Hitch Your Wagon to a Star: 8 Trends Small Businesses Can Aspire to in 2019


How did your business leverage the fidget spinner craze circa 2016? Did you sell them? offered them as a promotional item? made references to them? watched in awe and wondered what that was all about? I remember being on a crazy hunt for them I would have bought a new car just to get one as a complimentary gift. That was a trend off the rails!

2019 is a lot different according to LPK, a leading Cincinnati brand company. From time to time, LPK invites the public to participate in its events. I had the pleasure of going to one such event late last year when they revealed Trends for 2019. I wrote down notes to share with the home and small business community. How can your business use these trends to find new customers, increase revenue and maintain relevance? 

Trend #1 - Satiric Solidarity

Did you catch the sold-out Trevor Noah show at The Aronoff? That is Satiric Solidarity at its finest. Despite your politics, we can all agree that cleverly delivered humor or satire can unite, if only for a moment in time. Its subversive form exposes the absurdities of power that leave some people feeling better because, in some way, the unaccountable elite are not so perfect after all. It is in these micro-moments that a business can cleverly share its message.

A well-crafted satiric message can create a lasting memory or moment that customers will remember. The meteoric rise of comedic shows like The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver showcases this perfectly. In print, the Borowitz Report and The Onion lead the charge. A recent headline in The Onion “quoted” Disney CEO, Bob Iger saying “At Disney, We Live Every Day in Terror That You’ll Turn on Superhero Movies”. Isn't that a great way to remind people what Disney is all about? 

These publications are not new, and neither is satire. They have been around for a while, but the uptick in appeal, viewership and satirical articles going viral demonstrate renewed interest. How can your business leverage this renewed interest in satire to connect with customers? 

Trend #2 -The Coastal Cache Comedown

When LPK explained this trend as Small-town America making a comeback, I heard Leonard Cohen singing Hallelujah. A couple months ago, my husband and I started talking about moving to a small town once we get the twins through high school. It’s still a ways away, but the pull is great for many reasons. When I visit my sister-in-law, who lives in small town America, we never want to live. The kids run through the rolling hills with reckless abandon. Events at the town square are fun, and the crowds? manageable. Best of all, they built their house at a fraction of the cost it would have cost to build in the City. 

It’s easy to concentrate sales in the urban core, but what happens when that urban core is moving to small town America? According to Forbes:

“Recent demographic data show a movement away from expensive coastal cities, including millennials, who tend to look for affordable single-family homes. The number of rural home mortgages has increased for five straight years, though the increase trails the rate in urban areas, and nearly twice as many millennials, according to the National Association of Realtors, bought a home in small cities or rural areas last year than in denser urban areas”. 

 Small-town America is thriving because families are placing a premium on joyful living and affordability. They want to enjoy the environment, grow their own foods and let the kids enjoy the great outdoors without worrying about city maladies. Barriers to country living are slowly being pulled away as technology becomes readily available, online shopping delivers in 3 days or less and navigation systems demystify locations. The idea of isolation in small town America is fast fading away. How can your business hitch onto this wagon?

Trend #3 - Insta-spirituality

Can your business offer a life-changing experience? What about an AHA! moment? Dissatisfied with the humdrum of modern life, more and more people are seeking alternate spiritual paths to health and wellness. They are skeptical of religious institutions, and after years of chugging down on stimulants and anti-depressants for brief moments of relief, many people have started to seek health and wellness from alternative medicine. 

In May last year, popular NPR host, Terry Gross interviewed Author, Michael Pollan on his new book, “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence". In the interview, Pollan recounts his experiences with psychedelic drugs and how transformative those experiences are to most people.

For years, we have been told of the magic of SSR drugs, now we know that the real magic might be in edible magical plants that have been with us since time immemorial – Mushrooms. Unlike the addictive SSR drugs that are laden with side effects, increasing research is showing that psychedelic drugs are a one-time non-addictive option. While this is still on the fringe for most people:

If you see a monster, don’t try to run away, walk right up to it, plant your feet and say what do you have to teach me? What are you doing in my mind? if you do that, your fear will morph into something very positive...

(Michael Pollen explaining the directive normally given during a transcendent experience.) it is not the only alternate people have dabbed into. Think of the sudden influx of Himalayan salts, the re-emergence of dream catchers and the countless yoga studios specializing in various types of yoga in most suburban centers. Insta-spirituality and holistic health might very well be a precursor to the disruption of pharma as we know it.

Trend #4 - Escaping Escapism

“Will our need for human emotion trump our desire to numb?”, that is the question. The paradox of escape is that we have enlisted technology to escape our lives. As much as technology has decreased divide around the world, it has increased isolation in some people. We turn to gadgets, the theory goes, so that we can escape the toxicity of maintaining human relationships. We have subcontracted our emotional capital to technology. Robots are matching us with our life partners, texting has replaced human to human physical interaction, and Grub Hub has all but eliminated our need to go out and eat.

There are many documented studies of people who totally immerse themselves in whatever content their device of choice, risking the development of healthy human relationships. We have all heard of the mom who texts a child sitting next to her if she wants a faster response from that child. We are increasingly reliant and dependent on our devices that according to The Guardian, experts believe that between 1% and 13% of the US population has some level of internet addiction, and up to 20% of young adults.

When the tech craze started, most looked at it as a form of escape from dreary lives and mundane conversations, but as the years go by and tech companies sought to ensnarl us, even they are finding that they created a monster and ban their own kids from tech gadgets.

Putting down a device has become an act of self-care. How can your business tap into this need for relaxation and experiences that involve a limited amount of technology? How can you tap into the needs of families, friends and co-workers who want to make human connections more meaningful?

Trend #5 - The Great Tech-Lash

If you are a small business, this is your moment to shine. Tech companies seem to have become unwitting extraction companies, much to the anger of consumers. What we feared watching the great robot movies of the '80s is coming true - large conglomerates dictate how we live our lives and where we are going to be living them. What we eat, what we like, what we desire. We have given them the information and now they can manipulate us into being consumer zombies - or so it seems.

This is to the small business advantage. As more and more people realize that they unwittingly sold their data to researchers for nothing, they are re-evaluating what they divulge before dealing with a business. More and more people are asking the question - what’s the value being given to me in exchange for my information? why do you need this data? how will it be used? Those that decide it's against their best interests, seek out the local small business to patronize. How can your business appeal to this discerning consumer to create a safe environment for them?

Trend #6 - Modernizing Masculinity

As I did one final take at this article, P & G (Gillette) released a powerful ad that has gone viral. In a #MeToo era, masculinity is shifting from toxic masculinity to masculinity that is more emotional, non-conformist and human-centered. Men are no longer judged by how many crude and lewd jokes and behaviors they can come up with, but by how much they can communicate their emotions, tame their adrenaline, stand up for what’s right and be a man for all seasons – even-tempered, cognitively aware and sensitive to their environment and the emotional needs of those around them.

I chatted with a small business owner who pointed out that, "small businesses are not in a position to make this change", and I thought, my point exactly! The title of this article - hitch your wagon to a star, shows you how. Many small businesses do B2B transactions with larger corporations that do social responsibility marketing. Help them understand the communities you do business in and how societal changes might improve their lives.

Society is increasingly displaying an uneasiness with the association of privilege and dominance. If a business has not made the shift to appeal to healthy masculinity stereotypes, it might fail to morph into a business that still appeals to the consumer 5 or 10 years from now. What can you do in your business to appeal to this new expression? Who can you hitch your wagon to, to prepare for the inevitable changes coming your way?

Trend #7 - The Radical Third Way

The radical third way takes a detour from current conventional wisdom that you're either for us or against us. It appeals to those who are neither GOP nor Democrat. These are the moderate types. The type of people who want to make concessions and compromise. They don’t see anything wrong with that and look at the current political climate as leading the country to record levels of divisiveness and unproductivity. 

In 2019, this camp would rather forget about political camps, erase any lines that have been drawn, and concentrate on those issues we agree. 

For businesses, it's easy to sell a ton of merchandise to either Democrats or Republicans. It behooves business owners to think about their brand. Do you want to be associated with the divisiveness or a new way of thinking? Do you want to be as activist as Patagonia or take a more nuanced stance? According to an Accenture report on Marketing Strategy:

US companies that stand for something bigger than what they sell, tune into customers’ beliefs, and take decisive action on issues can recast their customer relationships and connect with consumers on a deeper level.

If you could connect with your customers on a deeper level, what would you do?

Trend #8 - Redefining Influence

Who holds influence in your marketing? the local coupon magazine or the popular socialite whose neighbors buy anything she Instagram’s? Does your market define influence or individual consumers do? And by the way, how do individuals get 10 000 followers on Instagram? Enter the world of bots and all things that have led brands to redefine influence.

Where it used to be authority figures and celebrities, it is now that friend who seems to always be one step ahead of you. The one you emulate, from what type of coffee cup they are carrying around these days to the car they are buying. Brands have noticed they can monetize that social influence your admired friend has, and they are leaning heavily into influencer marketing.  

However, because bots and other questionable promotions are increasingly found in this space (watch the Netflix documentary, Fyre Festival to see how this type of marketing contributed to an epic fail), employees are being tapped as influencers. They are several advantages to this: they are already on the payroll, they are knowledgeable about the product and it gives the business a personal touch. The key is not to require all employees to do this (they will hate it), but to tap into those employees who are already comfortable with social media. Now they can have a legitimate reason to be on their phones at work! 

While this list is not exhaustive or fool proof, it hopefully inspires new ways of thinking about the future of your business. The unique opportunities you can pursue and how best to make them work to serve your customers. Got ideas and feedback for me? I'm always happy to chat.


Originally Published on February 7, 2019

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