The UK Marketing Society’s annual conference, being held today in the Science Museum in London, is on the theme of what it means to be “brave leaders”. Events on the same theme are also happening in Dubai and New York. Some of our Kantar Futures EMEA colleagues are at the event in London. This is what I wrote for the event.
Looking at the business world of 2018 through a futures lens, only brave strategies are likely to succeed. Economic growth is slowing everywhere, in emerging markets as well as developed; consumer behaviour and expectations are changing, accelerated by the Millennial wave; and digital technology, now embedded in everyday life, is increasing the complexity of products, channels and markets.
In this world, most of the assumptions that businesses used to be able to rely on are evaporating. The mass market has fragmented into micro-markets. Trust has moved from brands to social networks. New competitors can rent the assets they need to compete. Commoditisation is everywhere. Purpose is becoming the new normal.
Meanwhile, the approaches that used to deliver growth are misfiring. Stealing share through marketing spend tends to be short-lived; buying share through mergers and acquisitions has less impact; and incremental innovation has less effect, according to data from Kantar Worldpanel.
For many companies, these represent fundamental challenges. How do they evolve their businesses and their business model while also delivering the kinds of return that shareholders expect? But doing nothing is not an option. That is a predictable route to earnings decline and activist investors.
To understand how to respond, businesses need to ask different questions about their sectors, their categories, and their customers, and how and where they put the value in their value chain.
These questions include:
* Where will the boundaries of my category move to in the future?
* How will my category be re-framed by customers or competitors?
* What pain points will new entrants exploit?
* What new skills and capabilities will my future competitors bring to the sector?
* What different opportunities should I be exploring and testing now?
Futures thinking represents a way to answer these questions, a way to see your category or sector with new eyes. It goes beyond conventional research and strategy techniques to help people think differently about where their businesses are and where they should be going.
Futures thinking involves looking more broadly, at the changes beyond your category that are likely to change the way customers think about it. It involves taking a longer view, to identify patterns of change. It involves identifying the shifts in customer values that create new types of demand. It is a structured way of approaching the world that helps you to make new connections and identify new opportunities. It takes courage to ‘unlearn’ what you know, and explore a new approach. But fortune favours the brave.
The image at the top of the post is from the Marketing Society, and is used with thanks.