The challenge for many marketers when planning future products, services and communications is to understand the emerging consumer and their needs, wants and desires for the future.
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Consumers have a desire to live in the future but struggle to imagine what the future will look like. Asking consumers to imagine the future is like asking them to imagine life on Mars. Everyone will have different ideas, none of them substantiated. From a behavioural science perspective, asking open questions like this lacks validity because consumers need to:
a) Be primed on what is possible for the future.
b) Require anchors that they understand.
Memories of the Future – Scenario Planning
Since the future is inherently unknown and unknowable, the challenge is to create a number of different scenarios about these emerging consumer narratives in order to uncover the dynamic aspect of consumer change and readiness to change. This is an intuitive process and since consumers are usually unable to create scenarios and focus on the future themselves, it is our job to create these narratives for them based on an appreciation of what has happened and what is rooted in the ‘here and now’.
Scenario planning as a process of structured, reasoned storytelling is a great way of ensuring that we focus on a combination of PESTLE factors relevant to the job at hand.
We could be talking about the bank branch of the future, or the streaming service of the future, or perhaps we are talking about the ‘energy’ beverage of the future. Whether we are talking about a product or service, we need to build some scenarios to anticipate environmental and social factors that might occur (based on emerging trends we are seeing) as well as political and economic forces. We also need to be cognisant of differing consumers or customers, groups or individuals with very different views and needs such as we might find in passions, mindsets or lifestages.
Building a coherent framework
Ruby can help here by running a stakeholder workshop to build a coherent framework to make sense of consumer change that will create better validity and encourage a more dynamic and substantiated search for future forethought and consumer insight.
Armed with a set of ‘memories of the future’ it is much easier for consumers to look for ideas and insights. What we mean by this is that when people think they know something they tend to give it virtually not thought or attention, assuming that they know all there is to know about it. As a result they will push for closure and the creative process shuts down. What we need to do is scope the idea more broadly, allowing people to keep issues and possible open for discussion to get the creative juices flowing.
How we do it
We start by a parallel review process with your core team downloading information, and key sources of date.
We then use these sources to generate four somewhat polarised futures, creating a ‘future map’ of opposing outcomes that ‘might’ happen. Of course, not one specific future will come true in the years to come but the map forces us to push our understanding of what society could be like and this is ideal for driving creative thinking.
The four possible futures are brought to life and visualised by drawing how people will live, interact with each other and go about their business. By capturing what will motivate them and drive their decision making, hopes and fears, Ruby with your team or key stakeholders can either map existing ideas or generate new ideas for the future of your product or service.
The figures below demonstrate how this could work and provide examples only.
The maps are made up of two key axes that define four future narratives:
- One axis highlights the distinction between busyness and balance in consumer lifestyles.
- The other outlines the distinction between risk aversion and the accompanying tendency for people to live in the future versus risk acceptance and tendency to live more in the present for others.