Shape the Future With "Future Shapers" and Cutting-Edge Hybrid Research Techniques

Aaron Reid , Stacy Graiko, Jennifer Kasper


It is a common business challenge: how to engage your customers in research to the extent that they essentially become a part of your resource team, helping identify new product features, advertising and marketing messages, and generate word-of-mouth or social media buzz? Your customers spend millions of dollars a year and countless hours engaged with your brand. How do you get them, in short, to work on your behalf to help your brand evolve and grow. How do you get them to be your "Future Shapers"? And how, in turn, can you join their ranks, co-creating the future with them, becoming a Future Shaper in your own right?

The path to future shaping lies in shedding old ways of looking at research and adopting new methods drawn from academia and the social sciences. Psychology, sociology, anthropology, neuroscience and choice architecture when used together, can draw a picture of our customers in the future, accurately predicting their purchase behavior. Traditional market research is famous for "looking in the rearview mirror" but all this reveals is the people left behind – certainly not the Future Shapers we’re after. Being a future-shaping market researcher means eschewing conventional self-reported measures and using a variety of tools to uncover what people can't or won't tell us. To better understand "future shapers" and their influence as drivers of the market, it is important to understand an important human truth of decision-making: the real "reason" behind any preference-based decision is not in fact reason-based at all. The real reason is emotion. As researchers we are constantly in pursuit of the reasons behind behavior – at our core we want to know why people do what they do. The following paper introduces the latest cutting edge methods for predicting future consumer behavior and utilizes a case study to illustrate how methods drawn from multiple disciplines combined to deliver research learnings that accurately predicted sales for a major US retailer in 2010.