Posts filed under ‘research’

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

Rethinking online research

by Pen Stuart

As consultants and researchers try to understand evolving consumer behaviour, we quite often use online survey research. It’s one of those areas which seemed like a revelation when it was first introduced, if only because it pushed down research costs, but has changed little recently. The online world has moved on but online research is still trapped by the legacy of the forms and questionnaires of face to face research. It is a classic example of using technology to do an old thing in a new way.

But there’s a cost to this: dull forms leads to lower engagement with the questions which leads to lower quality answers; poorer data, in other words. So, like all areas which have got stuck, it is crying out for some innovation.

To help us understand what is coming next, we invited the market research specialists GMI in to talk about what they’re doing to refresh the online survey. Their view: survey writing is becoming a creative discipline, a specialist form of communication designed to get people to respond better – exactly as happened with the emergence of advertising as a discipline.

Their research suggests that respondents are happy to spend longer on questionnaires, and provide much richer and more considered results, and without being paid more, if you make the survey process more entertaining. Activating their imagination is crucial, to get respondents to think in more interesting ways about your subject. Instead of just asking ‘what is your opinion on…’, for example, GMI asks you to ‘imagine you are being interviewed by a journalist who asks…’, thereby creating an element of role play. Tests show it gives proven longer and more thoughtful responses.

They’ve also borrowed from games design – turning repetitive actions with little tangible benefit into a structured process that engages and entertains. This can make the survey more of a challenge. But the answer to the obvious question – won’t people just quit the survey? – is ‘no’. But it depends on the design of the challenge. Changing a question from  ‘describe yourself’ to ‘describe yourself in exactly 7 words’ means that people spend more time on it, leading to better responses and better data.

There’s a catch, of course: the cost of developing the questionnaire increases. The solution to that problem is finding clients who care about the quality of the research data they’re getting back. And engagement also opens up new types of response – relevant when you start to think about increasing open source innovation, and getting consumer feedback on new product development. All in all, something to start experimenting with.

The image at the top of the post comes from The Listening Post blog, where there is an interesting post on why respondents abandon surveys. The image is used with thanks.

5 April 2012 at 12:09 pm Leave a comment

Doing Strategic Futures

Andrew Curry writes:

Just before Christmas, The Futures Company re-published a report which it wrote (as The Henley Centre) a decade ago, for the British government’s Cabinet Office, on understanding best practice in strategic futures work. It’s stood up well over the last ten years, because it focusses on organisational context and culture and on principles, rather than on methods. We were able to republish the work, which has been in the public domain, because of the generous copyright provisions of the UK’s Open Government Licence, which makes most Creative Commons licences look positively restrictive.

The report was based on an extensive benchmarking study, together with a literature review and a range of expert interviews. Without trying to summarise the whole thing here, one section has a set of methodological guidelines which are worth capturing:

  • Ensure there is clarity about the resource requirements of the work
  • Ensure that the process is inclusive
  • Ensure that people understand and trust the processes being used
  • Understand the limitations as well as the opportunities afforded by strategic futures thinking (there is no magic bullet)
  • Understand that the process will take time to deliver benefits to the organisation

The full report, published as part of our Future Perspectives thought leadership series, can be downloaded from the website (free, but registration required).

6 January 2012 at 6:48 pm Leave a comment

The volatile world

Henry Tucker writes:

The Futures Company has recently released the latest edition of Global MONITOR, our large scale syndicated future-focused Insights Programme. Global MONITOR’s analysis is underpinned by a survey of 27,000 respondents in 21 markets, and its research underpins much of thinking about social, cultural, and consumer change. Over the next few weeks we’ll be running a series of blog posts on themes from this research.

One of the most important themes of Global MONITOR 2011 is about consumer volatility. Three years into the financial crisis, those in richer nations have experienced long periods of austerity, unprecedented since the last World War. Eleswhere, pressures of growth are causing their own problems, from pollution to poisoning, in the case of China’s food scandals. This has made consumers feel both vulnerable and vigilant. And some of the data are striking:

  • 42% agree that they ‘usually buy the cheapest product available’
  • 51% of consumers, globally, agree that they are making more of an effort to buy less than they did before.
  • 62% agree that ‘the world feels like an increasingly hostile and uncertain place’ (a high level of agreement for such a strongly worded question).

These tensions are expressing themselves culturally as well as economically. In most markets, the proportion of those agreeing with the statement ““I appreciate the influence other cultures have on our way of life in this country” has fallen quite sharply over the past two years. People are drawing in.

What we’re seeing as a result is that consumers are becoming as self-reliant as they can, reducing their exposure to an uncertain world wherever possible. Of course, ‘self-reliance’ conjures images of people storing clean water and tinned food in their cellars, but the emerging trend is, instead, about networked reliance. People use social connections, both to find new information, to look for deals, and to lean on each other for support. As they do so, their expectations of what business should be doing for society have become sharper. The proportion agreeing that “Companies have a responsibility to help support the society in which they operate” has seen a significant jump year on year in many markets. It’s another layer of complexity that many businesses could do without in tough times. But get it wrong and consumers will punish you for it.

The picture at the top is from Global MONITOR, and shows people’s perceptions of how their countries are doing and also how they are doing.

Global MONITOR is an innovative, strategic, future-focused Global Insights programme for clients and agencies. It identifies the key dynamics shaping the world and the consumer marketplace, as well as potential implications for your clients’ businesses. If you want to know more about Global MONITOR, please call Simon Kaplan in the United States, or Deniz Erdem in Europe.

18 November 2011 at 10:47 am 2 comments

The future of social networks #1

Over the course of this week we are running a new blog post every day to launch our latest analysis of the future of social networks. The project has been led by Alex Steer in our New York office. In the next four days he will be outlining our findings here – Andrew Curry

#1: Seeing through uncertainty

Alex Steer writes: Thinking back a decade, you have to pinch yourself. In 2001, when internet penetration ran at 10% or less even in advanced markets, online social networks barely existed. Today, they are the most widely-used online services, with membership of the largest networks reaching well into the hundreds of millions. Today Facebook has around 720 million members, and China’s Tencent QQ instant messaging network over 600 million – figures that are likely to be out of date if you read this more than a few weeks in the future. In the US, Facebook alone accounted for almost 9% of all website use in 2010, overtaking Google as the most-visited site.

If it’s been a dynamic decade for online social networking, it’s also been a disruptive one. The rise of networking giants such as Facebook and Twitter can seem inevitable in hindsight, but in practice there’s been a rapid turnover of winners and losers. MySpace, which at its peak claimed membership by one in four Americans, was sold by News Corporation in June 2011 for a fraction of the price it paid, its active user base collapsing. For those who look at Facebook in the 2010s and see nothing but runaway growth, MySpace should be a reminder that present scale is no guarantee of future success.

For businesses, brands, and marketers, this can feel like unstable ground. How do we know which networks will be around and thriving in a couple of year’s time, let alone ten? How do we decide how best to design services or communications in an unpredictable environment? And, in trying to back the right horse, how do we know whose advice to take?

There’s no shortage of advice on ‘doing social’, even if much of it is contradictory. But it’s wrong to think that the social networking category is defined only by Facebook or Twitter. The category is broad and often ill-defined even by experts – but at its heart a social network is any online service that lets users interact and form social connections. The choices which users make when they are online are a better guide to how usage and behaviour might change than the technology.

For this reason, to help think about social online behaviour, we have identified six Pivot Points – points of tension based on the choices people make when they engage online, and the conflicts they experience – that will shape the future of social networks. These decision points – around scale, privacy, specificity, pervasiveness, utility and worldview – can help businesses and brands anticipate the future in a category they cannot predict. On this blog, over the course of this week, we will be exploring these.

This is the first of four posts by Alex Steer introducing our latest analysis of the future of social networks. The second post, on ‘the social life of social networks’, will run tomorrow. The word cloud at the top of this post was generated by Talent Genius and is used with thanks.

1 August 2011 at 9:05 am 2 comments

The new normal is still here, and here to stay

Eleanor Cooksey writes:

“I’ve found the cost of living has gone up substantially and it has had a huge impact on my life. I am not buying luxuries as often and I will change the way I deal with my finances.”

This sobering quote comes from a Scottish man we spoke to as part of our fifth in-depth review of how UK consumers are responding to the current economic situation. In our breakfast briefing held in London last week to launch this review, we highlighted four themes which describe the current environment:

  1. The New Normal is firmly embedded: Reflecting the broader economic uncertainty, individuals feel the outlook is gloomy: 25% feel the UK economy is going very badly these days, an increase of 10% compared to when the survey was last carried out six months ago. People are even less optimistic about their personal financial situation with almost half thinking they will be worse off over the next 12 months. The message is clear: no one expects things to go back to how they were and we are learning how to cope.
  2. Rising prices are hurting:Though inflation has recently dropped a fraction, our data showed levels of anxiety about rising prices similar to those seen in 2008. Many of the people we spoke to were highly sensitive to these changes, whether this was about an increase in the cost of petrol or bell peppers.
  3. Savvy shopping matters to consumers: 43% of consumers have had to dip into savings to make ends meet and they are trying hard to make their money going further. Deals and special offers are still very much part of this, but consumers are doing more than that: they are giving serious thought to what they really need and what they really don’t. One lady in Staines realised she didn’t have to spend £70 every six weeks at the hairdresser and could use a £3.50 home dye kit instead. However, she wasn’t going to cut back on her expensive make-up and perfume.
  4. It’s a constant struggle to stay on top of things: In our last survey, we identified three groups who represent the various responses to the current financial downturn, and this time round, ‘All Hands on Deck’ were the only group which had increased in size. Though people in this group feel the struggle to make ends meet most acutely, making the most of your budget is relevant to everyone, even for the relatively unaffected ‘Plain Sailing’ group. All want to feel they can loosen their belt without losing it.

I’ll finish with a quote from a young woman in Sheffield which sums up the dilemma the New Normal presents for some:
“I could lose my job tomorrow, so I should plan to protect myself against that – but then again, I could lose my job tomorrow…so why not live for the moment?”.

There are limited places available for a repeat of this breakfast briefing on 12th May. To find out more please contact Karen Kidson.

20 April 2011 at 2:09 pm 1 comment

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

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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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