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How Do You Spot the Difference Between a Trend and a Movement? Chasing business trends may not always pan out, so make sure you're betting on the big picture.

By Adam Bornstein Edited by Frances Dodds

This story appears in the December 2021 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Federico Gastaldi

Q: Trends are always changing. Which one would you bet on the next few years to help small businesses grow? — Leanna, Charleston, S.C.

At first glance, trends look like great opportunities. A wave built by many is capable of carrying many to success. But as you say yourself, trends change. It's hard to know how long any ride will last. And if you jump on the wrong trend (or jump on a good one too late), it can become a high-risk, low-reward investment for your business.

So instead of betting on trends, learn to spot movements. For example, instead of trying to capitalize on a single trending video or TikTok dance, it's more effective to understand how TikTok is popular with a certain audience and then plan to leverage that platform for your brand over time. Movements change the fabric of how we interact, consume, or exist. They're an ocean, not a wave, and within each ocean are endless opportunities to experiment and create repeated success.

Related: Want to Scale Your Business? Stop Worrying About Your Competition and Focus on These 3 Things Instead.

I'll share a movement I'm personally betting on, but it's important to note this first: You might not always agree with or understand the momentum behind certain movements. That's OK. What's important is that you're able to recognize when they are happening, and grasp their potential to change everything.

Fifteen years ago, the gig economy probably sounded crazy to most people. Airbnb struggled to get off the ground because the idea of sharing your home with strangers was, well, strange. But the movement wasn't about homes. It was about shifting power away from traditional gatekeepers — ­­in this case, hotels. The same thing happened with communication. In the past, it was dominated by media companies. Then blogs and social media gave everyone a voice.

The next movement I see changing business is digital communities. While communities are nothing new, Web 3.0 technology is harnessing data to bring people together.

Here's how you can make that shift work for you. Instead of thinking about your business as something that is only profitable for you, imagine how your business can also create value for your consumer. What if the product or service you offer helped create a community or a network?

Related: 5 Tips for Entrepreneurs Looking to Create a Movement

It's an evolution in loyalty and rewards. You don't need to understand crypto or blockchain to know that something is happening with the way people view the ownership of assets. This is why things like NFTs (non-fungible tokens) have taken off. People see value in owning a piece of something connected to a community. Owning a piece of a shared ecosystem means that when the ecosystem grows or succeeds, more people win. Put another way: If the community you build benefits others when it grows, more people will want to see it succeed.

Here's why this should matter to you. Small businesses have always been the David to Goliath corporations. But small businesses' ability to build communities, reward loyalty, and deepen connections with their consumers is leveling the playing field. While advertising isn't going away anytime soon (or ever), the future of advertising will continue to focus on communities, individuals, and purpose. More and more, the community you build will be the heartbeat of your business. When you give your consumer incentives or reasons to connect with your purpose, you'll establish network-effect relationships that are bigger than any trend.

Adam Bornstein

Founder of Pen Name Consulting

Adam Bornstein is the founder of Pen Name Consulting, a marketing and branding agency; a New York Times best-selling author; and the creator of the two12 event.

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