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.
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.
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.
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:
Recruit a diverse team of internal experts from different areas, levels, and cultures from within the company
Identify the major questions management is asking about their future business
Identify the most important trends for the category, br and or area under review; ensure these include STEEP ones (social, technological, economic, environmental, political)
Extend each trend into the distant future, five to ten years at least
Collide the resultant developed trends to produce leading likely changes
Note the major forces that come into play as a result of these changes
Agree the two most critical forces and using them as axes, create the four future worlds, the scenarios.
Identify either the most likely of the four and fully develop this world, or summarise the four worlds and their major similarities and differences.
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.
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 weeks or even months. I tend to prefer the latter. It gives everyone, as well as the concept, time to contemplate, then fully develop and mature it.
The ten-step process mentioned above will ensure you make the right review. Also, by involving a diverse group of people in the creative task, you get the needed differing perspectives.
However, from my own personal experience, there are a number of additional criteria that need to be met in order to guarantee the most successful scenario planning exercise. These include:
A diverse internal team who are enthusiastic and curious about future changes within their organisation, category or business area
An excellent creative to lead the process, usually 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 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.
I remember reading an article in the Financial Times a few years ago, that challenged companies to search for a new style of marketer.
Now you might be forgiven for thinking that they were speaking about the current need for marketers to be both creative and tech-savvy. But they weren’t. They were referring to the growing demand for marketers who could take successful local brands to global fortune.
After all, thanks to the internet, we live in a global market and the recent pandemic has highlighted this more than ever before, with online shopping booming. The marketer who understands when local specificities make sense and when they don’t, is the one who will succeed in today’s global economy.
In this networked world, more and more successful local brands are attempting global roll-outs. What does it take to repeat the success you’ve had at market level when you launch globally? Here are my five rules to fortune:
1. Understand the Market and How It’s Changing
This is the basis of any new product launch and applies just as well to global rollouts as it does to local brand developments. Today’s customers are demanding, so find out as much as possible about them. Understand their rational needs but also their emotional desires, even if they don’t openly articulate them.
For global rollouts, additional information is required, including a comparison of the similarities and differences between the customers in the local and future markets. This is where trend following is of particular use, even if you haven’t (yet?) developed plausible future scenarios, as I recommend here.
Let’s look at some of the latest trends which are growing across regions today.
Conscious consumerism: Consumers have become much more thoughtful about what and where they purchase. They support companies that demonstrate the same values that they have and brands are tapping into this trend with campaigns showing their position on various topics. Check out these examples of latest campaigns:
I want it now! Consumers and shoppers want information – and their purchases too! – where and when they need it. This has been the case for years. But now they expect to get near-instantaneous answers to all their questions, sometimes using visual search to identify and buy whatever they see, wherever they see it. Ikea’s Place App offers shoppers the possibility to snap an article they like and then see it in their home environment. Ikea also offers a visual search function for shoppers to identify an item seen in a magazine or real life, and then find similar ones. Dulux’s Paint Colour Visualizer offers shoppers a similar service; you can try out paint colours virtually in your home to see how it will look with your furnishings before you purchase it.
Personalised Experiences. Despite the desire for data privacy control, consumers are ready to provide their information in exchange for a better, highly personalised experience. ZozoSuit is one example in Japan which enables consumers to order clothing online that will fit them perfectly.
It is essential to understand why your local consumers purchase your product or service, and then compare their sensitivities to those in your new target market. For example, if individualisation and personalisation are important in your local market, are they important in the new market? If they aren’t, then you may risk an uphill struggle to gain acceptance and interest in your new offer.
If you’re new to trend following on a global basis, then a great place to start is with the annual Euromonitor International’s Consumer Trends Report. Their early 2022 report highlights trends revolving around two key themes – access and action. As they mention “Resilience and adaptability were tested in 2021, forcing consumers to relinquish control and embrace ambiguity. This year, consumers are taking back the reins and paving a path forward based on their passions and values.” However, the war between Russia and Ukraine, that is happening as I write this, will have long-reaching impacts on all countries and consumers. So I believe that we will continue to see last year’s trends of resilience and adaptability playing out.
What does your brand stand for in the eyes and minds of your customers? Will the consumers in the new target market perceive the same benefits in the same way as your current customers?
If not, is this really a potential market, or are you just rolling-out there due to geographic proximity?
I am still amazed how many organisations base their expansion strategy on geography rather than the customer! It usually proves to be a big and often very costly error! Even large multinationals get it wrong, as the following examples show:
P&G’s Pampers was launched in Japan with the image of a stork which confused consumers. Whereas a stork is fabled to bring babies to parents in the west, this is not the case in Japan.
Mitsubishi (Pajero), Mazda (LaPuta) and Chevrolet (Nova) all had issues when rolling out their cars into Spanish speaking countries. Had they bothered to check the meaning of the model names in the local language, they would have avoided the negative connotations and the need to change the names of their vehicles after launch.
Ford (Pinto) had a similar issue with Portuguese in Brazil. The launch of the model was met with hilarity and mocking. Pinto is often used as slang for a man with tiny genitalia. Ford quickly changed the name from Pinto to “Corcel”, which translates to “stallion” clearly an attempt to (over?) compensate!
As already mentioned we are living in a global community today, so even if you don’t plan (for now) to launch in other markets, your image can still be impacted across the globe by a badly-chosen name.
The second issue concerning customer perceptions is the importance of particular traits in certain markets. For example, the actual price may be more important than quality in some markets. It may therefore make sense to offer a product in smaller sizes, such as individual sachets for shampoos or low count contents for dry products like stock cubes or confectionery. In some markets, value can be perceived as a consequence of packaging or after-sales service, in others not at all. It is therefore vital to understand the components of value in your current as well as the future markets.
The third area you will want to pay attention to is the image of both the brand and your corporation. Table stakes of categories can vary by country and what is important in one market can have no influence on purchase in another. In addition, the corporate image is at least partly based upon your company’s current category presence. If you have a reputation for cheap products, then you may struggle in launching a premium product, even if it is in a new category. Understanding a brand’s image from both perspectives is important to successfully rolling it out in other markets.
So you see just how much information you need to gather about your brand’s image and even your organisation’s before thinking about launching in new markets. Not doing your homework could cost the business a lot in terms of both a damaged image, as the above examples show, or worse still a costly failed launch.
Every brand should have a positioning based upon an insight. And that insight should include a human truth. I write a lot of articles on insight development; just search on the blog homepage for a review of them all if you’re interested in learning more.
One of the similarities that brings all consumers together is their basic human needs. Think parenting and wanting the best for your children, used by many, many brands, including Nestlé’s Nido and Unilever’s Omo / Persil.
Or what about women and their frustration with not being considered as beautiful as the retouched models they see in their magazines, which is very successfully used by Unilever’s Dove?
And how about men and their need to charm women, to affirm their appeal and attractiveness, that is used by Lynx / Axe from – you’ve guessed it – Unilever, again. (They really do know their consumers better than any other brand builder today and develop actionable insights for all their brands!)
Interestingly, Unilever is now tapping into the same concerns they used for Dove, for Axe. In addition to charming women, Axe now explains that men too want to look after themselves and their bodies. They have even coined a new word “bathsculinity” which they define as “qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of young men who take pride in their appearance and feel confident in expressing their most attractive selves, inside and outside of the bathroom.” Check out one of their latest ads, quite different from their previous ones: “Axe Ice Chill – bathe on the wild side.”
Insights and human truths are used the world over in marketing and form the basis of many very successful roll-out communication strategies. Before you dream of taking your local brand’s success to global stardom, think about what human truth you are using to build it. If you can’t identify it, there is a far lesser chance of your repeating its local success in other markets.
Many countries and regions have strong, stereotyped images that can play to inherent qualities associated with certain product categories coming from them. Examples of these include French perfume, Swiss watches, Russian Vodka, Italian fashion, German or American cars and Japanese technology.
If your brand has a strong positive association with local tradition or nationality, then make use of it. Even if consumers in the new market may be less aware, authenticity and tradition will still be strong sensitivities on which you can build your brand in new markets. (Just make sure you check trend levels of them before choosing the new countries into which you want to launch!)
Ikea is one brand that has grown thanks to its Swedish heritage of clean, modern and uncluttered lifestyle that appeals to many around the world. It offers cheaper, flat-packed furniture and home accessories particularly popular for starter homes. They built their business on the global need of people for a secure and welcoming home.
By making their products in kit form, they could keep prices low and transport and storage were far less challenging than for traditional furniture. This also had the additional benefit of involving the customer in the construction of the furniture which made the article more appreciated than shop-bought articles, even if they were of higher quality.
Although Ikea is the best known Scandinavian furniture store, and a popular franchise that operates in over 25 countries, it’s not the only one. Jysk from Denmark was opened over 30 years after Ikea and today operates in 27 countries. It has not been as successful as Ikea and I believe there are several obvious reasons for this, starting with its name which many still struggle to pronounce – including myself!
Then there are the products which are bought rather than being made by Jysk as Ikea does, so the quality tends to be far more variable and generally lower. Denmark’s image is not as strong as Sweden’s either, although it is riding on the Scandinavian wave started by Ikea. And lastly, there is the Ikea Family. Jysk hasn’t tried to build a relationship with its customers, so there are no memberships or clubs, no cafes or restaurants to keep customers coming back. It is just a store like any other, whereas Ikea is an experience – even if we do all hate the forced in-store path!
In order to successfully roll out products and services across regions, it is important to know what local image you are portraying and whether it will have the same appeal in new markets or whether it will need to be adapted.
5. Understand the Category
Many companies get their rollout strategy wrong because they look at geographical or linguistic proximity, rather than the closeness of the customers’ social sensitivities or behaviours in them. Just because countries are geographically close, doesn’t mean their populations are similar when it comes to category image and usage.
One clear example of this is Kellogg’s Cornflakes launch into India. It failed because they ignored the Indian habit of having a boiled & sweetened milk rather than using cold milk for their cereals. Therefore the flakes went soggy and the consumers didn’t appreciate what had promised to be a crunchy breakfast cereal.
When planning product roll-outs, we also need to consider how alike the customers are in terms of behaviour, as well as the category trends, compared to the home market. This will help avoid disasters such as Kellogg’s Cornflakes in India. This could have so easily been avoided if marketers had taken the time to observe the Indian breakfast tradition. But they didn’t. They were a large brand and thought that consumer observation wasn’t needed; they paid heavily for this mistake.
In contrast, the Austrian brand Red Bull got its global campaign right – by not really having one, other than aiming, at first, for extreme sports and today moving more into elite sports! It adapts its advertising and promotions to fit each local market while still having the foundation of sports, adventure and risk-taking clearly integrated. In the beginning, most of their activities were focused around extreme sports, sponsoring flying, cliff diving, skiing and skateboarding.
Since those early days, Red Bull has expanded its activities well beyond sponsorship alone, starting its own events such as Soap Box Races and the record-breaking Red Bull Stratos programme, in which they funded the exploits of Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner. It also has teams active in both Formula 1 racing and champion football with two teams in the first and three clubs in the latter.
So there you have five rules to increase the chances of succeeding as you roll out brands into new markets. Many companies have effectively rolled-out successful local brand into other countries in the region, if not the world. But many more have failed. What would you add to the above list to increase the odds in favour of a regional or global roll-out? I would love to read your own thoughts in the comments below.
This post is regularly adapted and updated, the last publication being in December 2020 on C3Centricity.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Describe each future world and build a story around them; a day in the life tends to work well.
Identify the challenges and opportunities for the business in each of the created new worlds.
Share the conclusions with the “Futures” team and refine your selection of actions for best business preparedness.
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.
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.
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!
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