Most major organisations follow societal trends today – and that’s a huge problem! Surprised?
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.
Just one example of exactly this, is how many companies started using the idea of “YES” and “NO” in their advertising a few years ago. In Europe these included:
- The Swiss Migros Bank: see the videos here – sorry only in French & German but still easy to understand
- Orange telecom:
- An international Insurance company:
These are just three I have noticed recently, but I’m sure there are others in the countries you yourself live in. (If so do drop me a line, or add a comment below, I’d love to hear about other examples)
Clearly the current trend of a desire for independence and freedom has been emphasised in all three organisations mentioned above. Perhaps they are working with the same trend or advertising agency, or are buying the same external trend reports. Either way, 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 idea.
Companies which develop concepts based upon these 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 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 are unlikely to ever be the same as those of the competition and will have a greater chance of success.
How to turn Trends into Future Scenarios
Organisation 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:
- 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 months. For a more detailed 10-step process, you might like to also check out last year’s post on the topic: The Great Trends Hoax: The don’t give business a competitive advantage.
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 criteria that need to be met in order to guarantee the most successful scenario planning exercises. 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 including all five of the success criteria mentioned, provides the greatest chance for success in building plausible future scenarios that get actioned by your business. If you have never done the exercise it may seem daunting at first. Therefore it makes sense to ensure you have an experienced external guide to support you throughout the process.
If you are interested in joining our upcoming webinar on Future Scenario Building, please let us know and we will send you a personal invitation.
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. You have to turn them into proprietary future scenarios. If you need help, let us help we’re ready to support you. Contact us HERE.