If I asked you, says Ian Blackburn, what sells well in the entertainment sector, what would you say? Games consoles, perhaps? Streaming subscriptions? Audiobooks? How many people would say board games, vinyl records and physical books? Whatever we assume about the market, the evidence tells us that these ‘offline’ products are enjoying unprecedented spells of sales growth. Outlets such as the Independent, the Guardian and Wikipedia have published content about these products.

It would be easy to assume that fast-paced, tech-centric consumer culture would have left these products behind, but that’s simply not the case. And in all this, the real winners are the businesses that saw the opportunity and made the most of consumer buying habits, rather than assuming something completely different.

Assumptions and good business rarely mix well

Our brains are very good at making assumptions. These ‘cognitive shortcuts’ help us function throughout the day without us needing to analyse every new situation in meticulous detail. However, this approach is unlikely to be the best way to formulate a strategy for your business.

Let’s say a publishing company poured resources into marketing a new ebook, assuming that their customers prefer to use the latest tech. With ebook sales falling, it’s likely that they’ll miss out on sales that they could have made if they’d focused their efforts on pushing the book’s hard copy. If they do their research first, they’ll find that the latter strategy is likely to be much more effective.

Understand your industry

Working in the fashion industry, I’m used to rapidly changing trends. Every season you need to adapt to something new. If we want to bring out a product we need to do our research, otherwise it’ll flop. Other industries might not be so quick to change, but audiences will nearly always be looking for the next big thing. What data can you use to analyse these changes?

Sales figures

Consumers vote with their wallets; the best indicator of what’s popular is what’s selling well. Look out for your own top-selling products and services to see where you’re catching the your audience’s attention.

Similarly, you may be able to find sales data on a sector-wide scale. It took me seconds to find data for the entertainment trends I mentioned at the start of the article. You might not be able to find detailed enough data for your target audience, but knowledge of your business's wider context is always helpful.

Speak to your customers

If you can speak to your customers through surveys or direct contact, it can be incredibly useful to find out why people buy your products. If you know why your customers choose to buy your products, you can tailor your marketing to broadcast that same message. You can also use this information to inform the kinds of products that you release in the future.

Keep an eye on competitors

While you shouldn’t assume that your competitors know more about your audience than you, it’s possible for them to catch on to trends before you. This is why it’s incredibly important to watch what they’re doing, especially when they launch new products and marketing campaigns.

However, if you see a competitor doing something new, it’s crucial that you consider why those changes have been made and if making them yourself could be beneficial. I always watch out for what competitors are doing, but I know that a company like Asos has a much broader audience than my own business. If they release a new range of jackets, I’ll take note, but won’t necessarily see it as a sign of a trend that I need to adapt to.

Making changes based on data

Having real audience data is pointless if you don’t do something with it. Depending on the nature of the data at your disposal, you might decide to bring out a whole new product range, implement a new service, or simply change tack slightly with your marketing strategy.

Whatever you decide to do, you can do it in the confidence that there’s sound reasoning behind it, as opposed to unreliable assumptions and gut feelings. Intuition is not a bad thing, but it should never be the sole basis for important business decisions.

Ian Blackburn is the managing director of fashion ecommerce site Hidepark Leather.