Last week we talked about how creativity is often an invaluable trait for those wanting to be successful in marketing. This quality is a requirement due to intense competition, changing customer needs and other factors, which force marketers to be continually on the lookout for new opportunities. How much time and effort a marketer should invest in finding new opportunities will certainly depend on the business. For well-funded companies, with large marketing budgets and employees whose main job is to research potential new markets, looking for new ideas is a full-time effort. Smaller marketers, who may not have the luxury of a staff dedicated to research, may not be able to afford to spend time each week looking for something new. However, they still need to be watchful of new developments by keeping in close contact with their current customers to see what seems to be capturing their interest, or use other methods, such as watching news sites and social media, to see what they can learn.

The true test of being innovative is to have a product that is at the forefront of an emerging market or at least not too far behind. Unfortunately, this is very easy to say, but often difficult to do. As we noted in a previous post, it is often tricky to determine whether a developing market holds viable long-term potential or is just a fad. Jumping in too late may mean a marketer has missed the market while jumping in too early for a market that never takes off can prove to be an expensive mistake. So making the decision to enter or hold off is one of the more difficult marketing decisions organizations face.

Another example of a market that may or may not have long-term potential is discussed in this story from Advertising Age. It reports on the growing market for cooking products targeted to children. Sensing that a new market is evolving, marketers are addressing this with a number of new products including kid-size stainless steel cookware, television programs, magazines, as well as pretend kitchens. The story suggests demand in this market can, in some ways, be attributed to the efforts of the Food Network cable channel. Their shows, featuring children in cooking situations, may be helping to frame cooking as an activity for girls and boys of any age.

If it turns out kids are accepting cooking as a fun activity, then marketers should expect this market to be much more than a fad and getting in too late may be costly.

Choosing the right price to charge is among the most complex of all marketing decisions. As we note in our Pricing Decisions tutorial, setting price is complicated because marketers must take into consideration both internal factors, which are those largely controlled by the marketer, and external factors, which are outside their control. For external factors, what their competitors charge is the most obvious one marketers will consider. This is especially crucial if the target market does not see much difference between competing products. In this type of market, constant monitoring of competitors’ marketing activity is needed, including watching what happens with their price.

One industry in which response to competitors’ pricing seems to be increasing can be found in higher education. For instance, many may be under the perception the price of tuition at colleges and universities seems to be always increasing. However, competition to attract students is forcing most institutions to become more aggressive in their marketing efforts, including becoming more competitive on price. While the published tuition on a university’s website is essentially the list price a college is charging, increasing competition is forcing schools to offer price adjustment that reduce the actual price. These adjustments usually appear in the form of scholarships, grants, and other incentives that can substantially lower what a student will pay.

Another example of how the higher education market is changing in response to price can be seen with college textbooks. Historically, what has been somewhat unique about the textbook market is the lack of competition for textbooks. At most institutions, professors choose the book they want to use, and students pay whatever price the school’s bookstore charges for the book. In this situation, there is no competition for the book (i.e., professors generally do not give a choice of different books that students can select), consequently students must pay whatever the price may be, which can be steep.

However, as discussed, in this Bloomberg story, businesses have responded to the high cost of textbooks by offering other options, such as short-term rental and digital versions. The result is that students' spending on course materials has been dropping for several years, even though the price of textbooks has risen.

From a marketing perspective, this is probably not a good sign for textbook publishers unless they fight back by offering less expensive options or providing more value for the prices they do charge.

In our What is Marketing? tutorial, we summarize what marketing is about with a single sentence consisting of just 28 words. However, a clearer picture of marketing can be found in our dissection of the key terms found in our definition. In particular, for this post we want to focus on just one word found in the definition - “create.” An essential characteristic of nearly all marketers is that they must be creative in all aspects of marketing. This is especially the case for product decisions. Marketers need to be constantly on the lookout for new ideas that can lead to goods and services that will be of interest to current customers or, better yet, to customers they do not currently serve.

Considering the importance placed on launching new products, some may wonder why companies are ever late to a market when there are potentially great rewards for those who are early. Of course, there are many reasons including lack of research to identify new trends, lack of money to invest in new ideas and, possibly the most common reason, executives are happy with how things are going and do not see a need to explore new ideas.

Of course, the last reason is probably the thing that will eventually lead to problems. Being content with where a company stands in terms of marketing decisions is almost always a bad idea. Creating products is one of the most important aspects of what marketers do while not changing or innovating is almost always going to lead an organization to troubled times.

An example of the importance of innovation can be seen in this story from Fortune. It discusses how fast food chain Chick-fil-A, a company that is not necessarily known for innovative ideas, caught its competitors off guard last year when it added iced coffee to its menu. Chick-fil-A has found being early, to what is now a rapidly growing market for iced coffee, has been met enthusiastically by customers and is a key reason coffee sales have doubled. Naturally, Chick-fil-A’s success has brought competition from other major fast food outlets, which means company executives can’t afford to sit back and gloat about their success. Instead, with the speed at which competitors are introducing their own iced coffee products, Chick-fil-A will need to come up with another innovative idea in the very near future.

The Need to Understand Changing CustomersStaying on top of consumer trends is a necessary task for all marketers. By watching what is happening among current and potentially future customers, marketers can gain insights that may affect their marketing decisions. However, while it is very easy to say this, actually having the time and, most importantly, the money to keep up can be a tough task. It is especially challenging for organizations that do not have a dedicated research staff, whose job includes collecting such research. Fortunately, while a marketing organization may not have the time to undertake their own research or the funds to support their own researchers, other options exist.

One way is to tap into inexpensive research sources. As we note in our Low-Cost Secondary Research tutorial, there are many alternatives for finding affordable research, such as information produced by industry trade groups, government sources, corporate white papers and academic research centers. Another option is to find information provided by cause-related groups, in particular, non-profits that focus on specific issues. Many of these not only conduct excellent research, they often offer their results for free. For instance, for information on how consumers use technology, one of the best free resources is the Pew Research Center.  Pew offers unbiased research on many areas including studying consumers’ usage of the Internet, mobile communication and other technologies for many years.

A really good example of the valuable information provided by Pew can be found in their latest report titled, Mobile Messaging and Social Media 2015, which asked questions of nearly 2,000 U.S. residents. Results provide a demographic view, including gender, age, ethnicity, education, income and residential location, of mobile messaging and social media usage.

For marketers, the report should serve as additional evidence consumers have adopted new behavior. Consequently, marketing strategy for nearly all organizations must consider the impact of these behavioral changes. This is especially important for smaller organizations, such as mom-and-pop companies run by people who are not particularly involved in these technologies. Whether smaller organizations understand it or not, consumer interaction is changing, and organizations need to adapt or face a potentially difficult future.