiced strong opposition and demanded a renewed emphasis upon fried chicken, KFC's heritage.

    Disappointing results like this are not unusual when too little attention is paid to the company's strengths and heritage. In fact, KFC's radical departure from emphasizing its core fried chicken brand while shifting to grilled can entail the kind of risk versus reward mistake that plagued New Coke. (See our Winning MovesŪ Special Report "Are You Killing Your Golden Goose?") Both KFC and New Coke either took away or gave the impression of possibly taking away a powerful existing brand. Both replaced it with something new that was opposed. Unlike New Coke, however, for KFC it was the franchisees who were so vocal about wanting fried chicken back.

    Nonetheless, whether responding to competitive challenges (like New Coke in response to Pepsi's taste tests) or responding to a trend (like KFC and healthier eating), building upon strengths and past foundations is essential. A business cannot expect success by throwing away its strengths and past foundations for a gamble on something radically different--even if that gamble responds to a trend.

    To successfully shift toward healthier offerings, KFC must do so in an evolutionary fashion. (See my Winning MovesŪ Special Report "Evolution, Not Revolution".) This requires identifying and taking a series of steps that might move the firm toward healthier fare. Those steps must build upon what the company is now, and take it systematically from there to where it wants to be. But, KFC cannot successfully adapt to the trend by merely throwing grilled chicken on the market and hoping for good results buoyed by the trend.

    In conclusion, responding to trends the right way requires an assessment of how the trend fits with your strengths and how your response can build on those strengths. If the trend does not fit your strengths, you should evaluate whether to work on developing an evolutionary path that can get your business more in line with the trend. Or, it may be better to evolve the company by looking for areas of growth potential in keeping with your strengths, but not necessarily following the trend. Either way, a strategic approach is needed to succeed. Haphazardly following the trend is not the answer.

    So remember, when faced with decisions about how to respond to a trend, avoid the common trap of merely following the trend. Be especially cautious about following the trend if it will leave you in a serious struggle against competitors whose strengths truly fit the trend. Instead, find effective ways to evolve your business, ways that fit your specific situation well and can lead your firm to greater success. This doesn't mean you should ignore the trend, but only respond in ways that are right for your business.

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    Ezop and Associates
    La Grange Park, IL
    (708) 579-1711