Your future is whatever you make it… so make it a good one

We might not yet be able to time-hop, says Ashgrove Marketing’s Terry van Rhyn, but we can use market change and insight to propel our brands forwards

I love the idea of time travel and the ability to see the future, or to go back in time to fix things that could change the course of history. Just imagine if you were Marty McFly, going back to the 1950s or 1960s to tell people what they need to do to avoid world catastrophes or personal misfortune. If only those people would listen to you!

Watching movies from a previous era gives us great flashbacks to the way the world worked. I made my daughter watch the 1971 movie The French Connection with Gene Hackman, a film which includes a very intense and classic car chase under the elevated railway bridge in Brooklyn. While in hot pursuit of a bad guy, Ge’s character suddenly comes to a screeching halt outside a bar where he has to run in to make a phone call. Growing up in a world of mobiles, my daughter found that a very weird concept.

When you think about communication back in those days, we were all using a rotary phone to make landline calls (which was an improvement on one with a winding handle that went through to a central exchange). There was a single phone per household – strictly guarded by your parents – or the option of using a foul-smelling public telephone box to make calls. I have a 1960s rotary phone in my office on display as an interesting objet d’art now, but it feels like only yesterday that I actually used one.

As a child, my futuristic view of the world in 2020 was all about flying cars, space travel and teleporting. OK, so we are not quite there yet but we do have a personal handheld device with crystal clear audio and high definition colour visual display to communicate with someone on the other side of the globe. It is leaps and bounds ahead of what was available to us then.

As an adman, I sometimes feel like a time-traveller trying to convince my clients of a creative concept or idea! For it is the job of a good agency to push the boundaries of the mundane and the ordinary, and to look beyond what everyone else is doing now. Our role is to create something that is exceptional and fresh.

This can be a challenge for some clients who are reluctant to stray from “the way we’ve always done it”. It is, after all, quite natural for many humans to prefer staying in their comfort zones; to enjoy their little “known” bubbles and not suffer any disruption.

But where would we be today if it weren’t for the Apples and Microsofts of the world? These guys disrupted the status quo and gave us technology that was futuristic and foreign at first but which has now become an integral part of our lives.

Imagine if they hadn’t done something new and we were still making calls on rotary dial phones or using Tippex to fix the mistakes on our typewriter. Or worse still, having to turn the cassette tape in the Sony Walkman around to play the B-side, hoping that the tape hasn’t been “eaten” by the player and you’d need to use a pencil to wind it back!

Sometimes events happen to push us out of our comfort zone whether we like it or not. The recent coronavirus pandemic is one such event when, very rapidly, “normal” went out of the window and businesses had to quickly adapt to very different circumstances – both internally and externally – or face possible extinction. Some of the changes that we have seen (such as more flexible working, different distribution models and the re-engineering of products) may be here to stay – and consumer attitudes may have moved on considerably from pre-Covid-19 days.

While no-one would wish for a pandemic to come along, it’s important to use what we have learnt to think about what we should be doing differently in the future. That includes re-evaluating your brand against the new reality. Is there a better, smarter, more interesting and more compelling way to tell your story? How relevant is your brand to the market, now that the market has changed?

Brands have always had to evolve to keep up with, or ahead of, trends. It is part of our role as agencies to help gather the appropriate market intelligence, to analyse it, and then to deliver a creative solution that will set your brand apart.

Often, when we deliver this solution, we hear businesses saying it is just what they need – and why didn’t they think of it themselves? The advantage we have is that we can look dispassionately at your business, without the associated baggage that comes from being on the inside. We see you more like your customer sees you, which is not necessarily what you think they see. And we won’t give you what you want to hear just because you want to hear it!

If you could get in that DeLorean and visit 2030, you would be able to make some really accurate predictions and set your business up for huge success. But until time travel becomes a reality, you need to make the most of all the insights you can get in the battle to keep your brand ahead of the game!