Mitsubishi Electric shows the future of dashboards and driving technology. Picture: MARK SMYTH
Mitsubishi Electric shows the future of dashboards and driving technology. Picture: MARK SMYTH

The best way to prepare your company’s future is to actively shape it, and marketers have a key role to play in that.

What makes a brand fit for the future? Conscious business involves taking responsibility for the consequences of your behaviour in the world by behaving ethically. An example is Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, which shows how, if you align the focus of your business with sustainability, it will show up in your results.  

Fashion too – and even fast fashion – has cottoned on to the importance of conscious business. The H&M Foundation, for example, has a mission to drive long-lasting positive change and improve living conditions by investing in people, communities and innovative ideas, and Clevercare by Stella McCartney reminds people to think of the environment when caring for their clothes.

The flipside of this are tech brands such as Facebook and Apple, where a lack of transparency suggests to consumers that the companies have something to hide, and leads to mistrust.

Innovation can be described as “learning what will be desirable in the future and funding its production”. The ability to innovate is obviously key to being ready for the future – but also to shaping it. The automotive industry scores highly here, with a compelling example in Jaguar Land Rover. The company is doubling the size of its UK research & development centre to develop new power systems, but it’s also thinking about neighbouring sectors, investing £19.5m in ride-sharing company Lyft.

The big take-out

To ensure their longevity, companies need to actively shape the futures they want. Marketers have an important role to play in this.

 Not surprisingly, John Lewis, with its unique organisational structure, was the outstanding business in the thriving employees category. Virgin also scored highly by offering flexible working arrangements, unlimited leave and employee initiatives.

The long-term planning category ranks companies on imagining their preferred futures and knowing how to make these a reality. Coca-Cola as a brand showed itself to do long-term planning very well, preparing for the threats posed by changing attitudes towards sugar and health, and supporting this with full environmental disclosure.  

The number one spot in the Future Fit Index was claimed by Nike, which scored well across six behaviours. The brand is “environmentally conscious, in good shape financially, with women on the board, [has] high internal engagement and [has] the ability to think about the future and the products and services it’s going to create for future consumers”.

According to AAR Pulse’s 2018 report, marketers who want to be better prepared for the future need to ensure they work for an agile company – one that’s able to respond to changing customer demands and the emergence of new technologies and competitors. Second, they should bin their company’s five-year plan and instead develop a 25-year vision that guides initiatives across six- to 12-month timescales. Last, they should talk about their preferred future, because brands and businesses that do that are more likely to able to make those futures happen.

  • McDowell is founder and managing director of the Independent Agency Search & Selection Company