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9 January 2017

In defence of the maligned art of future-gazing

Written by: Charlie Binder, Senior Account Manager at Edelman

Brexit, Corporate Reputation

If there was ever a year in which forecasting went out of fashion it was 2016. From Brexit to Trump, the last 12 months have seen a series of events which a whole raft of so-called “opinion formers” failed to predict. The “expert” has (in some quarters) become a term of abuse – a member of a cosy elite out of touch with the real world and real people.

However, at the dawn of a new year, one may reconsider whether this criticism is warranted. Was it simply that people were asking the wrong questions, or listening to the wrong answers? Perhaps it was rather a case of a group of people too busy talking amongst itself, operating in an echo chamber, which drifted out of touch with the hopes and fears of the general population. Perhaps the shocks that dominated last year were entirely predictable after all.

Edelman continues to believe in the business importance of future-gazing, evidenced at our annual Crystal Ball event which took place in December. As the last few weeks of an unprecedented year unfurled, our expert panel contemplated a variety of forecasts for 2017, including:

  • A Brexit-induced business “gold rush” to better understand consumers
  • The impending depreciation of the sterling and rising prices
  • The political significance of “Strictly Come Dancing”
  • A further degeneration from “post truth” in 2016 to “no truth” in 2017

Future-gazing serves an important business purpose. It helps firms cultivate a mindset that is both agile and resilient, one which helps organisations expect the unexpected, conduct better and more informed scenario planning and produce a response that is “right” for them.

So, what does it take to become truly agile? Perhaps most importantly, it takes an approach which focuses intensely on listening to a plurality of views. These views will not come just from an annual company meeting or a high-profile global business conference with like-minded organisations. The perspectives we need to listen to will come from people on the street and good quality journalism.

As a communications marketing agency, we encourage our clients to embody this “hearing aid” and to understand these deep trends and consider what their logical conclusions may be. Yes, there are details that may vary, but by doing it properly it is possible to better prepare business for all eventualities – expected or otherwise.

One invaluable piece of research that helps determine what important audiences really believe is the Edelman Trust Barometer, which we use to gauge the publics’ feelings and opinions in a way that will help our clients better understand and improve their relationship with them. For January 2016 we surveyed more than 33,000 respondents and came to a conclusion that a huge “trust gap” had emerged with poorer Britons trusting government far less than richer ones. The Brexit vote some six months later was in part at least a manifestation of these findings.

In 2017, the media will be looking for Brexit success stories, for companies who are moving forward regardless of whether they wanted this outcome or not. Agility and resilience will be the key parameters, providing real opportunities for those organisations who stand up and communicate what they believe in.

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