Jamie Rosenberg
Jamie Rosenberg is Global Household & Personal Care Analyst at Mintel, exploring trends and new business opportunities in household, beauty and personal care categories.

Yogi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Although he was a baseball player, his gift for the quip gave the world many quotes that are relevant to other disciplines, including business. The aforementioned quote might be Berra’s most germane contribution to the strategic planning process. The pace of change keeps accelerating and so it becomes difficult to strategize for an increasingly uncertain future.

Rapid change becomes more salient when we consider that history is rife with smart business people who were wrong about the future of their industry. For example, Ken Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment Company, said, “There is no reason a person would want a computer in their home.” Olsen made this statement in 1977, four years before the IBM PC emerged to eventually become a household fixture. In 1946, Darryl Zanuck, an executive at 20th Century Fox, said, “Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”

This is where a form of strategic storytelling known as ‘scenario planning’ can help. Scenario planning is a process that extrapolates from current trends and events to produce visions of the future that are plausible because they are based on facts. It recognizes that while the future can’t be predicted, strategies can be rehearsed against a range of possible futures. This helps businesses make better decisions in the face of increasing uncertainty.

Change driving the future

Scenario planning uses ‘change drivers.’ These are trends or events with the potential to profoundly impact the future, usually related to a strategy or a particular strategic question (i.e., should we expand our brand into India; will Millennials have a different attitude towards disinfecting compared to previous generations, etc.) One rich source of change drivers is Mintel Trends, a platform that identifies a wide variety of trends relevant to consumer lifestyles and product innovation.

Scenario planning is a process that extrapolates from current trends and events to produce visions of the future that are plausible because they are based on facts.

For example, in the household category, brands might want to anticipate what the future of convenience will look like by a particular date. One Mintel trend that’s related to convenience is called ‘Who Needs Humans.’ This trend looks at the advancement of automation as a tool that replaces human labor in the home and throughout society. Home automation can certainly drive convenience and allow us to recoup some of the time we spend on chores.

Another convenience-oriented Mintel trend is called ‘Life Hacking.` Garments that are resistant to stains and odor are a life hack because it reduces a need to wash clothes. While both of these trends drive convenience, clothing that doesn’t need to be washed as often would also reduce the need for automation. This results in two convenience-oriented trends that could drive very different consumer outcomes in the laundry category.

This is an intentionally-simplistic example, but the fact is there are hundreds of trends and events that will shape the future of household care. Changes in how people care for their homes could also be driven by the rise in single-person households, home downsizing, aging populations, economic growth, technology trends, government policy and competitive dynamics in the household market. These variables can change home care regimens as well as the products that are used for household chores. Changing the trajectory of just one change driver, while holding everything else constant, can lead to a very different future.

What we think

When we write stories about the future, we get to play with the drivers of change to understand how shifts in these variables will either validate or repudiate our existing strategies. Scenario planning will also help identify new strategies for different futures and it creates a form of early warning when aspects of an imagined future play out in real life. The scenario planning process ensures the focus on credible drivers of change. It is a process that ensures that stories are grounded in fact, even though they draw from the imagination of the writer.

Growing uncertainty and complexity makes a process for converting isolated data and insights essential, creating a strategically-actionable vision of the future. Storytelling will become an increasingly effective way to achieve this.