The blog has moved

We’ve now moved to http://blog.thefuturescompany.com/

We’re now easier to find on the website, and this is the link if you want to bookmark our new location. Also if have an RSS feed and the last post you saw was ‘Anxious and angry: the view to 2013’, then please follow the link and re-subscribe to the RSS feed.

See you again after the jump.

24 October 2012 at 4:04 pm Leave a comment

Anxious and angry: the view to 2013

Andrew Curry writes:

It’s that time of year when people are starting to look ahead to the business environment for next year. From the perspective of The Futures Company, we believe that two elements will dominate in Europe and the United States – and in some ways they represent different sides of the same coin.

The first is that consumers are ‘looking down’, fearful that as recession continues and social protection is weakened by austerity-seeking finance departments, that they are only a slip away from ending in the gutter. The fact that some consumers are increasing their debts to cover basic living costs underlines how fragile their world is. The dominant chord in this landscape is a deep anxiety. Companies will have to respond by changing packaging and positioning. As  Jan Zijderveld, the head of Unilever’s European businesses said in a recent interview:

“Poverty is returning to Europe. If a consumer in Spain only spends €17 when they go shopping, then I’m not going to be able to sell them washing powder for half of their budget.”

But businesses can do a lot more than just change their pack sizes. We have been talking to clients about the ‘5Ps’ of the post-recession landscape: Protection; Practical; Permission; Purpose; and Pride.

If that is the economic landscape, the political landscape is at least as edgy. Our Global MONITOR research identifies a new large group of the ‘globally enraged’, who believe that businesses and governments are, in effect, out to screw them. Globally, this group is around 28% of the population, but it is higher in Europe, peaking at above 50% in Italy. How do you spot them? Easy. The profile of the ‘Enraged’ group is almost identical to the population as a whole.

It can be taken as read, of course, that businesses will be operating in low-growth markets, which means that they have to be smarter about innovation. There are opportunities there, as we describe in our recent Unlocking New Sources of Growth report. But the risks are greater. Consumers have only one question for businesses in the current landscape: ‘whose side are you on?’ And beware the business that gets the answer to that question wrong.
The image at the top of the post is from Wikimedia Commons, and is used with thanks. The caption reads, “Not enough bread for so much chorizo [pork]” – meaning corruption.

9 October 2012 at 1:03 pm Leave a comment

Stages of digital grief

Andy Stubbings writes: I went to a talk on the future of publishing recently by Julius Wiedemann, the Design Editor at the art book publisher Taschen, at the Design Museum round the corner from our London office. Wiedemann made a cute analogy between the classic “DABDA” framework on the stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance) and the way the publishing industry is adapting (or not) to digital technologies and planning for its future.

It wasn’t exactly clear from the talk where publishing is on the DABDA journey (inevitably, the projector was malfunctioning), but it appears we have gone past Denial (“Of course the traditional newspaper model is viable!”) through Anger (“How dare people find information for free that they used to have to pay for!”), and is now somewhere into Bargaining (“OK, you can read all our magazines as much as you want online, but only by subscribing to our ‘digital newstand’ via your iPad”). One thought that occurred to me during Wiedemann’s argument was that skeuomorphic design – the idea that objects should retain part of their previous typeform or design cues to put users at ease (e.g. the page-flip mechanism of online magazines) – could be a product of submerged anxiety in an industry still in a ‘Bargaining’ phase, and therefore can’t let go of doing things in old ways.

According to Wiedemann, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better for the industry in the shift to digital. Chief among the reasons for this is fragmentation – of publishers and publishing formats, of retailers and distribution models, of device operating systems and interface standards.

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10 August 2012 at 1:40 pm 1 comment

Learning to win

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Andrew Curry and Andy Stubbings write: When British Cycling’s Performance Director Dave Brailsford launched the Sky road racing team in 2009 and announced that it would produce a British winner of the Tour de France within five years, most long-standing cycling fans were disbelieving. For all of Brailsford’s success in track cycling, le Tour was a very different proposition.

Britain had never got a rider into the top three, and the last British trade team to compete in the Tour had run out of money before it got to Paris. Winning the General Classification is an unforgiving business measured in seconds and minutes over three weeks of racing; the winner has to be able to excel at time trialling and cope with climbing (or vice versa) and hope they don’t have a bad day. Bradley Wiggins had finished 4th in 2009, but the consensus was that he was close to his limits.

But British Cycling, on track and road, is an interesting type of learning organisation that combines an obsession with incremental improvement (shades of Clive Woodward’s approach to rugby union) while also searching for disruptive innovation opportunities as well. On the track, which is a controlled environment, especially in disciplines such as the pursuit, the one percents here and there add up, eventually, to a winning margin, helped by the smart use of psychology.

On the road, something more was required. Two or three innovations come to mind. The first was Chris Boardman’s ‘Secret Squirrel’ project, which experimented with technical improvements to equipment. The second involved looking outside of cycling’s traditional approaches to training and fitness, in this case to swimming and the coach Tim Kerrison, who brought different approaches to managing form and intensity. His first year wasn’t successful, while he learned about the new sport; Wiggins followed his 4th place in 2009 (with the Garmin team) with a 24th place with Sky. The coaching team put it down to learning and carried on. Most companies would have been less patient.

The third was breaking with the conventional wisdom that the only way to train for racing was to race. Part of winning at cycling is psychological, of the whole team knowing what it feels like to control a race when it holds the lead, and Sky shifted the balance, reducing the number of racing days and competing in those races to win. Wiggins’ record this year in the stage races he has entered is impressive by any historical standards.

In the process perhaps British Cycling has invented a new type of “brand Britain” when it comes to sporting achievement, one that marries the best of British ingenuity, bloody-minded determination and humility in understanding that being good takes graft. In the place of the plucky underdog (Tim Henman), the glorious one-hit wonder (Rugby World Cup) or the technically undistinguished cloggers of our football teams, British Cycling is producing – on track and road – people who expect to win, who take winning in their stride, and who remember that there’s more to life than sport.

Tom Ding wrote a post on this blog about listening to David Brailsford after the Beijing Olympics. The image at the top of this post is the Wiggo III jersey from Milltag, via Headset Press, and is used with thanks.

24 July 2012 at 8:37 pm Leave a comment

The future of golf

Andrew Curry writes:

As The Open Championship hits its stride in Lytham St Annes, I thought I should mention that we’ve just written for HSBC a report on the future of golf. HSBC’s a patron of The Open, and sponsors a number of tournaments – including women’s tournaments – in various parts of the world, as well as supporting junior golf programmes in both the UK and China. Hence their interest in how the game could evolve.

Golf’s 2020 Vision: The HSBC Report looks at the big trends that will shape the game over the next decade, including the rise of Asia, more women (and young people) coming into the game, the emergence of shorter forms, the impact of digital technology, and the rise of sustainability issues. Working with Hill+Knowlton’s sports team, we also secured a range of interviews with leading golfers, including Gary Player, one of the game’s greats.

For the moment, the report can be downloaded from The Futures Company website (opens pdf) and from Scribd.

As a taster, here’s the ’12-hole guide’ to golf in 2020, taken from the report:

  1. Golf clubs and golf courses will become more family friendly. There will be family rooms instead of bars, holes set up for younger players, and certified womenfriendly facilities.
  2. Six and nine hole formats, and othershort-forms, complement the 18-hole tradition. A pay-TV sports channel accelerates this trend by promoting a professional short-form competition.
  3. Golf will benefit from its association with younger fitter players—driving more fashion and more word on the street.
  4. The ‘next’ Tiger Woods—the hot sponsorship and TV property of 2020—will be a young Asian player.
  5. Asian golf brands will be making major inroads into the golf equipment and clothing market.
  6. Golf becomes more unisex. As more women come into the game, golf becomes the way for men and women to share leisure time—as cycling has done in richer markets.
  7. Golf simulation games—using motion sensors and gestural interfaces—become mainstream.
  8. Gamers become golfers. Social gaming environments and family-oriented golf video games encourage people to move into the sport, not the other way around.
  9. The app as caddy: smartphone and tablet software helps golfers make the right choices, while sensors in equipmentand on courses—the smart coach—help players learn from their mistakes.
  10. Golf becomes a centre of expertise in water management, conservation and biodiversity.
  11. The first carbon positive courses are opened—in a hail of publicity.
  12. The authorities change the rules about equipment to reduce the distances achieved by professionals and bring course lengths back under control.

The photograph at the top of the post, included in the Golf’s 2020 Vision  shows American golfers Natalie Gulbis and Paula Creamer of the USA giving advice to young golfers from Singapore and China during an HSBC Junior Clinic held in Singapore. It was supplied by HSBC and it is used with thanks.

20 July 2012 at 4:24 pm 4 comments

Surface tension

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Microsoft’s whizzy new Surface slates — unveiled June 18 at a high-profile Apple-style announcement event in Hollywood — have triggered wildly disparate reactions across the technology world, with some pundits calling them a revolutionary bridge between full-fledged PCs and tablets, and others declaring their hybrid format an evolutionary dead-end.

Our own take falls in the latter category. We believe Surface may sell well out of the gate to Apple refuseniks and users who believe a keyboard can make large-scale text entry on a tablet more viable. But ultimately, we don’t believe this is a serious competitor to the iPad — or, longer term, a rival for Android-based tablets. The future of Surface is likely as a niche player for enterprise environments; if it has any sustained life in the consumer space, it will be due primarily to massive investment on Microsoft’s part.

The problem is not that Surface is not innovative. It’s that it’s innovative in the wrong direction. Surface’s keyboard is beautiful, sleek and smart — and anchored in the 1980s. Microsoft’s stubborn addition of stylus input to the Surface reinforces this point. The primary thing that Surface offers is compatibility with legacy interfaces.

Only disruptive innovation can create new revenue streams. Innovation that’s focused on preserving the past can only cannibalize the existing installed base. Even in the enterprise, Surface adoption won’t come at the expense of the iPad — it’ll be purchased as a lightweight substitute for Windows laptops.

Meanwhile, over in Cupertino, Apple has asserted that it is “doubling down” on its voice-based, natural-language Siri intelligent agent. Voice recognition opens up a range of alternative use cases for iPads — e.g., hands-free or multitasking control. That’s the kind of disruptive interface that Microsoft proved it could deliver with Kinect, for big screens and large areas.

The jury is still out on the future of interfaces for small screens and enclosed spaces — that is, the mobile computing interface. But we know one thing it’s not going to spring from: Better versions of old and increasingly outmoded technology.

Below the fold, we’ve taken a look at the spectrum of reactions from analysts across the web.

The picture of the Surface at the top of this post is from dotTech, and is used with thanks.

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26 June 2012 at 7:01 pm Leave a comment

Close to the edge

Sarah King writes:

Yesterday’s news reports indicating that seven million Britons were only one bill away from disaster came as no surprise to anyone at The Futures Company. Our Feeling the Pinch study has been taking the temperature of UK and Irish consumers in recessionary times since 2008. We have identified and tracked three broad swathes of consumers, the self explanatory ‘Plain Sailing’, ‘Choppy Waters’ and ‘All Hands on Deck’ groups.

Across the study we have seen a significant increase in the size of the ‘All Hands on Deck’ [AHOD] group as more people move down from ‘Choppy Waters’ into a more pressured position. 60% of AHOD say that the level of debt they have is ruining their quality of life, and 37% of them say they could only cover their living expenses for less than a month if they or someone in their household became jobless.

At a Kantar event last week, the sentiments and behaviour of these three segments were mapped across polling by our colleagues at TNS-BMRB and retail analysis by Kantar Worldpanel. This work demonstrated that while value-seeking behaviours are entrenched in all groups, strategies differ.  Those in AHOD buy offers that involve less outlay and actually reduce the volume of food they buy. It may be that they are wasting less food, but the possibility exists that some are going hungry.

Of course, at the other end of the spectrum, there are people who are much more comfortable, playing their hand carefully and tactfully in tough times but essentially doing fine. This is characteristic of recessions which tend to be spikey. The challenge for marketers is both to find ways to help one set of customers and to identify the pools of money that do exist out there, and which offer the ‘new sources of growth’ discussed in our latest Future Perspective report.
The image at the top of this post is from the personalfinance4ll blog, and is used with thanks.

21 June 2012 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.


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