Societies are always changing - and being able to predict accurately how societies will change in the years ahead is a matter of acute concern to advertisers. GfK Roper offered some forecasts of its own in its 'The World to 2020' seminar, held in London this week, based on the years of data they've been gathering from over 30 countries in five continents.

In developed nations at least, people are now interacting with brands more directly than they did before, whether through saying they "like" it on Facebook, through leaving product reviews on Amazon or CNET, or through saving money by using mobile services like Voucher Cloud and shopping around for the best deal via price comparison websites. These interactive tools have stimulated a shared hunger for "listening" brands as well as an explosion of online conversations about goods and services: 54% of consumers have made a specific recommendation to somebody else about purchase choices over the past year.

GfK Roper's insight on this issue, based on its own data, is that firms will have to listen more over the decades to come, due both to the increased prominence, in terms of both numbers and economic power, of new generations and of consumers in emerging markets. In fact, these demographic changes are seen by GfK Roper as strengthening the listening trend.

For new generations, this is easily explained; after all, millennials have grown up with smartphones and social networks, and therefore using such tools comes naturally. But the influence of developing markets on the listening trend is less obvious - and was the subject of some of the most arresting analysis discussed in the seminar.

For example, GfK Roper data not only indicate that 51% of global consumers want to be "reachable" wherever they are, but that this proportion is even higher in the developing world: people are cynical about having others always able to get hold of them in the west, but this is not the case elsewhere. This in turn suggests that consumers in the BRICs and beyond will embrace their smartphones even more tightly than their counterparts in the west - once they get them.

Another standout stat is that 39% of consumers believe that, if someone is to be "influential", the fact that they listen to them is important. And being able to listen is cited as the single most important characteristic for an influencer to have in Latin America.

Use of new media tools allowing brands to listen to their customers fits well with a shared consumer need to have brands listen to them. The GfK Roper data suggest that this fit will prove to be all the tighter in emerging markets.

So the message is that these tools - which have, thus far, mainly empowered developed world early adopters to make smarter consumer choices - aren't going to go away in the years ahead. Quite the opposite, in fact.

And with the western world facing a future of much more tightly-controlled government spending - which is likely to be reflected by tighter household budgets - emerging markets are likely to become much more important for global firms over the years to come.

A full report from the event, including key stats and charts, will be available to subscribers soon. Until then, more GfK Roper analysis and articles can be found on their blog here.