Future Prospects For Marketing Prospective (1) (29 mars 2007)

Article published in Visionarymarketing

I - Prospective & Marketing

As an “Intellectual indiscipline”, the aim of ‘prospective’(2) is to “anticipate action, to look far into the future, wide and deep” (Gaston Berger). The approach for the prospective researcher is to cast a light on possible actions by focusing on the possible and desirable futures.

This article is about whether Prospective, which is spread over a long-term span, could cross-fertilise others fields and specifically Marketing. Marketeers who fail to master all the subtleties related to the understanding of future trends could well be inspired by the art of ‘Prospective’ when it comes to improving their understanding of their clients.‘Prospective’ puts its finger on “what could occur?”, hinges upon strategy and is not inconsistent with Strategic Marketing, since the latter is about answering the following questions: “what can I do about it?, what I am going to do? , and how to do it?” (Michel Godet). To put in the words of Pierre F. Gonod, ‘Prospective’ is systemic, multi-dimensional and transverse. Besides, it has nothing to do with futurology and any comparison of ‘Prospective’ to any form of futuristic planning would be pointless. ‘Prospective’ is not about making up sales forecasts statistically; it is about eliciting a number of potential trends that we could subsequently use in order to build scenarios through the allocation of a probability. This practice is similar to predictive analysis in datamining, whereby one will resort to experience in order to perform patterns modelling (through the use of Neural networks, Kohonen cards, etc.). From a methodology viewpoint, one can find huge similarities between that definition of ‘Prospective’ and that of Market Surveys whereby areas of customer knowledge can be uncovered as we go along.

II-The Seemingly Diverging Aims of Marketing and ‘Prospective’

The available prospective cases (few of them can unfortunately be disclosed for confidentiality reasons) are often focused on the same industries: manufacturing, energy, defence, territories, transport or technology. Such Prospective surveys are often ordered by all-powerful public service administrations, quasi monopolies and other quangos for which the notion of client often verges on the abstract. Furthermore, some of these studies may be initiated by politicians who use them like means of relaunching their pet-projects when the latter have been ditched for too long against their wishes. Consequently, such studies consider customers just as economic agents (i.e. a mere statistical adjustment factor) that is to say mere consumers in the economic sense of the term but non-marketing entities. As a consequence, these studies where customers are seldom analysed as complex, ever-changing, fluctuating and self-motivated beings, often remain restrictive in their description of reality. It seems inconsistent that customers be treated as these marketing non-entities with no influence on and no link to their environment, whereas in the real world of Marketing, services are ubiquitous, customer behaviours are more and more unpredictable, not to talk about the extreme volatility of customer loyalty.

As a conclusion, in this ever-changing service-focused world, it seems absurd that customers be considered marginal (i.e. having little influence and very dependent on other economic players), with little grasp on the world around them. As a matter of fact, don’t data-intensive businesses consider the share-of-wallet as a more meaningful measure than the traditional market-share ratio? When considering online services, consumers also become producers or even self-producers (hence the coining of the term pro-sumer to depict that situation) of more and more dematerialised goods; all of this makes them capable of initiating market changes by themselves (e.g. the P2P revolution and its influence on the music industry)

III-Complexity As A Common Denominator

If it’s so difficult to allocate a better value to customers in Prospective, this is because of the constant factor of complexity. As expressed in my former article “ A Metaphorical Way Of Understanding Customer Relationship"(3),where I was using the Chaos and Quantum mechanics metaphor, the amazing complexity and elusiveness of today’s Consumers cannot be captured with standard market research and data analysis tools at our disposal. Determinism and rationalism are at the heart of such tools, which prove highly ineffectual.

As a consequence, a few questions arise:

Do we need complex tools to tackle such complex issues or are simple tools that can be used by anybody sufficient, however sketchy they may be,
Should such methods and tools remain in the only hands of experts or should one try and make them usable by all those concerned with the subject,
At last, given that Prospective does not seem to be able to handle these customers, should we deem such a customer Prospective infeasible or even undesirable?
In fact, in order to move the ball forward, a link between the two disciplines would have to be established:

On the one hand, Marketeers could work with prospective professionals in order to enhance their culture of service processes,
On the other hand, those in charge of Prospective could help Marketeers enhance their vision in order to incorporate more variables (economic, demographic, etc.) and provide them with different ways of analysing markets (therefore looking at key hidden variables or latent players or even budding fads that could help Marketeers catch a glimpse of future trends).

IV-The Strategy Factor

Michel Godet has provided ways of describing behaviours (reproduced below) when it comes to handling future situations. We could use this description in order to compare both the Prospective and Marketing approaches with one another and see what sort of incremental benefit could be gained from such comparison. With all due consideration, one could even attempt to look at what Marketing could gain from adopting some of the approaches of Prospective.

First, let us compare the each of these fields as to their time and space dimensions:

Prospective is geared towards the long term (10, 15, 20 years and more), the global vision. With prospective, what matters most is not the result but how one got there in the first place. With Prospective, besides, maps know no boundaries,
Marketing Management is mostly short-term orientated (either very short term or up to 5 years at the most, depending on how far into strategy we are looking). At the end of the day, Marketing management efficiency is measured by bottom-line results.
Potential Behaviours When Handling Future Situations

Passivity: no planned scenarios, mostly tactics but no strategy, aim is to maintain status quo and avoid looking reality in the face,
Re-activity: no planned scenarios, adaptive strategy, respond only when external threats are perceived,
Pre-activity: exploratory scenarios, pre-emptive strategy, prepare business for expected changes,
Pro-activity: scenarios by anticipation, implement changes.

V-The 360° View

In order to improve our approach of customer understanding, we need to go one step further and bring a third essential ingredient: Sociology. Sociologists are best defined as those specialists who decipher social events and mechanisms whereby relationships are built between people and groups of people (community, ‘tribe’, etc.). As such, they are obligatory players in our eyes, when it comes to analysing the elusive social characters that consumers have become (or even citizens for that matter). Individuals do influence markets through the social groups that they belong to (sometimes named ‘tribes’) as much as they are influenced by them (‘feed-back’ effect). As a matter of fact, in the 1970’s, a group of professionals dedicated to ‘social prospective’ had a goal of enhancing Prospective and promote it as part of ‘knowledge sociology’ (P. Gonod). But such skills as are necessary to conduct such a task are rarely to be found in one individual, if one except a few strategic planners, often found in advertising agencies.

Pending the availability of such sophisticated profiles, a 360° view could well be provided by a better cooperation between two kinds of players:

Marketeers who are rather customer-focused (i.e. on behaviour analysis at a micro-economic level),
And specialists in Prospective who are more into vision (at a macro-economic level), into the interactions between various economic players and into exploring possible perspectives (“what could occur”, which possible scenarios, likely, desirable? etc.)
At the end of the day, such cross-fertilisation of disciplines, processes, structures, people and professionals would be aimed at encompassing complexity and this is most certainly bound to bring interesting results.


(1):I published this article in french under the title : "Perspective(s) d'une prospective client"
(2):Our subject here is about that discipline named ‘prospective’ by the eponimous French school, initiated by Gaston Berger & Bertrand de Jouvenel, and Futuribles Review) mainly led today by Michel Godet, a teacher in Prospective (CNAM standing for National Conservatory of Arts and Industries) and Director of the LIPSOR Research Lab (Laboratory of Investigation in Prospective, Strategy and Organization
(3): This article was published in French under the following title : « De l’usage de la métaphore pour penser la connaissance client ».

10:30 Écrit par Denis Henri Failly | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) | Tags : Prospective | |  Facebook | | Pin it! |  Imprimer | | |