Culture Surfing: How Small Businesses Can Ride the Waves

by Ken Mueller on May 8, 2012 · 9 comments

Mavericks Surf Contest 2010. Français : Éditio...

I have never surfed. In fact, I know that if I tried I would probably fail miserably and hurt myself.

I am, however, quite the body surfer. In fact, I am the “World Body Surfing Champion of Ocean Isle Beach, NC” for about 25 years running. OK, so that title and competition don’t really exist, but I do pretty well for an old guy. The key to surfing, and even body surfing, is choosing the proper wave and getting into it at just the right time.

In business, our success, at least in the short term, is often contingent upon which waves we catch and how well we catch them. There was an example of this in the newspaper the other day. It seems a local business, Lancaster Archery Supply, which happens to be the world’s largest archery only supplier, has caught a wave: the Hunger Games wave. As a result of the books and film, there is an increased interest in archery, and the company is now manufacturing bows similar to those used in the movie.

These trends are all around us. In fact, in just a few months we will see it again. Every time there is a Summer Olympics we see a renewed interest in youth soccer around the U.S. And depending on what great stories come out of the Olympics, we might see growing interest in other sports as well.

Some trends are short-lived; merely fads, while others become more entrenched in our culture, lasting for longer than just a season. Just like in surfing, some waves are bigger than others, and some last longer than others. Our job is to keep our eyes open and spot those trends that might be beneficial for us. It might not even be something that is specifically tied to our business category, but with a little creativity we can make it work. And remember, you can’t catch every wave, so don’t even try. Choose the ones that are the best fit for your business.

Here are a few trends that seem to have become entrenched in our culture.  Look at your business and see if there is any way you can incorporate them in what you do. In fact, you might already be incorporating them, but then you need to find a way to communicate them to your customers.

Green and sustainability – The idea of being green in all that we do is becoming more important. Customers now see this as a selling point. What can you do to become more eco-friendly and sustainable? How are you reusing or recycling things? This includes everything from your day to day operations and manufacturing to the types of packing you use. Just make sure you’re being honest; what you might think is “green” might not fit the definitions of others. In our area, we have businesses built on sustainability, and others that at least take some small measures to reduce their impact on the environment.

Fair trade – Consumers are increasingly concerned about where and how their products are being made. Some businesses specialize in selling only fair trade products, that ensure that those making them are earning a decent living wage while working in proper conditions.

Buy Local – Perhaps fair trade doesn’t work for you, but the more you offer from other local businesses, the better your chance of connecting with the community. A number of my restaurant clients make an effort to purchase as much of their food as possible from local farms, thereby helping the local economy.

Buy American – ABC News has been making a big deal out of this over the past year, focusing on how little of what we buy is actually made in our country. This is merely a larger form of “buy local”. The idea is that by purchasing American made goods we are doing more to help our economy. Are you selling products made overseas? Can you easily switch to using more American made goods?

These are just a few of the trends I see having an impact on local businesses. You might already be doing some of those things, but you need to find a way to communicate that as part of your branding and as a selling point. Just remember to be honest in how you add this to your messaging. The moment you fudge the facts, you’ll be called on it.

What other cultural trends or fads are happening that you can tap into? It could be something from local culture, local community pride and history, or even popular culture on a larger scale.

You can’t rely on dumb luck; experience is key. Given the same wave, a professional, seasoned surfer will have a much more impressive ride when compared to someone with no experience. It’s not just the wave, but having the knowledge and skill to know what to do with it.

Then there are a few “trends” that I’ve heard people talk about that aren’t trends at all:

Social media is not a trend or a fad. It is a tool that is here to stay, in some way, shape, or form. if you adopt a proper social media mindset, it can and should become a part of who you are and how you communicate.

Customer service is not a trend. It has always been important but businesses have gotten away from it and are now returning. A renewed dedication to providing great customer service is something you should consider, and you can make it a part of your business model, branding, and messaging.

When it comes to trends, make sure you catch the wave early. Those who are most successful can sense the wave just before it fully forms. Sure you can jump on late, but your ride might not be as good.

How do you spot those trends? By listening and watching. Keep your eyes open for what is going on in the culture around you. Monitor what others are saying in your community, both on and offline. Social media is a great way of keeping in touch with the sentiments of others, both individually and corporately.

What trends have you been able to spot and use as a means of improving your business?


*Inspiration for this post originally came while walking the dog Sunday morning. I was thinking about how fair-trade organic coffee, and the push for “buy fresh, buy local” was a big trend around here. Then I came home and read the article about the local archery supply company and the “Hunger Games”. I connected those two ideas, then spent some time picking the brain of my friend, Liz Jostes about the idea of trends and fads.


Great post Ken.  Reminded me of the idea for my next post on Sustainability.  I guess I better get to work!  ;~)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

"Customer service is not a trend" - AMEN!


You know, it's funny - so many businesses see something that's working for others and think it must work for them, too. Then wonder why they fall flat. Um - it's called doing your freakin' research! Make sure the "trend" in question is right for you, your brand and audience. Otherwise it's just a time suck that you can ill afford.


And videos of the body surfing or it didn't happen! ;-)

Amy Peveto
Amy Peveto

"Trend surfing" doesn't apply to just products. It can affect your editorial calendar, the kind of whitepapers and webinars you create, the events you attend, the people you interview, and so forth.


There was a link I picked up off Facebook last week for Flint & Tinder. They are part of KickStarter and have crafted a video that highlights their premium materials, solar powered factory and 100% Made In The USA - ness. So much of who they are and what they believe in represents what you talked about here, Ken.

KenMueller moderator

 @DannyBrown Research is the part where you carefully choose the wave. And there are no videos. Never were, never will be. Just take a drive down the coast and mention my name. The legend reaches far and wide.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

 @Amy Peveto Love that you included the editorial calendar, Amy. When I was writing for a more SEO-led approach on a previous blog, I used to always check Google Trends to see if there was something I could write about and ride the wave. Worked a treat every time, and saw a huge traffic spike. :)

KenMueller moderator

 @Amy Peveto good point, Amy. In my mind, when I refer to products, I'm including many of those things. For me, a webinar or a whitepaper would be a product. These trends can become a part of our overall business.


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