Why urban futures are mission-critical to anticipate tomorrow’s lifestyle insights leading to brand and innovation strategic success
This blog entry will not address this dynamics that have been studied by the author for the last decade from the viewpoint of lighting design innovation and co-creation workshops, as documented in a number of publications, both at vocational and academic levels. The focus will lie instead of an indirect yet mission critical consequence, namely the crucial role of urban futures in order to understand emerging socio-cultural and behavioral lifestyles, necessary to forecast innovation, hence anticipating those branding insights that will drive consumption markets and determine business success.
The topic of urban futures has risen to fame in the circuits of research, conferencing and publishing at least since 2006, when
the Biennale of Venice focused on cities and their challenges ahead. Already a decade ago, the expectation that in a few decades 75% of the planetary population might live in cities resulted in a shared understanding that urban dynamics are crucial to predict the future of humankind. The 1900’s interests by sociologists, anthropologists and other scholars, from Jane Jacobs to Saskia Sassen, was aligned to the corporate interests of High Tech and digital corporations, aiming at positioning and promoting their “smart city” services and propositions. From IBM to Oracle, from Cisco to ARUP, the convergence towards a newly connected urban environment expressed one of the leading forces towards commercial opportunities and new lifestyles. In spite of millenarian and critical thinking warnings from the likes of Morozov, the emergence of a context that Jeremy Rifkin and a lot of others describe as “Internet of Things” seems unavoidable. In terms of scientific patents and technological roadmaps, the promise of a new quality of life is pervasive in the consulting literature and in the professional practices of an endless quantity of R&D departments, architectural studios, international institutes and more.
How does solid understanding of urban futures work as foundation for marketing trend analysis and product development directions? A mixed quali-quantitative approach was designed and tested in the last decade, with key evidence in the 2009 ESOMAR award-nominated paper: “Putting Fragrance in perspective”, by Shofu, Bevolo, Moskowitz and Moskowitz, and the 2011 Gower / Ashgate book, “Premium by Design”, by Bevolo, Gofman and Moskowitz, mentored by Prof. Jerry Wind of the Wharton Business School, Philadelphia and based on a research project that last from 2006 through 2009. The study was based on 75 qualitative interviews with industry experts and 2.000 online sessions with qualified respondents, as selected by SSI. The underlying ambition of these applied research projects is the creation of a continuity -or at least an operational consistency- across quantitative innovation online methods and design-led, socio-cultural foresight. In particular, a versatile strategic charter, capturing key qualitative findings, became the starting point for the creation of the quantitative platform leading to a study of future insights on luxury and premium category in the US, the UK, China and Italy. Such charter represents a specific variation of the general format of matrix tools, derived from bibliographic sources like Castells and defined in the mid 1990’s as a foresight application by FutureConceptLab for Philips city.people.light. All in all, this overall quali-quantitative research methodology enabled envisioning a flexible number of concepts directions for premium and mass luxury product development, and the marketing thereof.
Within these two studies, as presented and discussed for valorization at both business and academic venues, cities have been identified and analyzed as the seedbed for lifestyle evolutions and revolutions. This has been the case since the industrial revolution and the Enlightenment, with its café culture based on the distribution and discussion of independent press. Great pioneers of the systematic study of fashion and lifestyle, from philosophers like Walter Benjamin to anthropologists like Ted Polhemus, placed their interests straight at the center of urban realities, from the Paris of Ernest Hemingway’s “A moveable feast” to the revived London of the Cool Britannia years. In the 2000’s, parallel to the “dot com revolution”, Richard Florida built his footprint of publications and consulting success on the notion of a “creative class”, that would determine the success of (gentrified) city centers, importing their urban lifestyles back to “donut” hollow US city centers, from Philadelphia or Seattle, to the Midwest and the South. Based on the anonymous nature of urban life, a context where edge personalities and even talented deviants can express their visions and views, cities gave birth to popular culture, pop genres and fashion subcultures, from the 1940’s “zooties” to the “hipsters”, through punk and goth. The central role played by urban imaginary might also be detected in media, with global metropolises like New York, San Francisco or Tokyo being a constant reference for what Robert Govers and Robert Go defined as “vicarious experiences”, namely the existence in our collective memory of images, sensations and memories related to places that never existed but we repeatedly experienced in TV, at cinemas or in any platform.
In conclusion, the study of cities is crucial to anticipate the branding and innovation insights at the heart of propositions to successfully go to market in the next half decade to decade, because it is cities the one stage where the plot of our advanced economies will unveil, in the form of next consumption trends and of socio-cultural change. While social design and action research will be necessary –next to politics and policies- to trigger and facilitate those necessary advancements in quality of life and citizenship, a deep quali-quantitative understanding of urban futures will be the best passport to envision what people want next, and co-create it before others do.