VLMY&R's Featured Innovator, Dr. Antonia Ward, is a respected researcher and trend forecaster with two decades of experience whose insights on consumer futures have been sought by blue-chip brands, governments, and change-making organizations.
Dr. Ward leads the Advisory function at Stylus, and her work takes her all over the world to consult with forward-looking businesses. She’s been a keynote speaker at conferences on six continents, chaired judging panels in product design and innovation, and conducted workshops with senior stakeholders from industries including telecoms, healthcare, retail, food and beverage, and automotive.
In your work, you aim to understand the mindset of customers in the future and the cultural resonance brands could attain leveraging these insights. How do you suggest making these future trend forecasts actionable?
Dr. Antonia Ward: It is key to integrate future trend forecasts into all the work that you do. It’s not a once-a-year or even a once-every-three-years activity. You should be thinking about the future all the time; and don't get me wrong, I know that that's hard. It's hard to be thinking about the future when you’re constantly thinking about a near-term future, the next quarter, the next set of annual results, the next campaign, the next launch.
It's sometimes harder to imagine the new world that we're moving into than it is to imagine a slight kind of evolution, and that's because any future we are going to have is going to be super complicated. It would be lovely if things just move from one side to another. And this is the kind of prediction we've seen for years. For instance, that television will be the death of cinema, or the internet will be the death of social connections. We know that isn’t what happens as everything gets mixed together. Complexity is the absolute keyword for the future, which is hard to think about.
Therefore, future trend forecasts must be integrated into what you do every day. That's the thing I always say about asking difficult questions: sometimes it is hard when you've just gotten your head around the fact that you talk about three-year plans, and someone like me comes in and goes, “Well, what about 2035?” But you know, you need to be thinking about 2035.
What would you say to people or businesses who choose not to be forward-looking? I'm certain you run into this where you're working with clients and they're not thinking about what might be possible in 2035.
Dr. Antonia Ward: What’s the average lifespan of a CEO, right? People aren't thinking beyond their time in charge, and I think that an amazing technique or habit to get into is learning to imagine a time when you're not around. You know that whole thing that we get from indigenous knowledge, which is about being a better ancestor? Think about what you’re enabling and allowing.
Out of the equation, I think it is helpful to ask what you're afraid of. What are you afraid of as part of the future? Because that really teaches you something about what you need to be paying attention to now.
What is an inspiring trend you are seeing for the future, and how can brands activate on it?
Dr. Antonia Ward: There are things that I'm really excited about. I think the thing that we very glibly called the “new young,” is the fact that older people are going to be different in the future. I mean, they're going to be us, for a start. So, our egos are going to tell us that they're going to be different. But you know, new expectations, new demands, new activity levels, new health levels, new life stages, new ways of thinking about being an older consumer in culture and society in consumerism. In business, I think it is so interesting, and we're only just kind of skimming the surface right now of that change.
A lot of these things are so big they're not really trends. They're more kind of movements, but the whole push towards a more conscious capitalism or a more conscious business — the understanding that you can have companies that are for profit and for something else and then move from purpose to action to impact — I think that's such an incredible opportunity for what that means for all the other things around business. What does it mean for building a brand for conscious capitalism? What does it mean for creating organizational structures for a new way of working and a new way that work that might have meaning?
There's so much else in terms of technology; there's so much else in terms of how we will meet the challenges that sustainability and climate crisis will force upon us.