The Future is Here

“The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented.”
Dennis Gabor “Inventing the Future”, 1963

With 2020 almost over: some might say “thankfully”. While we have learned a lot from 2020, what the future holds remains uncertain. There are so many myriad variables, constant changes in society, technology, the environment, politics and, of course, pandemics. But as Mintel analysts we are duty-bound to speculate what the future will hold and apply our tried-and-tested research methodology to that end.

In the fall of 2019 (which feels so long ago), we launched our 2030 Global Consumer Trends. Back then, we had no idea that a pandemic would sweep across the world and create a whole new ‘next normal’ for nations, societies, communities, consumers and brands. In light of the pandemic, we updated the research by taking a look at how COVID-19 brought the future forward. As suggested, we demonstrated that while our predictions were not incorrect in themselves (vindication that our methodology works), the world had moved faster than we (or anyone else) had expected, driven by the pandemic we hadn’t known to include into our calculations.

The point of these predictions was not to be absolutely right. The point was to reflect upon the big trends we were seeing (and continue to see) play out, and to speculate what kind of world we are likely to create, given those current trajectories. These projections were part warning of what could happen that we may not want to happen, and part aspiration towards the kind of world we want to create – the kind of futures we want to be invented.

Careful what you wish for
The next line of the quote at the top of this article reads: “It was man’s ability to invent which has made human society what it is”.

This leads us to consider beyond the invention of technologies in themselves, but to think more about the societies we want to create and live in, and from that, decide what technologies we need to create and preserve them. For much of human history, society has been shaped by the technology we have invented – the plough, printing press, telegraph and telephone, etc. Now, the existential threats posed by mechanised and robotised warfare, climate change, environmental degradation, over-population and, yes, pandemics all pose questions that were or long the side-effects rather than the focus of rapid human ‘progress’.

Such existential threats, listed and statistically quantified very handily in Toby Ord’s 2020 book “The Precipice”, are becoming more the focus of people’s attention. Witness how the pandemic has sharpened human focus on how encroachment of natural environments likely led to the pandemic, and how lock-down from the pandemic then led to people to develop a new appreciation of the natural world, and all its wonder. They may have seemed like small, fleeting changes in mood among people and societies, but they are a seed of an idea that is growing stronger, putting down penetrating roots, growing branches that will eventually enshadow other, until now more prominent considerations.

Consumers are changing their minds about what they really want, and why, and governments and brands are adapting their strategies to meet those new wants, sensing the change of scent in the air. But governments and brands also shape what consumers want through what they provide. It is therefore a function of brands to offer better products and provide better choices. To do that, brands have themselves a choice to make – to choose what vision of the world they foresee will be better for not just them, but also their customers. Brand vision has gone beyond profitability, and now extends to providing a vision of what “better” should look like.

Taking control of the future’s steering wheel
Drivers were once people controlling vehicles. Now Drivers are how people control their futures. Mintel’s Seven Consumer Drivers were designed to help brands understand what consumers want and why. They can therefore help brands to envision what the better future consumers want looks like, and align their own brand visions to those of their existing and potential customers. Get the zeitgeist right, and the brand will flourish. Get it wrong…

With November 2020 now upon us, we are again inventing the future. Our aim is targeting less a specific year in the future (2030), but rather framing our predictions at the “now” (the next 12 months), the “next” (2 to 4 years hence) and the “future” (5 years plus after that). A subtle but important difference. Rather than a fixed place in time, this year Mintel is creating more of a living, growing document that will adapt with the unforeseen, which can be accelerated or decelerated according to the reality, allowing us to be more adaptive and reactive to change, but to continue to allow us and our clients to focus on the futures we (humanity) want to invent, or not.

What we haven’t changed this November is that all of our new forecasts remain embedded within our system of the seven Consumer Drivers and each of their four supporting pillars; because they work. What they now also do is take into account the changes that have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the subtle yet profound shifts in consumer thinking and responses from brands, and attempt to encapsulate the better future that consumers, globally, aspire to, and towards which brands can build their own strategic visions