Every winter, the media is full of stories of record snowfalls somewhere in the world, whether in the US, Europe or in the Far East. Despite all the sophisticated technologies at our disposition, we just never seem to be prepared. So what are the success factors of readiness?
Remember winter storm Juno in the USA in 2015? It dropped a couple of feet of snow on the Eastern coastline of North America. According to the Weather Channel its snowfall broke records in Worcester, MA, although in most other places it fell far below that of other storms from 2013 all the way back to 1978.
In the same year, in the North of the UK, the region was battered with a rare blast of thundersnow – an unnerving combination of thunderstorms and downpours of snow. As if that wasn’t enough, they were soon preparing to do battle with the elements with yet another storm shortly afterwards.
Now what do all these storms have to do with business you might wonder? Well for me they are a great illustration of the problems that many companies can face from time to time. Governments and city maintenance teams prepare for winter by organising vast stocks of grit and salt, as well as heavy snow-clearing machinery. But despite all this preparation, they still seem to be caught off-guard when they need to use them.
The same goes for businesses. Companies follow trends and expect to be ready for anything; they’re not! (>>Tweet this<<) The reason is that there are two serious problems with that way of thinking:
Firstly they are all following the same trends, attending the same trend “shows” & conferences, and getting the same or at least very similar trend reports.
And secondly, they think that knowing the trends will somehow protect them from future risks and catastrophes. However, having the right material still doesn’t stop bad things happening, as we’ve seen this winter.
So let’s take a look at what you can do to be better prepared and not get regularly “snowed-in” as many countries are this winter.
The Problem with Trend following alone
As I already mentioned, trend following suppliers are providing almost identical information to all their clients. This results in their clients then working on the same ideas & concepts and eventually launching very similar, non-competitive products and services. Have you never wondered why suddenly everyone is talking about a certain topic, or using similar slogans in their advertising? Simplistic trend following is probably the reason. (>>Tweet this<<)
As an example, think about how many companies have used the idea of “YES” and “NO” in their advertising in the past couple of years. These include:
- The Swiss Migros Bank: see the videos here – sorry only in French & German but still easy to understand
- BMW 320i YES, YOU, CAN
- Orange telecom mobile exchange
Clearly the current trends of independence and freedom have been emphasised in all three organisations mentioned above, and probably many others as well. Perhaps they are working with the same trend following company or advertising agency, or are buying the same external trend reports? Whatever the reason, 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 “Big Idea”.
Companies which develop concepts based upon theses 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 forget to take, is to turn the trends they are following into future scenarios. (>>Tweet this<<) 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 Big Ideas, the new advertising campaigns, the new promotions are unlikely to be the same as those developed by the competition.
How to turn Trends into Future Scenarios
Businesses 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. In just ten simple steps you can turn your trend following into a powerful competitive advantage that will surprise competition and delight your customers.
- 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 the most likely changes.
- Note the major forces that come into play as a result of these changes – this is what is important.
- 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 a previous post on the same 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 success factors that need to be met in order to guarantee the most actionable scenario planning exercises. These include:
- A diverse internal team who are both enthusiastic and curious about future changes within their organisation, category or business area.
- An excellent creative to lead the process, ideally 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 success factors mentioned, will give you the best chance of building plausible future scenarios that get actioned by your business. If you have never done the exercise before, it may seem daunting at first. Therefore it makes sense to ensure you 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 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. (>>Tweet this<<)
If you and your team are ready to turn your trend following into an actionable tool that delivers true competitive advantage, then we should talk. Book a complementary advisory session in my agenda.
Reserve a 1-Day Catalyst training session and be amazed at the progress & changes!
This post is based upon one which first appeared on C³Centricity in October 2015