Archive for November, 2010

Government 2020

Rebecca Nash writes:

We’re only a week away from our Government 2020 event – which we’re running jointly with Oxford Economics – so we’ve been putting the final touches to a new set of scenarios about the future of Britain’s political landscape.

The scenarios have been developed by our internal Knowledge Venturing team on the future of the public sector, and we’ve built them up by identifying the drivers of change of government, public finance, and public service, and also by conducting a range of interviews with experts in different parts of the world (New Zealand, Sweden, the UK, China, Latin America, and the US).

I’m not going to give away the scenarios here – they’ll be unveiled on Wednesday – but having gone through a pretty robust development process, they seem to add a dimension to our Feeling The Pinch research (here and here) which suggests that the experience of the financial crisis and economic downturn could lead to deep changes in political and social attitudes.

Oxford Economics, through its thought leadership team, will be offering an assessment of the economic impact of the spending plans in the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, and also adding an extra economic dimension to our understanding of the scenarios. The panel is looking feisty as well: David Muir, previously an adviser at No. 10; Dominique Lazanski of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, Anne McCrossan of Visceral Business, and Nick Temple, of the School for Social Entrepreneurs. We look forward to seeing you there.

25 November 2010 at 3:56 pm Leave a comment

Leaders and futures

Walker Smith writes:

I was privileged to be asked to speak at the Marketing Society’s annual conference, which was held earlier today at the Royal Opera House. On such occasions, you catch your inspiration as it strikes, and as I was starting to write my speech, I saw the news of the death of Ted Sorenson, a close adviser to J. F. Kennedy before and during his Presidency.

That led me to thinking about leaders and leadership, and what followers value in leaders, so we commissioned some research especially for the conference to try to find out, testing around 27 aspects of both leadership and brands with a sample of more than a thousand UK adults.

Perhaps it’s not a surprise to find The Futures Company saying this, but it turns out that people do value leaders who have “a clear vision of what the future will look like” (it’s 9th in the leadership ranking, with the top cluster) and believe that a leading brand “anticipates the future better than its competitors” (6th in the brand ranking). The charts are below.

But to fulfill this objective, that vision needs to be a proper vision, one that is clear, inspirational and helpful. Mere prediction doesn’t help, and predictions by experts are even less helpful. (The psychologist and business professor Philip Tetlock demonstrates in his recent book that expert predictions were not only more likely to be wrong than right, they were worse than chance; in other words, experts would be more accurate rolling the dice.)

The point is to understand the forces that are shaping the future, and to shape from this an aspirational future based on a clear view of the opportunities – and the risks. People want and need purpose, and they look to leaders to help them to find it. Indeed, purpose is one of the great challenges of business today, and the importance of future-focused purpose is clear from our research.

And this one of the leadership lessons from JFK. We remember his aspirational ambition, in 1961, “of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth”, by the end of the decade. It took eight years and another two Presidents, and Kennedy had been dead for six years by the time Armstrong and Aldrin got there. The vision that he articulated through his leadership outlived him.

The image at the top of the post is from the Wikimedia Commons. The two charts are courtesy of The Futures Company, and are published here under a Creative Commons licence.

18 November 2010 at 6:00 pm 1 comment

The brand and the digital conversation

Andrew Curry writes:

I was invited to Munich earlier this week by the insurance group Allianz to talk to its Brand Council about the brand in the age of the digital conversation. The company’s just launched its ‘One’ campaign, which promotes engagement with consumers through sharing. The emphasis is on real people in authentic situations giving or sharing useful advice or a valuable experience. Digital and social media are a central part of the process.

There are two things that companies seem most concerned about when they jump into social media. The first is that they are merely opening up a new channel for criticism and complaint, and they will be overwhelmed by this. But these conversations happen online whether or not the company decided to be involved, as BP discovered, spectacularly, with the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The second concern is that consumers are interested only in price when they engage with companies online. It’s certainly true that the internet has created a whole new category of intermediaries whose only story is about discounting, and that the insurance industry (selling low involvement, abstract, commoditisable products) is particularly vulnerable to them.

But despite the recession, our Global MONITOR research shows that people are more willing to buy branded goods provided they are persuaded that they are getting value from them. And they need to be convinced of those benefits, in authentic everyday language, without being confronted by corporate-speak. Get it right, and you create a virtuous circle, as in the diagram at the top of this post. Get it wrong, and you get punished for it.

Elsewhere in the financial sector, Nat West has attempted to regain trust with its ‘Customer Charter‘, which has provoked as much scepticism as admiration. But in the digital age, markets and brands are conversations, and conversation is missing from the Nat West model. Their campaign could have run any time in the last 30 years.

In contrast, some of the early Allianz campaign executions involve their customers talking, in branch, unscripted, about what’s important to them. There are risks here, but at least it feels like a company stepping into the 21st century.

A version of this post first appeared on the blog of the advertising and marketing portal WARC, with which The  Futures Company has a strategic relationship.

12 November 2010 at 9:32 am Leave a comment

Build it? They might come

Tom Richardson writes:

What people need is still more important for business than what businesses happen to be able to create – even though the gap between these two sometimes seems quite large.

Without research, and the freedom to pursue ideas that might never be profitable, some of the world’s most successful companies might never have become so. But this is different to throwing money at services that people haven’t told you they want, simply because these services seem to offer something “innovative”.

Innovation is the monkey to our organ grinder. It exists to find new ways of approaching age-old needs, such as reassurance, simplicity and community.

IBM, for example, has been working on a supercomputer called ‘Watson’ that can understand a question posed in colloquial language and respond vocally with an accurate, factual answer. The company says it’s designed for trawling through piles of papers such as legal documents to find an elusive fact.

Poor old Watson; destined to infuriate. It may respond to one of our needs (more time to do things) but even 99% accuracy isn’t good enough for a lawyer. Education helps us develop the ability to evaluate competing claims and make judgments about the information we really need. Understanding the use of language is only one part of that.

Why are we so bad at identifying tools that respond to human needs? They’re our needs, after all. Take Wolfram Alpha – again, an incredible product – that will make a lot of money through an expensive premium subscription that offers complex mathematical modelling. But at its launch in May 2009, it was seized upon by sensationalists at ‘the next Google’.

What Google has done, brilliantly, is to work hard in private on their sterile algorithms, while presenting a likeable human face to its users, with a visual identity that is colourful and simple. Google, like the iPod, is a human technology.

Wolfram Alpha, meanwhile, is a technology for technologists. It arrogantly (there I go again with the irresistible urge to anthropomorphise) tells you the answer, rather than humbly fetching information for you to interpret, like Google. If it gets the answer wrong, there’s no way to click back, think and discriminate.

The same delusion applies to social media. We know that no-one wants to be friends with washing powder. The company knows that plonking its washing powder down on Facebook makes it look awkwardly like the try-hard kid at school.

And, sadly, you can imagine the conversation around the water cooler in the Marketing Department:

“But have you seen the numbers?

“We have to be a part of this. Let’s ride this wave, let’s jump on board, let’s join the conversation!”

No. Go away. Really. No-one wants you here. You’re the wasp in my garden. And by the way, I resent your digital cold call.

The image at the top of the post is from the Museum of  Mid-Century Illustration, and is used with thanks. http://www.plan59.com/main.htm

5 November 2010 at 12:31 pm 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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