by Marguerite Coetzee. Increasingly, our role as marketers is to not only uncover the future but to prepare brands and companies for it, and to help them shape the future they want.

Back to the future

Some futurists believe that the future is buried in the past and grows in the present. Other futurists state that we can’t predict the unknown, and that we should pay greater attention to randomness and chance as the past may at times be misleading, misinterpreted, or remembered falsely or subjectively. Another group of futurists encourage people to take control of the future, to create it themselves.

Whether marketers look at patterns of the past to understand where we’re going or, by admitting that we ‘don’t know what we don’t know’ and therefore should avoid generalisations or expectations based on the past, we do need to have a perspective on the probable, possible, preferable and unknown futures that lie ahead.

The future is bright

This year, South African financial services giant, Sanlam, turned 100. In light of the financial futures it’s been building over the past century, it now looks ahead to creating a better world for generations to come. It recently released a podcast called “The 200 Year Old” — set in the year 2218 — telling Lesedi’s story, with expert knowledge woven into the narrative. By drawing on a popular storytelling method and incorporating popular themes or concerns for the future (such as the topic of aging), Sanlam aims to encourage listeners to plan, prevent, and plan for the future.

In another example, Sanlam draws on history to inform its future. In its “Bright Idea” TVC, the narrative outlines the history and use of the lightbulb, one in particular that’s been burning for 117 years. In the context of a mass-produced world of commodities, where consumers opt to rent rather than own, dispose rather than repair, and change instead of commit, Sanlam asks the question: “If we can make things that last, why don’t we?”

What’s next

To increase the lifespan of a brand or to enhance the impact of a message in an increasingly unpredictable world, it is wise to draw inspiration from timeless needs, values and concepts. These human and cultural truths may be identified and decoded to help strengthen positioning, innovations and communications, to build a brand that lasts.

Further reading


Marguerite de VilliersMarguerite Coetzee is an anthropologist at strategic marketing consultancy, Kantar Consulting. FastForward, the latest series in her regular column on MarkLives, takes an intellectual, scientific and artistic approach to the future – particularly the future of Africa.

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