Last week I introduced our new blog series centered on Strategic Foresight. If you missed that post, read it here so you’ll be up-to-speed on the topic details and context moving forward.
As mentioned in my previous post, we recently conducted an internal project around “The Future of Customer Insights” – diving deep into pattern recognition and scenario planning. The goal was to expand our thought boundaries and shift our time horizon by considering how current trends might influence the future.
Over the next few weeks, I’m excited to share 5 key topics that arose from our Strategic Foresight exercise.
- Life From Home
- Global Social Responsibility (Read Here)
- Reputation Currency (Read Here)
- New Rules of Engagement (Read Here)
- Hyper-Personalization (Read Here)
Throughout this ongoing discussion, keep in mind that Strategic Foresight is not about predicting the future, but rather it is a structured approach to exploring possible future scenarios based on the information we have today.
The first topic on our list is relevant to anyone who has been impacted or influenced by the COVID pandemic: Life From Home.
Notice the topic isn’t Life AT Home, it is Life FROM Home. This subtle semantic difference is worth noting because the significant elements are from an inside-out perspective; not from the outside-in. When discussing life AT home, there’s an implication of set boundaries which define the home environment. Whereas life FROM home has a defined starting point, not boundaries, from which people reach outward to experience, engage, and participate in the world around them.
Let’s consider Life From Home within the context of Strategic Foresight and consider how this trend is shaping a future-world scenario.
The Rise of Life From Home: Remote Working Drives Behavioral Shifts
Through periods of rapid change and uncertainty, brands are faced with two key challenges. The first is identifying behavioral shifts that impact consumer decision making, and the second is determining which of those behavioral shifts will stick around in the long run.
One such behavioral shift that has impacted consumer decision making is the emergence of remote working. For many people, having to suddenly transition their place of work from onsite to at-home required significant adjustments and presented unforeseen challenges. However, despite the initial growing pains, a growing number of employed adults consider remote working to be the ideal scenario moving forward.
According to a study conducted by Pew Research Center, only 20% of employed adults said they worked from home before the coronavirus outbreak. The number of adults working from home jumped to 71% during the pandemic, and 51% of employed adults indicate they want to continue working from home after the coronavirus outbreak ends.
Having identified a behavioral shift, the transition from onsite to remote working, we consider whether this will have a short-term or long-term impact. Based on the data-driven consumer insights referenced above, we see remote working is growing in popularity and will likely have a long-term impact.
The Effect of Life From Home: Shifting Behaviors = Shifting Expectations
Remote working is a driving force behind our Life From Home topic, but this is just the starting point of our Strategic Foresight journey.
In addition to employment, we’re seeing a variety of life elements follow a similar transition from outside-to-inside the home: Education, Healthcare, Entertainment, Social Interactions, etc. So, from a macro-perspective, we want to start connecting the dots between remote working and other areas of life to better understand the big-picture impact.
An illustration of this big-picture impact is the relationship between behaviors, preferences, and expectations. A new behavior can lead to a new preference which yields a new expectation. Looking specifically at remote working; many employed adults experienced working from home for the first time during the pandemic, many of those people have come to prefer working from home, and now having the option to work from home will be an expectation in many cases.
From a broader perspective, remember that people do not compartmentalize their experiences, preferences, or expectations. There is a free-flowing nature between industries, categories, and brands which highlights the importance of considering how emerging trends in one area might be impacting another. So, a person’s remote working experiences are shaping their expectations for remote learning and telemedicine.
Before the pandemic, having distinctly different physical locations for school, work, and healthcare presented opportunities for each to leverage its surroundings as a differentiator. Onsite and in-person interactions allowed for expectation management and acted somewhat as a barrier within the consumer’s mind to limit an apples-to-apples comparison between their different life experiences.
Now that our experiences and behaviors have changed, our future world is changing as well. The essence of Life From Home is taking a person’s broad range of life experiences and transitioning them into one central location. Those differing physical locations no longer offer the same expectation management opportunities. Now there are apples-to-apples comparisons between a remote doctor’s appointment, remote working, and remote education.
The Future of Life From Home: Personalization & Sub-Trends
The impact of Life From Home is not confined to specific industries or categories. As a result, product and service providers must expand their vision to include the entirety of a person’s day-to-day experiences. By exploring the sub-trends that result from changing consumer behaviors and shifting preferences, brands will be equipped to evolve their personalization efforts and align their positioning strategy with the demands of a future world.
Expanding on the idea of sub-trends, think of these as the lifestyle attributes that are under the Life From Home umbrella. The keys to personalization are found within these lifestyle elements. So, to paint a picture of possible future worlds, we seek to understand how sub-trends will influence consumers’ lives moving forward.
Here are a few examples of Life From Home sub-trends that should be on your radar:
Minimalism was a pre-pandemic emerging trend that saw consumer demand shifting toward the “less is more” approach where quality and joy are more important than quantity. However, the initial shock of transitioning life from outside to inside the home disrupted this trend, leading to a flurry of product purchases and upgrades. Remote working and learning prompted a need for more electronics. Increased time spent at home justified furnishing and décor upgrades.
Now that consumers are accustomed to Life From Home, there will likely be a minimalist resurgence where the need or desire for items acquired during the pandemic will subside. As a result, consumer demand and decision drivers will settle into a hybrid of pre-pandemic and post-pandemic characteristics.
Being alone together has been a post-pandemic mentality that helped people cope with sudden isolation and social detachment. As the world reopens and a sense of normalcy returns, the “alone together” concept will maintain its relevance; albeit in a different form. What once served as a coping mechanism now describes how Life From Home has reshaped our approach to personal space.
The pre-pandemic home environment was a place to remove barriers, share experiences, and strengthen interpersonal connections. While that is still true, the post-pandemic home environment must also limit distractions and interruptions as we work, learn, or pursue self-care. These factors will also apply as we venture outside the home returning to an office or our social lives. Being intentional with open spaces to promote interpersonal connection within a world of social distance is an unprecedented challenge that will require creative, forward-thinking solutions.
Hobbies and lifestyle habits have been greatly influenced by Life From Home trends which leaves pre-pandemic customer persona attributes either outdated or obsolete. The person who entered the pandemic no longer exists, so brands must reengage their post-pandemic customers as if they are meeting for the first time.
Questions will continue to emerge regarding customer willingness and desire for returning to pre-pandemic activities. Have at-home workouts replaced gym memberships? Will upgraded home entertainment centers detract from theater attendance? Which activities has Life From Home changed forever and which will revert to pre-pandemic form?
Addressing these questions with an insight-driven approach and an open mind illustrates the power of Strategic Foresight. We can’t know anything about the future with certainty, but we can explore varied future-world scenarios and map a course of action in each case that would increase our likelihood of success.
Final Thoughts & Action Items
To reiterate a very important aspect of Strategic Foresight: We are not predicting the future. The objective is to explore possible future-world scenarios based on the information we have available today. So, our Strategic Foresight efforts must be built on a foundation of data-driven insights. Whether you look to current events publications, secondary research, or direct feedback from your own customers, this process is dependent on gathering and analyzing reliable information.
There is A TON of third-party information available online in the form of market research reports, case studies, and articles written by thought leaders within your industry. However, no amount of third-party information should replace direct feedback from your target audience. From existing customers and prospects to general population respondents, collecting and analyzing your own customer insights will ensure the future world you’re exploring is relevant to your unique brand objectives.
Reflecting back on what we now know about Life From Home, our customer engagement and communication strategies must evolve to reflect the customer’s shifting behaviors and preferences. The types of questions we ask need to be relevant to post-pandemic life. Our feedback collection approach needs to meet customers where they are today, not where they were yesterday or the day before. Our analysis and reporting need exist within a forward-thinking context because the entire point of our efforts is to equip ourselves with Strategic Foresight, not present or past observations.
For over 35 years, we’ve been refining our approach to engaging and listening to customers in ways that produce actionable insights and tangible results. If you’re ready to launch into the world of Strategic Foresight, we’re ready to show you the way.