By Jocelyn Ochinang, Senior Director of Consumer and Market Intelligence, RAPP Worldwide
When the growth of e-commerce began to outpace brick-and-mortar businesses in the mid-1990s, there were plenty of signs. The increasing number of online retailers, the growing adoption of early smartphones and internet connectivity, and the changing preferences of younger generations more inclined to shop online all pointed toward an e-commerce boom. Unfortunately, companies like Blockbuster and Borders didn’t know how to anticipate customer needs. They paid the price as new digital players, such as Netflix and Amazon, took hold of the market.
Cautionary tales like these underscore the importance of foresight in business, particularly when it comes to customer experience. While you can’t predict the future — no one has a crystal ball — you can influence the future and map out potential alternate futures. The key is to leverage strategic foresight, which helps companies anticipate emerging business trends, identify customer needs, and make informed investments that enhance CX and drive business growth. It allows you to think beyond your official future and create multifaceted strategies that are effective, regardless of what the future will bring.
For example, consider how Disney harnessed the magic of strategic foresight with future thinking and Imagineering, its research and development arm. Disney is widely renowned for its ability to create immersive and enchanting experiences, and its application of future thinking within its Imagineering team is a testament to its innovative approach. Disney consistently identifies emerging business trends and technologies by employing tools such as scenario planning and consumer needs anticipation, envisioning how they can be harnessed to craft new and captivating experiences. This commitment to anticipating the future of customer experience is deeply ingrained in Disney’s DNA, allowing it to continually deliver innovative and memorable experiences that keep audiences coming back for more. However, Disney’s recent feud with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis highlights a potential oversight in employing strategic foresight in political contexts. The situation stresses the need for organizations to continuously scan the horizon for emerging trends, especially political ones, and adapt their strategies accordingly.
Tyson Foods provides another compelling example of how scenarios can help companies navigate transformative shifts in their industries. Recognizing the changing landscape of food consumption, Tyson Foods embarked on a journey of systematic long-term visioning. It utilized scenario planning to envision an alternative future where most consumers switched to plant-based food instead of meat. Considering the implications of this change, the company explored diverse sources of protein. Over time, Tyson Foods redefined its identity as a protein company; it embraced the future of food by investing in plant-based alternatives and cellular agriculture. This strategic foresight-driven pivot enabled Tyson Foods to remain ahead of the curve, cater to evolving consumer preferences, and secure its relevance in a shifting market.
These examples highlight the immense value that strategic forecasting brings to CX strategy. Strategic foresight needs to function like an operating system, not just solve siloed business issues where businesses become complacent. By embracing this approach, you can foster a culture of innovation, explore emerging trends, and envision possible alternative futures.
Making Informed and Future-Proof Investment Decisions
In a world where the future is constantly evolving, strategic foresight has become a crucial compass for companies seeking to shape remarkable customer experiences. As a business leader, you should ask yourself, “How can we better adapt to situations of uncertainty and ambiguity?” Instead of trying to plan and problem solve your way around a situation, you need to adopt ways to actively engage in uncertainty. Drawing inspiration from companies like Disney and Tyson Foods, you can see how future thinking enables organizations to envision, innovate, and adapt to a variety of potential future scenarios to stay ahead of the curve.
Strategic foresight gives organizations an action- and framework-based approach to help them stay ahead. By embracing strategic foresight, businesses can unlock new possibilities, reimagine CX, and create a future that exceeds customer expectations. Future thinking enables organizations to analyze the positions and interests of various stakeholders, including governments, political groups, and communities. By anticipating potential political changes, organizations such as Disney can engage proactively with policymakers to shape favorable policies or mitigate the impact of unfavorable ones. Similarly, other companies, including OpenAI, could benefit from applying strategic foresight in significant decision-making processes, such as leadership changes.
So, what does this mean for your business? If you’re ready to embrace the future of customer experience and future-proof your own business, use these strategies to get started:
1. Instill foresight into your culture of innovation.
Foresight should fuel your organization. If you do this right, everyone in your business should think like a futurist. How do you instill that mindset? Start by creating cross-functional teams to bring diverse perspectives and skills. This encourages employees to think outside the box and uncover new possibilities and opportunities to drive transformative innovation. It can also shift the mindset from short-term thinking to long-term visioning.
2. Scan, scan, and scan.
Horizontal scanning is imperative to your business’s success. Scan the external environment, both within and outside your industry, to learn about trends and patterns that could impact your industry. This will help you understand how to anticipate customer needs and identify the future of customer experience.
3. Analyze your findings.
With the data from your horizontal scanning exercise, you can use the causal layered analysis method to explore the different layers of meaning of an underlying problem. Understanding the root cause will help you develop more nuanced and better solutions to address your problem. Armed with this information, you can make strategic investments in research and development, partnerships, or acquisitions. The analysis may even lead you to imagine untapped possibilities to create market-leading innovations.
Incorporating strategic foresight into your organization’s CX strategy will prepare your company to make strong investment decisions and avoid the “hindsight is 20/20” issue that Blockbuster and Borders experienced. By anticipating emerging business trends and disruptions, you can allocate resources strategically, stay at the forefront of customer expectations, and capitalize on emerging opportunities.
About the Author
Jocelyn Ochinang is a senior director of consumer and market intelligence at RAPP, a global precision marketing agency and a Certified Foresight Practitioner with over 15 years of experience in market research.