The greatest successes in recent history have been orchestrated by those who had the ability to predict a need that didn’t yet exist. Who would have thought that a peculiar and obscure cane sugar and caffeine drink which gained some popularity with laborers in the Thai countryside, would become Red Bull, the world’s highest-selling energy drink?
'Finding a need and filling it' may sound like good armchair entrepreneurial advice, but in fact, any strategy that revolves around tapping into an existing need is already near obsolescence before it even begins. Growth and innovation is gained by predicting future needs and behaviors that nobody else has yet seen.
Understanding Needs and Behaviors
Predicting what consumer needs and behaviors will be in the future has little to do with simply analyzing the past and then extrapolating historical data. Our foresight process begins with understanding those needs and behaviors – that is, what motivates us to act, and how we act to satisfy our needs. Understanding those needs will give you a greater understanding of how to approach innovation, not only in response to current trends, but future ones as well. Beginning with basic biological and physiological needs, we go on to understand the need for safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and self-actualization, all of which go into the foresight analysis.
Taking simple men’s razors as an example, these items began as simple straight razors that met a basic physiological need. But today’s consumers don’t shave simply to scrape hair off their faces. They do so to feel good about themselves, to fit into society, and to take advantage of emerging fashion trends such as the 'five o’clock shadow beard.' An expanding set of human needs incorporate built-in skin conditioners, and savvy manufacturers will realize that environmental factors play an increasing role in consumer decisions and design future razors accordingly.
Where we want to be, and how to get there
Gaining that understanding of human needs, while looking at emerging trends and how needs and behaviors are changing on a macro level, is key to that foresight. For example, in the field of oral care, we could have predicted things like 'superbrush' toothbrushes, mouth cleaners for the gums and tongue, and solar toothbrushes, with precisely that sort of analysis. We could predict how fast food restaurants will change in the future and respond to as-yet-undefined trends, by analyzing not just the food and what consumers are buying today, but emerging trends in health concerns, a growing need for attention to service, and environmental needs.
The principles of foresight analytics can drive predictable growth. Three basic principles are that company performance, consumer needs and behaviors, and growth are all predictable. Company performance is driven by a set of fundamental laws that are highly predictable. By the same token, consumer needs evolve along certain patterns, which are influenced by societal, environmental, and human forces. Growth is a function of understanding those fundamentals behind performance, and recognizing the changes in consumer behavior and market dynamics.
Dr. Eugene Roytburg is a managing partner of 4i and a leading thinker in bringing science, advanced analytics, and consulting to business problem solving and decision-making. 4i's forward-looking, predictive foresight analytics driven approach helps clients uncover future growth opportunities, size future demand, develop successful growth strategies, and identify new innovations to succeed in tomorrow's marketplace. Connect with him on LinkedIn.