Over the past few weeks, I have been posting videos and articles highlighting the outcome of a Strategic Foresight exercise we conducted here at MacKenzie. This collaborative process challenged our team to suspend disbelief and consider possible future-world scenarios based on current trends and patterns. The goal was not to predict the future, but rather to imagine how our Market Research and Consumer Insights industry would be affected if certain conditions were to remain true.
In wrapping up this Strategic Foresight article series, I am excited to share the results of our Strategic Foresight exercise and the future-world scenarios we created.
Future World Mapping: The Basics
While it was definitely fun and exciting to shake free of perceived limitations imagining worlds in which anything is possible, our ultimate goal was to yield insights that had practical business application. This allowed our team to leverage their curiosity and creativity while maintaining a sense of focus and direction.
To create scenarios that would provide tangible value for our business, we launched our Strategic Foresight exercise with the stated intent of following the “Three World View Scenarios” approach, which we learned from The Futures School and KEDGE. This acted as a framework to avoid creating an overwhelming amount of worlds or narratives. Without getting too deep into the details, because I could geek-out for days on this stuff, here is a basic overview of the three worlds included in that approach:
Market World – baseline exploration
This scenario is in essence an extrapolation of the present world, including the forces of globalization and the convergence of the developing and developed world in economic terms.
Transformative World – best case scenario
This scenario describes positive change across society, production, technology, and consumption. It implies a deep change in values like human solidarity, quality of life, and respect for nature.
Fortress World – worst case scenario
This scenario describes a world in which market forces, governmental policies, and technological innovation have not been able to contain social tensions and environmental degradation.
By applying the key trends and patterns identified at the beginning of our Strategic Foresight exercise, which are covered at length in articles found here, we establish the context of each world and can then visualize how to position ourselves for success in the future.
Market World: “Changing the Game”
This is a world in which the understanding that consumer insights are crucial to success have become mainstream in the business environment. Data-driven decision making is the standard, and customer feedback is the guiding force behind all brand development initiatives.
Consumer trust has become increasingly polarized as a result of the lack of regulation and past misuse of customer data. There are new consumers who embrace the benefits of data collection and those who are adamantly against it.
In order to ease the points of friction, an influx of research methodologies have been tailored to sources of consumer frequency. Advances in artificial intelligence, automation, and data science result in research methodologies adapted to accelerating cycles of change. Fewer high-resource brands rely on traditional third-party research as developing internal capabilities become their priority. Brands that are unable to match this infrastructure seek advantages externally through the use of tools, talent, and trust.
As companies prioritize and fortify their own customer insights capabilities, their need for third-party support during data collection stages will fade. With that, needs for data management and analytic support will rise due to their steadily increasing flow of data. Market Research firms will pivot their value drivers to ensuring customer insights remain accessible, consumable, and actionable.
With customer insights and data collection as universal business practices, emphasis will be placed on advancing research methodologies and strengthening data security. Brands will outsource these tasks to ensure they remain at the forefront of industry standards and best practices. Analytic creativity and earning customer trust have become the primary elements for success in the field of customer insights.
Transformative World: “Team Effort”
This is a world in which market research thrives through greater access to technology, cross-industry collaboration, and high levels of consumer trust.
Infrastructure investments in policy and funding successfully unleashes greater wealth creation through information and communication technologies. The gap between the have and have-nots closes significantly as new consumers and producers flood the scene.
The resulting spike in user generated content and personalization accelerates the need for sense-making in a sea of data. Holistic ecosystems between key stakeholders foster trust and natural consumer involvement with brands.
Transparency and scaled collaboration support sustainable sources of relevant insights. Traditional research methodologies find harmony with emerging tools to support the application of consumer insights within new industries.
With a surplus of data and cross-industry collaboration, innovative tactics, advanced methodologies, and creative analytic strategies will drive the evolution of consumer insights. Consumer willingness and participation are at an all-time high, so market research efforts are focused on capitalizing rather than convincing.
Furthermore, data stewardship and industry expansion efforts will be coordinated, not competitive. Establishing B2B relationships across the consumer insights landscape has increased overall capabilities, visibility, and quantifiable impact. All parties involved – brands, consumers, and market research partners – benefit from this environment of mutual trust, respect, and understanding.
Fortress World: “Game Over”
This is a world in which the market research industry crashes as a result of low consumer trust, increasing disruption, and the prioritization of short-term wins over long-term strategy.
The automation of the service industry shifts the perception of in-depth market research away from essential toward unnecessary. Fewer human-facing touchpoints reduces the experiential variables within customer-brand interactions.
Facing high levels of disruption, unprepared organizations feel forced toward rapid decisions and have less time for preparation. Cutting edge technology signals credibility for the top firms, limiting entry for newcomers unable to overcome high barriers.
Brands unknowingly become disconnected with their customers due to the shorter shelf-life of research and the wide-spread belief that technology can replace human insight. Wide-spread consumer skepticism has led to the emergence of word-of-mouth as the new way of feedback listening. Consumers refuse to share their data as corruption and security concerns increase, resulting in fewer sources of relevant data.
While the early adopters of new approaches to research survive, most brands fall into decline as the gap between skills and business needs widen.
A history of data security crises and misuse have eroded the public’s willingness to trust companies with their personal information. Voluntary participation in market research is at an all-time low and strict regulations inhibit the ways companies can leverage customer insights when making strategic decisions. Capitalizing on the minority of consumer populations who are willing to share information presents a small window of opportunity for brands to engage and understand their target audience.
As a result, core services and allocation of resources within the customer insights industry shift away from research innovation and analytic creativity toward repairing industry trust, perception, and reputation. Consumer resistance to information sharing will also increase the need for predictive analytics based on observable consumer behavior trends. Without the accuracy and reliability of direct customer feedback, brands must increase their strategic agility and rely on market analysis to support decision making. Capitalizing on the minority of consumer populations who are willing to share information presents a small window of opportunity for brands to engage and understand their target audience.
Final Thoughts & Takeaways
Through this Strategic Foresight exercise, we were able to develop three possible future-world scenarios based on current trends and patterns. In each world, our ability to remain relevant and competitive is dependent on our ability to adapt and evolve. However, the ways in which we adapt and evolve would be significantly different. So, considering how the consumer insights industry would be affected in each scenario enables us to examine our current value propositions and strategic development plans through the lens of future possibilities.
At this point we ask ourselves, what now? How do we leverage these ideas and observations in ways that have a tangible impact on our business?
First, we remind ourselves that these future-world scenarios are NOT predictions – they are possibilities. So, there is no need for drastic changes or knee-jerk reactions. Rather, having shifted our time horizons and expanded our thinking through this exercise, we see the world around us in a new light. Moving forward, any market shifts or emerging trends will be assessed in terms of immediate AND far-reaching implications. By breaking free of perceived limitations and expanding our thought timelines, we can prepare for a variety of realistic scenarios and maintain strategic agility as the future unfolds.
Note: If it is not already clear, I am a HUGE advocate of incorporating futurism as part of an overall brand development strategy. I was fortunate to complete The Future School’s strategic foresight certification program, during which I gained many valuable skills and tools. For anyone interested in learning more about Strategic Foresight or would like to conduct an exercise of your own, please do not hesitate to reach out. I absolutely love this stuff and am more than happy to continue the discussion. Reach out here!