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Predicting Consumer Behaviors & Seeing the Future with Macroforces

From a Keynote at the Back End of Innovation Conference, 2017 by Tom LaForge, Founder & CEO, Macroforces LLC

Leforge begins the conference by asking, “What is a macroforce and why should they be important to you?”

He then shifts to an anecdote about his parents and his particular fusion of nerd-hippie. Tom attended Palo Alto High School, where he was smitten with Social Studies. There, the teacher asked him to think about first impressions, “which happens within three seconds.” As well, he learned how loudly facial gestures can speak, which was later explored in depth in the book Emotions Released. 

To persuade his father that some soft skills would make a good career, LaForge relied heavily on the work of Louis Cheskin, the famed psychologist turned adman.

Afterwards, LaForge spent 17 years working on the Sprite brand at Coca-Cola. There, hhe developed a theory of Macroforces, or changes in the environment that ignite a change in human behavior. These large-scale envoronmental changes can be built, natural, or cultural.

Here is the simple formula: External forces (cultural, market, and economic forces)  + internal decisions and actions (finance, operations, and regulatory) = business results (based on insights)

Cultural forces are often the biggest harbinger of change to come.

While at Coke, LaForge noticed that the brand’s Trust Scores were lagging compared to years past, as a result of a cultural force that led to a widespread citizen mistrust of big corporations and their brands. Yet at the same time, companies were improving manufacturing: think Six Sigma and TQM. The problem isn’t products; the problem is much deeper. Brands, in most categories, are losing meaning. This is a cultural issue.

In a study by the Havas Group, consumers said that 74% of brands could go away and no one would care. Meaningful brands show that they care about the wellbeing of their customers and the community. Brands need to measure trust.

The companies that rate highest on care and compassion fare better on the market. Brands that give back such as REI, CLIF, and others are known as Firms of Endearment.

So, what are some Macroforces in effect? Here’s an example:

Large Corporations dominate the economy. Between 1970 and 2017, the share of GDP of large companies rose from 41% to 75%, yet most employees are not seeing this money.

The middle class is being squeezed out—this is a cultural force in which your company works. How does it impact business? Ponder that question.

He also hit on the cultural effect of this trend: stress, depression, suicide, and bad health choices, as well as one company who responded to this trend: Panera Bread. They led the market in healthy eating as an antidote to these trends, and grew from $43 a share in 2007 to $315 a share, and sold the company for “billions recently.”

Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an insight, innovation, and strategy firm based in Memphis, TN, and the author of Going Electric. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com

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