10 Steps to Turn Trend Following into a Competitive Advantage

Most major organisations conduct some sort of societal trend following. It might surprise you to hear that I believe that this is a huge problem!

Think about it. They are all following the same trends, attending the same trend “shows” & conferences, and getting the same or at least very similar reports. This results in them all working on the same ideas & concepts, and eventually launching very similar products and services that will struggle to compete effectively.

Have you never wondered why suddenly everyone is talking about a certain topic, or using similar slogans, or launching similar offers? Now you know why.

Here’s how to avoid this and develop a powerful competitive advantage.

 

Market Evidence

I want to start by sharing just one example of the problem I just mentioned. Think back a few years ago and you will see that many companies started using the idea of “YES” and “NO” in their advertising. In Europe these included:

    • The Swiss Migros Bank: see the videos here – only in French & German but still easy to understand whatever language you speak.
    • Coke’s Say Yes to Love campaign.
  • Coke say yes to love

 

 

These are just three examples from very different industries, but I’m sure there are many others in the country you yourself live in. (If so do drop me a line, or share in the comments below, I’d love to hear about other examples)

Clearly the trend for more independence and freedom has been emphasised in all three organisations mentioned above. Perhaps they are working with the same trend or advertising agency. Or maybe they are buying the same external trend reports. It certainly looks like it, doesn’t it?

Companies that develop concepts based upon this type of external resource alone, can find themselves in a race to be the first to market when using the ideas that are proposed to them.

Incidentally, it is not always best to be the first when introducing new concepts to consumers, especially when they require a period of learning new ways of thinking or working.

So what can you do about it? The vital step that many – dare I say most – organisations don’t take, is to turn the trends they are following into future scenarios.

The vital step that many organisations don’t take, is to turn trends they are following into plausible future scenarios. #Trends #Scenarios #Planning #Strategy #BusinessDevelopment Click To Tweet

Scenario planning not only ensures original thinking and ideas, but also takes the development of new concepts in-house, where it belongs.

Then, the new product and service concepts, the new advertising campaigns, the new promotions that are developed are unlikely to ever be the same as those of the competition and will therefore have a greater chance of success.

 

Turn Trend Following into Future Scenarios

Organisation working with progressed trends have generally established their own process for turning trends into future scenarios. They all follow a similar pattern to the ten-step process summarised below:

Following the process as summarised above and also including all five of the additional criteria mentioned, provides the greatest chance of success in building plausible future scenarios that get actioned by your business.

If you have never done a scenario planning exercise before it may seem daunting, at least at first. Therefore, it makes sense to have an experienced external guide to support you throughout the process.

These are some first thoughts on the importance of scenario planning and how to get started in it, based upon my own experience working with many of the major Fortune 500 companies. I would love to hear your own thoughts on the best way to get a company to move from trend following alone, to the more promising process of future scenario planning.

Don’t limit your competitivity by only conducting societal trend following. Turn them into proprietary future scenarios.  That will provide you with a real advantage. If you need help, let us know; we’re ready to support you. Contact us HERE.

5 Business Success Factors (So You’re Ready for Anything!)

We are sweltering in the Northern Hemisphere with record temperatures, so here’s a “cool” idea on how businesses can get ready for anything by applying these success factors.

Every winter, the media is full of stories of record snowfalls somewhere in the world, whether in the US, Europe or in the Far East. Despite all the sophisticated technologies at our disposition, we just never seem to be prepared. So what are the success factors of readiness?

Remember winter storm Juno in the USA in 2015? It dropped a couple of feet of snow on the Eastern coastline of North America. According to the Weather Channel its snowfall broke records in Worcester, MA, although in most other places it fell far below that of other storms from 2013 all the way back to 1978.

In the same year, in the North of the UK, the region was battered with a rare blast of thundersnow – an unnerving combination of thunderstorms and downpours of snow. As if that wasn’t enough, they were soon preparing to do battle with the elements with yet another storm shortly afterwards.

Now what do all these storms have to do with business you might wonder? Well for me they are a great illustration of the problems that many companies can face from time to time. Governments and city maintenance teams prepare for winter by organising vast stocks of grit and salt, as well as heavy snow-clearing machinery. But despite all this preparation, they still seem to be caught off-guard when they need to use them.

The same goes for businesses. Companies follow trends and expect to be ready for anything; they’re not!

Companies follow trends and expect to be ready for anything; they're not! #trends #scenarios #BusinessPlanning Click To Tweet

The reason is that there are two serious problems with that way of thinking:

Firstly they are all following the same trends, attending the same trend “shows” & conferences, and getting the same or at least very similar trend reports.

And secondly, they think that knowing the trends will somehow protect them from future risks and catastrophes. However, having the right material still doesn’t stop bad things happening, as we’ve seen this winter. 

So let’s take a look at what you can do to be better prepared and not get regularly “snowed-in” as many countries are this winter.

The Problem with Trend following alone

As I already mentioned, trend following suppliers are providing almost identical information to all their clients. This results in their clients then working on the same ideas & concepts and eventually launching very similar, non-competitive products and services. Have you never wondered why suddenly everyone is talking about a certain topic, or using similar slogans in their advertising? Simplistic trend following is probably the reason. 

Have you never wondered why suddenly everyone is talking about a certain topic, or using similar slogans in their ads? Simplistic trend following is probably the reason. #trends #Scenarios #BusinessPlanning Click To Tweet

As an example, think about how many companies have used the idea of “YES” and “NO” in their advertising in the past couple of years. These include:

  • The Swiss Migros Bank: see the videos here – sorry only in French & German but still easy to understand
  • BMW 320i YES, YOU, CAN
  • Orange telecom mobile exchange

Clearly the current trends of independence and freedom have been emphasised in all three organisations mentioned above, and probably many others as well. Perhaps they are working with the same trend following company or advertising agency, or are buying the same external trend reports? Whatever the reason, their advertising is likely to lead to consumer confusion and I myself would be interested to see which one gains from the strongest association with the exact same advertising “Big Idea”.

Companies which develop concepts based upon theses types of external resources alone, can find themselves in a race to be the first to market when using the ideas that are proposed to them. Incidentally, it is not always best to be the first when introducing new concepts to consumers, especially when they require a period of learning new ways of thinking or working for the consumers.

The vital step that many – dare I say most – organisations forget to take, is to turn the trends they are following into future scenarios.

The vital step that many – dare I say most – organisations forget to take, is to turn the trends they are following into future scenarios. #trends #Scenarios #BusinessPlanning Click To TweetScenario planning not only ensures original thinking and ideas, but also takes the development of new concepts in-house, where it belongs. Then, the new product and service Big Ideas, the new advertising campaigns, the new promotions are unlikely to be the same as those developed by the competition.

 

How to turn Trends into Future Scenarios

Businesses working with progressed trends have generally established their own process for turning trends into future scenarios. They often follow a similar pattern to the one summarised below. In just ten simple steps you can turn your trend following into a powerful competitive advantage that will surprise competition and delight your customers.

  1. Recruit a diverse team of internal experts from different areas, levels, and cultures from within the company.
  2. Identify the major questions management is asking about their future business.
  3. Identify the most important trends for the category, br and or area under review; ensure these include STEEP ones (social, technological, economic, environmental, political).
  4. Extend each trend into the distant future, five to ten years at least.
  5. Collide the resultant developed trends to produce the most likely changes.
  6. Note the major forces that come into play as a result of these changes – this is what is important.
  7. Agree the two most critical forces and using them as axes, create the four future worlds, the scenarios.
  8. Identify either the most likely of the four and fully develop this world, or summarise the four worlds and their major similarities and differences.
  9. Develop stories to transmit the impact on the business should each (part of the) scenario happen and the decisions that management must face now to be prepared.
  10. Plan how markets will identify the most likely scenario for them and follow the relevant trends in order to be best prepared.

 

This ten-step process can be followed over a minimum of a two or three-day workshop, or over a longer period of development lasting several months. For a more detailed 10-step process, you might like to also check out a previous post on the same topic: “The Great Trends Hoax: The don’t give business a competitive advantage”.

 

Success factors

Following the above ten-step process will ensure you make the right review and involve a diverse group of people to get the needed differing perspectives.

However, from my own personal experience, there are a number of additional success factors that need to be met in order to guarantee the most actionable scenario planning exercises. These include:

  • A diverse internal team who are both enthusiastic and curious about future changes within their organisation, category or business area.
  • An excellent creative to lead the process, ideally from outside the company, in order to push far beyond the internal comfort zone.
  • Executive management support of the exercise as well as of  its outcome and most importantly their pre-agreement to own the resulting scenarios.
  • Being able to turn the scenarios into compelling narratives and using story-telling to ignite change within the whole organisation.
  • Sufficient resources to share the scenarios with all markets and to engage their commitment for the continued measurement of the trends in their own businesses, as well as the sharing of their learnings with other markets on a regular basis.

Following the process as summarised above and including all five success factors mentioned, will give you the best chance of building plausible future scenarios that get actioned by your business. If you have never done the exercise before, it may seem daunting at first. Therefore it makes sense to ensure you have an experienced external guide to support you throughout the process.

These are some first thoughts on the importance of scenario planning and how to get started in it, based upon my own experience working for some of the major Fortune 500 companies. I would love to hear your own thoughts on the best way to get a company to move from trend following alone, to the more promising process of future scenario planning. Don’t limit your competitivity by only following trends. 

Don’t limit your competitivity by only following trends. Gain the advantage of future scenarios. #trends #Scenarios #Business Click To Tweet

 


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This post is based upon one which first appeared on C³Centricity in October 2015 under the title “Turning Trends into Future Scenarios and the 10-Step Process you Need

A Customer-First Approach to Successful Innovation (and 3 Secrets Shared)

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Whether you believe that 60% of new product launches fail, or the number is 80% or 95%+, the truth is that successful innovation is rare. Why is this? Read on for my own ideas of the reasons and propositions for some simple solutions.

Last year I wrote a highly popular post on “Improving Ideation, Insight & Innovation: How to Prevent Further Costly Failures.” In it, I spoke about the importance of starting the innovation process with customers. I also mentioned that it should be a virtuous circle rather than the funnel that most organisations still use today. 

This time, I want to examine the role of the customer in successful innovation. And why they should actually have a prominent position throughout the process.

 

Start with the Category rather than (just) the Customer

Every customer-centric organisation should start their processes with a review of the customers they are looking to please. But to do this, the first step to both insight development and successful innovation is to identify the category in which you are, or want to compete. Especially when looking to innovate, it is vital to identify what business you are in.

Now you probably can immediately answer that question but would you be right?

A recent client of mine was looking to launch a juice flavoured soft drink. They naturally (?) thought they would be in competition to juices. When we dug deeper, using our “Home or Away™” decision tool, we found they were actually competing with energy drinks for athletes!

Another practice I use is to zoom in or out when looking at a category, in order to identify new opportunities. Today’s technological world is forcing many organisations to take another look at their complete business models – whether they like it or not!

  • Telecoms have become geolocalization data providers to other industries.
  • Pharmaceuticals are being forced (?) to move from treating illness to maintaining wellness.
  • Food companies are moving into nutraceuticals, concentrating the health benefits of certain foods. (have they really only recently understood that our health comes primarily from the food we eat?!)
  • Tobacco companies are reinventing personal pleasure systems with e-cigarettes and other tobacco replacement products. In fact, André Calantzopoulos, Philip Morris International’s CEO recently predicted a “phase-out period” for cigarettes.
  • Alcohol providers are turning more and more to lower and non-alcoholic drinks trying to keep up with the interest in wellness. They have understood that whereas drinking is a social behaviour, most people no longer include getting drunk with that sociability.

From these examples, it is clear that most companies could benefit from a re-evaluation of their assumed category, to see whether it has or will change in the near or longer-term future.

Once the category is defined, it becomes much easier to identify the correct customer segment to target. Of course, you still need to get to know them through customer connection sessions. And then complete both a customer persona and journey map for them. (You do have these don’t you?)

 

Your business is or will change – fast – so don’t depend on your skills alone

One of the problems I see when I first start working with a new client is that they start their innovation process from their strengths, their technical and product skills. While this may deliver quicker introductions, it is more likely to produce renovations and certainly not ground-breaking innovations.

This is such a standard “no-brainer” way of innovating that many companies find themselves out of business as a result.

  • Kodak thought it was in the photo business and not in the memory and souvenir business. They consequently lost out to digital, despite having the technology
  • Borders thought they were in the print book business rather than the storytelling business. As a result, they lost out to Kindle, despite a late reaction with the launch of Kobo. For now, Barnes & Nobles have managed to join the race with their Nook, but for how long? It will be interesting to see whether Amazon’s quiet expansion of its physical bookstores will support or sound the death knell for other outlets.
  • Blockbuster video rental lost their dominance of the home entertainment industry to streaming options like RedBox and Netflix.

These are a few examples of businesses that have changed, leaving the category leaders high and dry with no-one to blame but themselves for their lack of scenario planning. (This won’t happen to you, will it?)

Music trends on and offlineAnd what about AI and VR and their impact on TV,  gaming, music today?

Speaking of which, look at the graph on the right which shows the incredibly fast change from offline to online music. In less than ten years online passed offline and all but annihilated it!

This is how fast and well prepared all businesses need to be today.

Many industries have been cloned into totally new businesses as a result of technology and new customer priorities.

As already mentioned, Telecom companies now make more money selling geolocalization data than they do selling phones and lines.

So what about some other industries that are being impacted by changes in customer behaviour and preferences?

As just one example of this, Food companies must now adapt to delivering family time, not just ready-made meals. There has therefore been an explosion in meal kits because families want to eat better and even prepare together.

 

The future of the future

But enough about the past and present, how can you prepare for the future and have successful innovations? What new areas are some of the larger online companies buying into today and why?

Google has gone from Internet-related products and services to hardware such as Pixel smartphones and Google Home, an Amazon Echo-like device. It has also expanded into a multitude of other industries, through partnerships and investments. These include energy, AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality) and eye-tracking. It’s clear that they intend to stay up-to-date if not ahead of fast-moving trends and be ready to take advantage of them. Read more on Wikipedia.

Perhaps in preparation, in the last year or so Google has reorganised its various interests into a conglomerate called Alphabet. Google remains the umbrella company for Alphabet’s Internet interests, but this restructuring no doubt announces more to come.

Virgin has gone from airlines, media and entertainment, to travel, health and aerospace. You can read about all their industries and investments on Wikipedia.

Amazon has gone from an online bookstore to the general retail of a vast selection of products. Today it is testing bricks and mortar stores for both books and general groceries. You can again read more about this on Wikipedia.

Facebook started as a social media and networking service. One year ago, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed his ten-year vision, centred around artificial intelligence, global connectivity, VR and AR. Read more on Wikipedia.

Tesla started in the automotive industry but has since moved into energy storage and residential solar panels. Today it is advancing into underground high-speed transport and space travel.

All these examples show the importance of being ready to adapt to fast changes impacting many industries at lightning speed. We no longer have the luxury of time to wait, watch and learn as we once did. Future scenario planning is the only way to be ready for all eventualities and to be able to quickly jump into any new opportunities before our competitors do.

 

Your next steps to future-proofing your innovation

Some of my clients understand that they are not as well-prepared as they need to be for successful innovation. In my training course I propose many different ideas; here are just a few of them:

#1. Working with new innovation levers

As already mentioned, most organisations start innovating from their past successes and current skills. While this is certainly quick, it is unlikely to lead to successful innovations. Why not challenge yourself to look at your business from a new perspective? 

Challenge yourself to look at your business from a new perspective. #innovation #Business Click To Tweetsuccessful innovations come from using multiple levers

The diagram on the right is a simplified example of the innovation wheel that I use in brainstorming sessions with clients who are tired of thinking within their boxes.

A personally adapted and developed wheel is a powerful tool to get people to think differently about their brand, category or offer. The brand expansion it encourages has seen brands like:

  • Gerber and Purina move into insurance.
  • Nespresso move into china and chocolate.
  • Mars move into ice cream.
  • Vicks (P&G) move from various cold remedies into a sleep-aid.

What all these examples have in common is a deep understanding of both their customers and their own brand image.

 

When one or both of these are missing, you get epic failures like the examples below:

Coca-Cola Clothing: while it may work for sponsorships and promotions, clothing didn’t work for them – this time around?

Coca-Cola clothing nor successful innovation
Image source: eBay

Zippo perfume for women: Zippos got it spectacularly wrong with this offer on many fronts. Smoking and especially Zippo lighters have very masculine images. Replacing the wonderfully exotic and luxury glass bottles of perfume by this was never going to work!

Zippos perfume not successful innovation
Image source: Fragrantica

 

Colgate frozen food: The only thing that frozen entrees and toothpaste have in common is that after the first you need the second! From that to expecting consumers to make the jump from minty mouths to chicken was just too much!

Colage entrees not successful innovation
Image source: Marketing Directo, Madrid

 

 

#2. Zooming out for brands and categories

When you are successful in one category, it can be tempting to extend into others. However, this needs to be done after careful thought. Go too far from the parent brand, as the above examples did and you’ll be doomed to failure. Stay too close and you’ll not benefit from anything more than a mere renovation.

Will BabyNew be a successful innovation?
Image source: BabyNes

Companies which expand successfully are those that build on their strengths, whether image, position or technical know-how. One example I like to share of a successful innovation using this idea comes from Nespresso’s owner Nestle.

They expanded from capsules for coffee (Nespresso) into capsules for both hot and cold drinks (Dolce Gusto).

Nestle then expanded their systems into BabyNes, a capsule system for bottle feeding.

I can imagine they will be looking to extend their system even further in the future. Perhaps they will consider adding minerals, vitamins and supplements to food and drinks, or targeting specific groups of consumers such as seniors or athletes. It will be interesting to see what comes next.

 

#3. Zooming into a category niche

It is possible to innovate by zooming in rather than out of the category in which you are in. There are again many examples of this since, in theory at least, it is simpler to do. You already know the category customers and can segment to appeal more strongly to certain groups of them.

Food manufacturers use this strategy a lot. They often extend into low calorie or low fat, and more recently into gluten-free, OMG-free or lactose-free offerings.

Online marketers depend a lot upon finding the right niche for their product or service offer. They have the advantage over bricks-and-mortar stores of collecting a wealth of personalised information. Together with machine learning, they can quickly develop algorithms to precisely target each person with relevant offers. Offline retail will never catch up, however long they collect data – unless they have an online sales strategy too, of course.

 

Conclusion

So there you have some ideas on how you can improve the frequency of launching successful innovations. Whether working with scenarios, innovation levers, zooming in or out, the one element every strategy has in common is customer understanding. You wouldn’t expect anything less from me, would you? Going forward just remember:

  • It’s important to know and understand your customers intimately today but also how they are likely to change tomorrow.
  • It’s important to understand the category you really are competing in and what customers think about it.
  • It’s important to understand your brand’s image and ensure it’s aligned with any future innovations you consider.

 

What new ways are you looking to successfully innovate in this fast-paced, constantly changing and challenging world? Please share your ideas and thoughts about the above ideas or add new ones below. Thanks.

The Great Trends Hoax: They don’t give a Business a Competitive Advantage

Do you follow trends? I bet you do! Everyone likes talking about the future, imagining what it might hold and then taking pride in seeing that they were “right”, that what they had “predicted” has come true. If this is how you work with trends, then you must read this post – urgently!

There are many trend providers today, from futurologists, to trend agencies, to gurus, all claiming to have “the truth”. An ex-colleague of mine made an interesting comment to me last weekend, as we hiked up to the top of La Dole, one of the small hills in the Lac Leman area of Switzerland where I live.

We were discussing trend following and she was comparing the providers with which her company had worked in the last five or ten years. Which of them “had got it right” and which ones hadn’t. I said that I wasn’t too keen on businesses working with trends alone, as there was no competitive advantage in doing so. She then made a wonderful comment: “You’re right of course. In fact when you go to these meetings to hear about the latest trends each year, you are sitting with a group of 20, 50, 100 or often even more people, all hearing the same presentations and “predictions”. If you all go back and start working on actions to respond to the future that was just presented, you’re all doing the same things and are in a way actually making the predictions come true”.

As I said, I have never really liked working with trends other than for developing plausible future scenarios, but she had put one of my concerns into words; you don’t gain competitive advantage from following trends. Whilst they may at best provide indications of some tactical actions you might take in the short-term, trends cannot help you develop your vision and strategy.

So if you want to achieve the real advantage of following trends and to get a head-start over your competition, then it’s time you started developing your own future scenarios. How? Well, here’s a 10-step approach that I have found has worked with many of my clients, which assumes that you are already following trends of some description:

10-Step Process

  1. Identify the most relevant trends for your category from all those that you are currently following. This evaluation is often best handled by your market research and insight group, who have access to a lot of information, both internal and external, and not just on trends. If this is a new area for you all, you may decide to seek some external support to help you make these first difficult choices.
  2. Invite a group of about 10-15 people from various departments within the organisation and who have ideas about what will happen in their different areas of the business, to join your “Futures” team. I have found that when invited, few refuse and in fact more ask to join the group when they hear about it, than you really need, so you’ll get the wonderful privilege of choosing the best and most complementary members.
  3. As a team, discuss each of the selected trends in turn and how it is likely to develop in the future, say in the next 10-20 years. Really push everyone’s thinking out of the “probable” and into the “possible”. Depending upon the number of trends, this may take several meetings to pass them all under review.
  4. The market research and insight group, who will ideally be leading the whole process, should then summarise the future of each trend and the forces that will be acting upon it. Agree on the two or three main trend drivers, that are common to the developments, and which when crossed will result in four to eight future worlds.
  5. Review these worlds in another “Futures” team meeting and decide if they are all relevant for your business, or whether their impact will in fact be similar; you are looking to eventually reduce the number of worlds to a more manageable size.
  6. Describe each future world and build a story around them; a day in the life tends to work well.
  7. Identify the challenges and opportunities for the business in each of the created new worlds.
  8. Share the conclusions with the “Futures” team and refine your selection of actions for best business preparedness.
  9. Illustrate each of the worlds that you have selected as being of most relevance. To make them inspirational for everyone with whom you share them, why not try something different? We work with storytelling, visualisation and videos to get the findings across in the most exciting way.
  10. Present to top management and enjoy sharing with them your identified opportunities and challenges, which from my own experience they will never have imagined before.

You will notice that the last step of the process is the presentation to management. Of course in reality it is only the beginning, as you will then need to support each business in defining solutions to answer the challenges and opportunities identified.

Additional steps for Regional / Global players

Also, if you work in a regional or global role, you will need to follow up with regional and global presentations, to ensure that everyone appreciates the necessity of working together on the trends, their progress and their impact on business. They also need to understand that it will be important to alert markets behind them on certain trends and what may happen to them, as well as to observe those ahead of them to prepare their own market for changes.

Scenario planning is a company project, not a departmental one, which is why trend following cannot be left to each market or business unit to do on its own. Have fun with your own scenario developments and enjoy the unique chance of inspiring the whole business with the opportunities and challenges you have identified. It is much more rewarding than presenting trends, which have merely grown or declined from one year to the next.

Have you had experience in developing scenarios yourself? If so, please share what worked or didn’t for you, and let me know if you would add any important steps from your own process, to the ones I have mentioned above.

For more information on scenario planning, vision and strategy development, please check out our website:  https://www.c3centricity.com/home/vision/

If you would like our help in developing an inspiring story about what your business’s future worlds could be, and what challenges and opportunities may await you in 10, 15 or even 20 years from now, then why not contact us for an informal discussion? NO Obligation, just INSPIRATION!

C3Centricity.com uses images from Dreamstime.com and Kozzi.com

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

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