Is future-gazing worth it?

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 6 October 2015

I spent most of last week over at UTS’ Data Arena for GroupM’s Mlab event. The 3D data visualisation room they have there is genuinely mind-blowing. I've never seen anything like it. And some of the robotics they are working on are equally amazing. The premise of Mlab is to look at the future of media.

Companies present visions of what's coming down the track in the short-term, as well as the long-term. The future is fascinating. We'll all be living connected lives.

Everything will be personalised to the nth degree and we'll never see an irrelevant ad (if the futurists are to be believed).

I've been talking to marketers about what impressed them the most, how it helps them reframe their thinking for the future, and also what they can adopt now and put into their playbook immediately. We've filmed video wrap-ups each day, which you can watch online to check out the highlights.

What's interesting about what impresses people is often not the far-off futuristic developments, but those closer to home. Looking towards what the future holds has always been a tricky business, but necessary to lay out a three, five or 10-year plan.

But what use is a 10-year plan anymore? For most industries, considering the rapid pace of change, 10 years is a stupidly long time to be thinking ahead.

It's either a sign of great confidence in what your business does - or a great naivety in the reality of the world we now live in. A decade ago, I still connected my laptop to the internet using an ethernet cable. My mobile phone stored about 10 SMS and had a screen not much bigger than a postage stamp. It might have connected to the internet, but I certainly wasn't using it for that.

What things will look like in another 10 years is beyond my scope of thinking – I wouldn't want to be building a business plan based on what I think the future will look like from here. It's likely to be so different by the time it arrives, all that planning would be for nought. It's exactly the conversation I had with Matt Tapper, former marketing director of Lion, for The Marketer feature (p16).

Tapper moved from marketing to become managing director of Lion's global brands division tasked with growing its brands overseas. He talked about a flip in his thinking about what a marketer's role is. He used to think it was to look at what's coming in the future and apply it to the present, but has more recently begun thinking that actually, it's to make more sense of the present and use that to create the future.

There is something very basic, but fundamentally insightful in what Tapper says about flipping the thought process. Shape the future, don't predict it.

This column first appeared in the 2 Oct 205 issue of AdNews in print. You can subscribe to our print mag here or get it now on iPad. 

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