Long-term business planning often takes into consideration objective factors such as potential material costs increases, changes in the labor supply and levels of competition. Social changes are harder to predict, but they can significantly affect your future plans. Understanding how people’s changing needs and wants can affect your company will help you stay abreast of trends and remain competitive in your market.

Technology Use

As people gravitate toward using new technologies, businesses see different methods of shopping and buying among their customer bases. In some instances, you might not need to change your product but will have to adapt how you sell it. This might include selling online vs. sticking with a brick-and-mortar distribution strategy. In other instances, new technologies result in others becoming obsolete. Each time a new electronic device begins to go viral, such as smartphones and tablets have, look at what technologies they are replacing and if that will affect your business.


When neighborhoods shift from low-income housing and downscale businesses to more tony apartments, houses, restaurants and shops, the business landscape also changes. This process, known as gentrification, takes several years to complete, but you might be able to spot it coming. For example, if you do all or part of your business in a lower-income part of town, or if you’re looking to buy a cheap location that will serve a better neighborhood in a few years, notice where the artists are congregating. When “starving” musicians, graphic designers, actors and painters move into an area, it begins to attract the more well-heeled young crowd who want to be where the cool clubs and hot cafes are. As they spruce up their living spaces, rents rise, the artists get pushed out and the neighborhood eventually goes mainstream.

Environmental Awareness

Consumers who become more concerned with the environment begin to change their shopping, spending and product use habits. They might be more likely to buy products advertised as green, such as those made from recycled products or which use less energy. If you have undergone an energy audit of your business and qualify as an energy-smart building, use this in your marketing materials. Consider adopting a local environmental group or chapter of a national environmental organization as a marketing partner or official charity.

Changing Personal Priorities

Significant social change occurs when a population shifts from one life stage to another. For example, if you do business in an area that sees an influx of children, the priorities of many in the community, and many of your customers, will change. Couples with children watch their budgets and change the hours they shop, dine, play and do other activities. Parents are more likely to vote for school bonds, decreasing the burden on businesses to fund these. If your area experiences an influx of new parents, consider adding photos of couples with kids in your advertising and on your website. Sponsor youth sports leagues or scout troops to generate brand loyalty among parents. Conversely, if your marketplace is aging, conduct focus groups of older customers to see if you can determine how your current customer base might see you in a few years. An upscale restaurant that’s been catering to young couples but is seeing its area increase in age can begin adding healthier meals to its menu, toning down the loud, live music and offering more group and party packages.