A big misconception about the market is that it’s controlled by marketers and the media. In fact, consumers control it. Great marketers, business people, and entrepreneurs just react to trends. It doesn’t matter whether Netflix’s latest show is your guilty pleasure or you think it’s a waste of time–the broader audience decides what’s popular.
If you have no control over this stuff, how can you possibly tell when to change your business strategy? There’s no single metric that will show you this. The problem with data is that it gives you a postgame view and generally doesn’t present a realistic picture that allows you to detect shifts in the market. Responding to the market puts you in a far more gray area than black-and-white numbers do, such as employee head count or a volume of users.
To be honest, I make most of my business decisions on gut instinct and intuition. I didn’t foresee that social media was going to explode by running analytics. But I devoted 95 percent of my market analysis to consumer attention and behaviors. I watched what was happening around Friendster, Blogger, and Myspace and believed these platforms were just the beginning of something big. When Facebook and Twitter came around, my gut said that social media was the future of digital marketing.
While there’s no definitive sign when to leap into a new venture, there are indicators to guide you. Paying attention to both the actions and reactions of your competitors and end consumers can signal the right time to act. For example, lack of competition in a market segment, especially when there’s no quality version of a product, is a sign that there’s room for you. The lack of competition in 2011’s social marketing space was one reason VaynerMedia could expand quickly.
A technology shift is another indicator. In the past few months, Facebook has added new features to create and distribute videos and has prioritized Facebook Live content in newsfeeds. Seeing where Facebook was going, I’ve invested in building out VaynerMedia’s video department from seven to 44 people in the past year. Being able to adapt to marketplace nuances yields a competitive advantage.
There is a stunning lack of conversation about the talents of innovators and strong executives who can read the tea leaves. Their understanding of and willingness to change are key to leading a business as it evolves.
You can be innovative by always testing and striving to understand whether the market will embrace a new strategy. The day Vine appeared in 2013, I had all 200-plus VaynerMedia employees drop what they were doing to download the app and figure out how to create the best Vine content. Because I made this call, our clients benefited from earned media, as they were first movers on the platform. As a leader, you need to make your employees feel ready to hop in, test, and understand what resonates in the current environment.
To grow a business, you must be a marketplace observer, and a practitioner of what you observe. You have to jump into the water without hesitation, and not just that–you also have to learn how to hold your breath and stay under. When you force yourself to be in fast-paced environments, you build the tolerance required to lead change more efficiently. Change is not easy. But it is imperative.
We’re all in different businesses with different markets and different competitors and at different stages of growth. The point at which you’re comfortable pivoting your strategies will differ from mine or someone else’s. However, consumers will always decide where the marketplace is going. The faster you can observe, test, and learn, the faster you can grow.