Is market foresight just a fancy word for consumer insight?

Consumer Insight Insight market research marketing research foresight scenario planning marketing strategy planning advertising planning innovation innovation consulting co-creation market research qualitative research focus groups depth interviews quantitative research digital incubators Is market insight just a fancy word? Is it market foresight or market insight? Foresight can identify new categories

We are constantly being asked what the difference is between market insight and market foresight, is there anything in it or is foresight just a fancy word for focus groups with post-its? In a word, no but we need to make the distinction clear.

Market insight is about providing a deeply useful concept to help us understand a variety of behaviours in a category. It’s easier to explain with an example. We were asked to develop a new sports based water drink. The client, Suntory-Danone (they were in the middle of a switch of ownership) was concerned about which sport to pin the drink against. In the same way that McDonalds, Coca-Cola and other big players pin themselves firmly to the Olympics, what was ‘their thing’? In this case, we realised that sport is about achievement, but achievement, for people was not all equal. For some over- weight people, achievement was about choosing the water- based sports drink over Coca-Cola, so achievement can take on a myriad of different forms and that’s the point, it’s an insight. The whole brand was based around achievement.

The point, however is that insight is based in the now. Foresight is used to identify new categories, new brands in those categories and find the areas of innovation for a company in the near future. It’s also used to understand how to defend categories and brand categories.

Let’s look at an example of this. Foresight uses 4 streams of input:

  • Big data
  • Commercial data
  • Co-created concepts
  • Scenario planning.

Foresight is often considered just to be around 3, which is about using digital incubators for ideas such as the talent lab from Made, where people submit ideas and they get built. However this is not about future proofing or finding new ideas systematically the 4 things need to be used in concert, so let’s look at them.

The first is big data, for example, Google n-grams show the growth and decline of ideas/language in society. If you put into Google n-gram, you will see the rise of the word ‘craft beer’ which negatively correlates with the beer share of large American brewers like Budweiser and Miller Draft. If these companies had seen these n-grams they would most likely have responded more quickly. N-grams are based on the frequency of the appearance of the words in written books, magazines etc.

The second key area is commercial data, which needs to be correlated with 1, big data. So if you spot a range of organisations, especially entrepreneurial ones, using a new ‘code’ or language the big question is will it catch on? If you were in 2007 you’d ask will craft beer catch on? So you’ve got to cross- pollinate data from 1 with data from 2, if you'd done that you would have acted more quickly to defend against craft beer. Which brings us to 3. 

“The future is all around us, it’s just not evenly distributed”. The first mistake incubators make, i.e. on line communities to think of new products etc, is to focus on either a) the young or b) people into their category. The ‘young cool incubator’ has a big bias issue, there are many ideas which don’t cross from alternative to mainstream. So co-creating concepts or needs to have multiple walled development pods is a way to make it robust – Fans of the category, Young cool people and the mainstream. It’s only by cross-referencing ideas from these 3 areas that means you can get a sense of consistency and possibility to understand if ideas will 'cross the chasm' from 'cool' to mainstream

The last tool is scenario planning – it essentially looks at how your market might play out in the future. Shell used it to predict oil prices. It’s over-done and over said but the speed of change is changing and a large company can soon change your category, ask Kodak, ask the travel business with AirBnB and the predictions of the future of professions like accountancy. So scenario planning identifies all the possible factors which will disintermediate a category and establish different possible scenarios. In oil prices the factors are as variable as how Tesla is doing, the price of accessing oil in new deep sea locations, political stability, economic growth and less obvious ones like the rise of public transport, eco-warriors and so on.

True foresight is about using all of these methods, and some others, which are too involved for a short article. You’ve got to use all of them to get it right, think of it like geo-location in 3 dimensions – you need latitude, longitude and height, you need 3 pointers to get a location. And since the future is about physical, emotional, cultural and even spiritual space you need multiple data points to get it right. It’s no good saying, ‘Oh we’ll do some desk research’ it’s too vague, it's like saying we're going to Sao Paolo by aiming at Latin America, you'll get lost. 

True foresight is the way to nail the future or at least the best way we know of, no-one can predict the future but foresight allows you to nail possible futures and allows you to monitor which one of them is most likely to come true. The result? Instead of scrabbling because you are playing catch-up because the world has changed too fast, you’ve got your organisation ready to explore future category or brand plans.

Foresight isn’t flaky,done well, it should be empirical or as close as we can get but be careful to find people who use the four mentods.

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About the author

Jake Pearce

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"Different to get better results". Jake is obsessed with marketing ROI. He helps companies amplify word of mouth to get business more easily. He uses Meanomathics to boost Comms cut through 10-30%. He uses co-creation to future proof innovation - he turned around a drinks category providing 15% growth using professional co-creation. And he helps top CEO and celebrities with their personal branding and brand purpose, which links back to Word of Mouth marketing. 

Worked with Vodafone,Kellogg'sMcDonalds,ANZ,McDonalds,Suntory,Danone,HSBC,Barclays,BAT,Meat Brands,Saatchi&Saatchi,Draft FCB,Fairbrother Industries, Les Mills, Holmes Place, Grey and a host of digital start-ups.

Jake Pearce is a specialist in brand planning, development & innovation. Jake is currently working on a Word of Mouth Marketing start-up, a personal branding start-up and new delivery systems for wellness products. - for brand development and innovation - for word of mouth marketing expertise


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