4 Strategies to Help Your Company Stay Ahead of the Competition Innovative companies find ways to stay ahead of trends and become the trendsetter themselves. Here's how.

By Steve Ball

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Everyone in the consumer packaged goods industry is well aware that consumer behaviors and trends can change at a rate that can be hard to keep up with, and while no one could have predicted the dramatic changes that 2020 ushered in for the world. The pet industry reached a historic high of $103 billion, and fueled by heightened consumer interest in products targeting immunity and overall wellness, pet supplement sales skyrocketed by 21% in 2020 to reach nearly $800 million, according to Packaged Facts. Then, The Brainy Insights also reported the global pet supplements market is expected to continue to grow to $9.65 billion by 2030. So, for our pet nutrition and care brands at H&H Group, Zesty Paws and Solid Gold Pet, this meant we absolutely needed to make note of these trends, stay innovative and curious, and remain one step ahead of our competitors.

By not only watching for these trending moments, but closely following them for valuable data insights and growth opportunities, companies within any industry can come up with innovative ways to stay ahead of the curve (and the competition). Here are four strategies you can use:

Related: How to Set Yourself Apart From the Competition

1. Trust your retailers and your consumers

One strategy is to listen to both your customers and consumers. It's important to have good working relationships with your retailers, because they're the ones on the front lines of the ever-changing marketplace that is fueled by the trend-based purchasing decisions of your consumers. By learning more about what these key stakeholders are hearing, seeing and being influenced by, companies can stay in lockstep with consumer behaviors. I've seen companies spend millions on tactics to decipher the "why" behind purchasing decisions, and while market research is an extremely valuable tool, I believe you get faster feedback by leveraging what is already available at your fingertips — your people.

When it comes to your consumers … listen. Whether that manifests through establishing a founder's club or an ambassador program, sourcing customer reviews or hosting focus groups, getting feedback on product innovation, brand initiatives and other programming can positively influence future business decisions and keep you ahead of the competition.

2. Be data-driven in your approach

Gathering data about your customers and consumers and using those findings to make better products is another age-old strategy, but what's new to the arena is the way in which data is collected. From proprietary data or public data sources to market research reports and segment analysis reports, data of all kinds helps to shine a spotlight on what customers want, what and when they're buying, as well as what the unmet needs of your customers might be. Understanding that data can help you truly define your niche space against competitors.

I would highly recommend subscribing to market research reports and trade publications in your industry to access timely data. You'll get in-depth analysis and insights from the reports and substantial highlights from trade publications, and both are valuable when evaluating your next move and spotting trends. Being able to combine the analytics with your instincts and experience makes for the right combination to innovate.

Related: Listen to Your Customers: Turn to Data to Discover Their Truth

3. Commit to being curious

Think about what has excited you as a consumer. How have you been engaged with as a customer? With social media, advertising, ecommerce, retail, etc., today's business market can feel completely oversaturated with options, so creating a strategy devoted to innovation, which requires a long-term commitment to curiosity, is one way to stay ahead of competitors.

"Curiosity drives innovation. It is an impulse to pursue a thought, find a solution, seek new possibilities or keep on a path to see what's around the next bend," wrote Sarah Austin, a fellow Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor and three-time venture-backed startup founder.

Having worked with business leaders ranging from entrepreneurs just starting their ventures to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, I've seen innovation be the defining factor in setting their companies apart from others in the industry.

Related: 7 Ways to Ignite Innovation and Surpass Your Competition

4. Distinguish your brand from the bandwagon

Differentiation is another key to staying ahead of the curve, but very few companies successfully put it into practice. Knowing what your company's differentiators are, be that pricing, a niche product or a unique brand story, will help you in creating a strategy to break through the noise of the competitive market.

One way to find out what makes you different is constructing a value proposition that helps you position your product or service around your customers' needs in a unique way only you can deliver. Find out what keeps your consumers coming back, what your business does better than anyone else and why someone should do business with you or buy your product. Then deliver on these at every touch point in the customer experience. For example, Zesty Paws was able to gain a foothold in the pet supplement category, because we took a more unique and fun approach to a market that had historically felt "medicinal" and rigid. When Zesty Paws was breaking into the pet supplement space, topicals and pills were prevalent, but we saw an opportunity to create an edible, soft chew format to change the way both pet parents and the pets felt about daily supplements, and it worked.

So, if it feels like your business is always on the hunt for "the next big thing," then you're probably doing something right. Innovative companies that find ways to stay ahead of trends often become the trendsetter themselves and ultimately set themselves apart from the competition.

Steve Ball

CEO of North America at H&H Group

Throughout his entrepreneurial career, Steve Ball has co-founded, ran and sold several consumer-products companies. Ball is an alumnus of Stanford University and the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. He lives in Denver with his wife, three kids and English Golden.

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