Forecasting the Future
Originally published: 07.01.20 by Kelly Borth
Analyze trends regularly and frequently to develop a vision for your company’s growth and advancement.
To remain competitive and relevant, CEOs need to see far into the future and implement change in their organizations long before trends become mainstream. Envisioning where your company will be at the end of this year is standard practice.
Envisioning where it will be in two, five or 10 years takes research, analysis and a commitment of time and resources — not a crystal ball.
So how do CEOs find this vision? How do they prepare their buinesses for the next big change so they don’t miss the next big opportunity?
Many seek advice from trend analysts. Some engage their leadership team to be innovative. Most are voracious readers of trade journals and business books. And, others spend time researching the marketplace and assessing trends to find insight and inspiration. Here’s how to make trendspotting a vital part of making your vision come to fruition.
Look Back to See Ahead
Advertising and marketing, for example, has seen an enormous degree of change over the 30 years I’ve led my company. We’ve retooled our businesses with the birth of the Internet and the market demand for commerce websites.
Media channels have proliferated, consumers have thousands of choices now for what to watch and listen to, the vast majority of people have adopted social media and more and more of life moves to mobile apps every month. We used to have a one- to two-year lead time before some of this change hit mainstream.
Today, we are lucky if we have six months. And, the rate of change seems to be coming nonstop at an accelerating pace. Looking back, it is easy to see the degree of change. Looking forward, the vision is not as crystal clear. How do you bring it into sharper focus?
It takes commitment, time and resources to help see what the future may hold.
Understand the Commitment
It’s important to understand what it takes to gather the information needed to start seeing what can be ahead for your company, as well as to analyze it, interpret it and identify the key points that can positively or negatively affect your company. It’s probably more than you realize.
To research and gather all the information, you could develop a research committee within your organization or you could outsource this function. Either way, the key is to prioritize it and make it the sole focus of an internal committee or an external contractor or agency.
Once you have a critical mass of research, set aside some time yourself to thoroughly review it or assign the task to an internal or external resource who has the ability to interpret the information from a strategic mindset. This can be challenging because these individuals are probably part of your C-suite and are the ones who rarely find the time for this type of lengthy reading project.
You’ll need the right eyes on the job, however, or you risk allowing important and meaningful information to be missed. You need the right interpreter of the information that has been uncovered — someone who is curious to dig deeper into the details and connect the dots.
The way I approach this is by participating in industry peer groups led by consultants who are charged with helping agency owners grow our businesses and stay ahead of the curve. These consultants stay current with industry analysts and bring speaker resources to meetings to enlighten us on what we need to know.
I also belong to business peer groups that offer ongoing articles and speakers on industry trends. One group I belong to distributed a recent article titled “12 Trends That Will Define Business in the New Normal,” which was based on a book written by noted trend analyst William Higham called “The Next Big Thing — Spotting and Forecasting Consumer Trends for Profit.”
Higham’s top five vital trends include 1) Brand Aid, 2) Simplicity, 3) Short Termism, 4) Conscious Consumerism and 5) Customer Profiling. This peer group also brought in a speaker to our local market who led us through a trends exercise to analyze how Social Change, Technology, Business Processes, Education, Geopolitical and Green Energy would affect our businesses.
These types of experiences help me to understand trends that will impact the vitality of my business into the future.
All this takes a tremendous commitment of time and resources, but it prepares me to lead my company into the future. However you choose to provide the manpower, the key is maintaining consistency so that the research and information is gathered constantly or at least in one focused annual initiative.
Research the Future
When beginning the process of forecasting the future, the amount of data available is vast. Many industry associations report on industry trends and may have an affiliated research arm. Look for annual reports or recent white papers they may have.
Some business schools specialize in areas of research, industry analysts report on trends and some vertical consulting groups prepare annual reports to the industry. Often these reports are available online or the findings have been written about in media stories.
Public libraries also have business researchers and some chambers of commerce have robust research departments. Many times, that research can be yours just for the asking. And, as you find the best sources for trends in your industry, you can subscribe or set up alerts so that you are getting the latest information consistently.
Go Beyond Your Industry
Now that you’ve collected a trove of information on trends within your industry, you have the first part of your research done. But a single-industry look is rarely a complete picture from which to develop a market-leading strategy, so you’ll want to expand outside of your immediate industry. Start thinking about bigger picture trends, such as:
- What about social trends like mobility, web-based solutions and so on?
- What trends can be applied to future generations of buyers of your products or services?
- What trends are related to automation?
- Are there pending or emerging government regulations to consider?
- And what about the recent trends that have changed the way we work due to the global pandemic?
Understanding all the trends that may impact your business and finding and analyzing the data is what gives you keen insight for developing market-leading strategies to stay ahead of the curve.
Look for Opportunities, Threats
During this deep dive, understanding your company’s strengths and weaknesses is a good platform from which to view opportunities and threats. Where your company has a position of strength — and your competitors do not — is often where some of the best strategies develop. Consider the following questions when evaluating opportunities and threats in your trend analysis:
- What trends are important to your business? Your competitors?
- What are your current strengths and weaknesses?
- What are your competitors’ current perceived and real strengths and weaknesses?
- How will trends affect these strengths and weaknesses?
- How do these trends affect your industry culture, labor force, marketing channels, etc.?
- What changes can your organization execute with excellence and speed to maintain relevance, market share and keep or grow customer loyalty?
Look through a lens that gives you a clear focus on what you can execute with excellence and speed. Catch competitors off guard to provide the advantage of first-to-market opportunities.
From that same lens, view threats that will impede or make obsolete the way you do business today. These will become important in maintaining relevance, market share and keeping or building customer loyalty.
Bring Vision to Internal Team
As a discipline, CEOs need to find the time to analyze trends annually and determine which ones are likely to impact their business going forward. These annual practices have an equally important discipline that should be adopted and cultivated — how to effectively communicate the vision and forecast to the team for optimum buy-in.
Focusing on the top three to five most impactful trends will allow CEOs to share these with their internal teams and focus on innovations and solutions that their company can bring to the marketplace without overwhelming the team.
Consider creating an annual Vision Report to paint the landscape of where the company has been, where the company needs to go and to challenge your team to engage in what action and mindset is needed to get there and profit once goals are achieved. This process can turbo-power your company’s ability to stay relevant and ahead of the curve.
Benjamin Franklin is known for once saying “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” As we continue to live in a world of global and technological advancement, it is hard to say what the 21st century may become known for, but what we do know is that we are doing business in an ever-changing world that is challenging us to keep pace.
Lead the pack in your industry by diving deep into the extensive amount of research available, analyzing local, national and global trends and bringing the vision and the strategy to your leadership team while illustrating how the organization as a whole can capitalize on these trends to drive the organization’s future.