Getting a grip on the future
Can trends ever be truly researchable? Isabelle Loman assesses the role of designers and marketers in future planning.
Good design is good business
(Eliot Noyes, 1950), the shift of power
All product designers dream about creating trends and shaping a new world through their own vision. All marketers dream about getting inside the head of their consumers to anticipate and fulfil their requirements. Trend research helps transform such dreams into reality, allowing both worlds to work together, by providing the necessary intelligent underpinning.
Sustainable business can only be achieved if companies plan for the future. This, in turn, requires forward looking projects to be identified either by designers with flair or by a marketing department that has the necessary resources — internally and externally — to predict trends.
Mitsubishi Electric recognised the need for increased co-operation between both departments some years back. A product has to be more than aesthetically pleasing or stylish nowadays to prove a design success. It also needs to pre-empt customer needs and to fulfil sustainability requirements to make its mark.
In heavy industry of late, its the added value of design that has transformed the marketplace, giving a competitive edge to companies like Matra, RATP, Alcatel and Renault.
Product or service design is becoming key because technological advantage is replicated swiftly. Design is now considered the only differentiating element within a company, better able to translate its core values and over a longer period than an ephemeral ad campaign.
Trend research data: common language for a transversal organisation
Trend research data is a way of creating a common language between marketing, design and the other disciplines involved in a project. It is a common language that enables scientific researchers, designers, publicists and market researchers — without the same point of reference in terms of culture or background or personal education — to capture the same consumer profile.
A good example of this is when various departments carry out consumer segmentation building jointly. This is especially when (product and design/communication) segmentation is based on a broader consumer segmentation and not restricted simply to purely socio-demographic criteria. Trend research data allows coherence and consistency around a common project. This coherence and consistency create, in turn, affinity with the given market and fosters loyalty.
Such data gives the first germ of an idea that is then later confirmed or rejected by market surveys. Its effectiveness depends on researching with the right people, the targeted segment. The trend research data allows for a more sophisticated recruitment approach that in turn limits risks.
All commercial enterprises look to limit risk. Trend research data can also be of value here. Once the results are extrapolated by segment, trend research data informs us about the business potential of a given market. It allows us to invest in creative ideas with more confidence as the risks can be measured.
Ideas that arent as good as they first look can also be avoided. The data creates a structured context that seems initially to limit creativity by establishing a framework and identifying constraints. It is, however, a necessity, enabling us to come up with ideas that are in line with future market demands.
The data, in turn, drives designers on, and inspires them to create a completely new future environment while simultaneously enabling marketing to identify and measure the business opportunity.
Global vision and capturing the complexity
Trend research data takes into account all issues impacting consumers lives: politics, economics, sociology, ethnology, anthropology history, and philosophy the list goes on. There are few people who understand how the world goes round and have a global vision of where its heading. Trend research aims to explain all findings in this context and detect trends while taking into account all the issues that influence views.
Consumer attitudes changed a great deal in the 1990s. Marketing has proved a very able tutor. It has made consumers more demanding and more expert at detecting any mixed or false messages in the offer.
Will the future generation be the same or even more difficult to attract? How will todays socio-economic, social and political situation impact on their views and influence their lives? What will be their wishes and dreams? Trend research is the key.
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, November 2004
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2004