An Overview of Scenario Planning in a Changing Landscape
Your marketing director role is complex for many reasons. Your responsibility is knowing how to best brand your company or product, where to communicate with customers and how to communicate to them to move them to action and engage with your brand. We've had Covid, Post-Covid and now new Delta Covid to deal with. But what's next? How do you predict what's coming and how to reset your marketing strategy? There isn't a one-strategy-fits-all approach, and the art
of the crystal ball hasn't been perfected.
So, how do you predict marketing trends? There is a solution.
Many companies, including global giants like Red Bull and Toyota, are now commissioning futurists to predict what strategies and technologies will dominate the marketing landscape in five, 10 or 20 years.
There are a number of consulting firms that specialize in this emerging field. But for those who want to try it themselves with very little investment, there's a different approach called scenario planning. As explained by futurists John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene: "Scenario planning is the process of thinking about what might happen--about how events can turn out differently depending on our decisions. It requires management to think and talk in terms of alternative stories about the future. It helps them learn to think differently than most do today."
A scenario is "a description of a future situation created by a writer (or corporate planning staff) that outlines possible developments within a strategically important context." They show "how the future might unfold given a number of key assumptions." We all create scenarios every day when we make plans, for example, how your product launch will go or what you will wear on your date. You do this to help you make your plans better. But what if you want to plan for the future?
Make Long-Term Decisions to Stay Competitive
Naisbitt and Aburdene write, "Without scenario planning, businesses will not have any idea of the changes that might be coming. They will continue to operate more or less as they always have, making decisions in a vacuum and having no clue about how they will affect their immediate business situation or their long-term ability to compete." In fact, it is impossible to be on top of every feature in your product line every single day.
Scenario planning can help companies see "how the way we do things may change over time," Naisbitt says. "You can't begin to plan for tomorrow until you know what the world will look like, so it's absolutely fundamental."
To predict marketing and branding trends, consider these four factors:
Customer values will change.
Technology is constantly changing. Five years ago, a cell phone was a phone. Now it's an Internet browser, music player, video camera, pedometer, and heart rate monitor among a million other things. What new features of the cell phone or another common mobile device will people want in five years? Ten years? Twenty years?
Demographics are shifting around the world. What values do people in other countries have? How will shifts in population and cultural changes on a global scale affect your business?
Plan for flexibility and prepare revisions for the unexpected.
To predict the way marketing will evolve, it is important to look at the trends shaping your customers' lives--then combine that knowledge with your imagination to look four, five or 10 years into the future. You can create scenarios that describe how these trends will change.
Predicting trends involves some educated guesswork but also an understanding of key factors like customer values and technology. And keep in mind that even if you get it wrong, you learn something from the process of thinking about possible futures.
Scenario Planning Six-step Process:
1) List current trends: Consider what is currently happening in the marketplace. What are people talking about? What are they buying? Are people concerned about the economy or anxious about their jobs? Are there new types of products in demand? Are there new or emerging technologies?
2) List future trends: Expand on these trends by looking at upcoming events in your industry. What are the biggest developments that could occur in the next three to five years? What developments will have a global impact? Which technologies will allow for new industries to emerge? What shifts in population will change the way people live and work?
3) Create scenarios: A good Business Scenario Planning should analyze at least 2 to 4 scenarios in detail so you can have a global picture about what could be about to come. Develop future scenarios for each trend, and then assess how each scenario might impact your company. Also consider how you should position your business to adapt to these changes. In addition, identify actions you can start taking today toward those outcomes. Remember to consider variables and contingencies and how those might affect the direction of your strategy.
4) Describe your future customers. Who are they? What is their income? What do they do for a living? How old are they? Where do they live physically and online? What do they want? Try to create your customers' buyer persona using demographic and psychographic information of your average current customer.
5) Anticipate behavioral shifts: Brainstorm different ways your business might change in the future. Try to imagine what technologies could be used and how people might behave as a result. If you're stuck, try answering these questions: How might customer values evolve over time? What changes in technology will occur that could affect my business? What new products or services will we offer in the future? How will global behaviors and values affect your brand position and your corporate culture?
6) Predict, Test and Act: The main benefit of this process is it helps you to anticipate and react to the changes that may occur. Take steps now to adapt your marketing in response. Test your theories and adjust accordingly. As we always recommend, start small, phase in quick wins, and build for scalability. Incorporate the new trends in your plans, create new sales strategies and brand stories to reflect the changes you anticipate to come.