Study Trends to Guide Your Innovation Efforts Keep your finger on the pulse of four key waves driving new product development.

By Louis Foreman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Each year's end brings an onslaught of predictions for new consumer product trends and a recap of what made the biggest impact.

Savvy businesses and entrepreneurs understand the importance of adapting to consumers' ever-changing preferences to stay competitive. In today's dog-eat-dog business environment, innovation is key to survival.

While it's easy to identify trends in consumer products, businesses and entrepreneurs must understand how current events and societal changes bring about product innovation. Identifying the underlying societal forces that catalyze consumer product trends is imperative to success. Companies that embrace and engage in proactive innovation in their strategy will thrive.

Here are some social trends and current events poised to contribute to consumer product innovation:

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1. Aging baby boomers.

With the largest generation of Americans in history entering retirement comes a demand for health care innovation. In 2030, 26 percent of the U.S. population will be 65 or older, compared with 17 percent today.

What sets apart the boomer demographic from its predecessors is the level of expectations. Whereas health-focused devices were enough for baby boomers' parents and grandparents, this generation will expect smarter, on-demand products and devices. This includes smart health monitoring, medication-management systems, wearable health tech devices and emotion sensor technology. With the health care crisis looming, organizations will need to develop increasingly sophisticated technology to fill the void.

2. Social connectedness and technology.

It's clear social networking has affected the approach of businesses toward innovation -- not to mention how they connect to their customers. With unlimited on-demand information and entertainment at consumers' disposal, instant gratification is becoming the norm. Consumers expect more products to be "smart."

An example of a company pioneering the "smart home" movement is Lowe's Home Improvement, among the first to target the mass market with a broad home-automation solution. Lowe's 2014 Smart Home Survey found that 52 percent of Americans feel that having a smart home is somewhat important to them. Among the most desired smart products includes security and home monitoring systems, thermostats, lighting, and coffee pots.

Related: Prod a Product Into Double-Duty (Profit and Social Good) With 3 Questions

3. Sustainability.

An eco-friendly lifestyle is becoming increasingly attractive and affecting buying behavior. Consumers are concerned about purchasing socially responsible brands. With more companies adopting green initiatives as the cornerstone of their business model, more alternatives are available. Expect consumers to make purchasing decisions based on a company's eco-focused innovation, with products available such as Seventh Generation's cleaning supplies, Bourgeois Boheme footwear or Yellow Leaf Hammocks.

4. Customization and personalization.

With the popularity of social media and the ease of online publishing, trends are evolving faster than ever before. Consumers don't want generic products. They want something unique and reflective of their individuality. Retailers and manufacturers are offering more custom embellishment options and online-customization platforms, such as NikeID. Entire shops consist of designs created by other customers, such as Casetify. Mass customization lets companies differentiate their brands from the competition, increase a product's perceived value and gain purchasing and preference insights.

These societal trends are driving changes in business models, additions to product lines and approaches to innovation. Entrepreneurs and businesses that proactively seek out these trends and modify their strategies may find themselves not just successfully navigating consumer product trends but also pioneering them.

Related: Underdogs Can't Win Being Copycats

Wavy Line
Louis Foreman

Entrepreneur, CEO of Edison Nation and Edison Nation Medical

Louis Foreman is chief executive officer of Charlotte, N.C.-based Edison Nation, an online community and innovation marketplace whose focus is to bring inventors' product ideas to market. He also runs Edison Nation Medical, an online community for health-care innovation. 



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