Managers are often faced with the challenge of positioning a business for the future in the midst of a fast-changing environment. One way to do so is to work backwards. Figure out where you want to be in the future, and then determine what you need to do today to get there.

The problem with this approach, of course, is how to assess the future market. Here's a process you can use to begin to understand the future of your current market, or any market. It also brings consensus to those responsible for mapping out a strategic marketing plan.

The process is best done with a group of knowledgeable people in your company. Break up the group into different teams comprised of people from different functional areas and backgrounds. Each team will do the process independently. The process takes about three hours - a reasonable amount of time given how important it is to understand the future.

Before beginning the procedure, have the entire group decide on a time frame for the future - say three to five years. The exact number isn't important, but it is important that everyone agrees what the time frame is.

Now, break up the group into teams and have each team go through the following steps.


  1. Identify and list all possible developments and changes in customer needs, competitors, technologies, major stakeholders, economics, culture, and any other relevant areas for your business.

    Assess the significance of each of these future developments. Review and prioritize the listed items as if the item with the highest priority would have the greatest impact on your future direction. Take the top items from the list you just created and place them on a separate list. We'll call this List A.

  2. Using primarily the items in List A, look for different themes that can be based on different groups of items. These themes should be distinctly different to encompass a range of alternatives for the future. For example, the themes might be "business as usual," "technology driven," or "everyone is interconnected." Note that these are broad themes.

    Now separate the full list in List A into the chosen themes.

    Look for at least two plausible and consistent scenarios of market evolution.

    Write one scenario for each theme. Either start from today and unfold to the future, or just do the future. Try to weave a credible tale of the future.

    The theme is the starting point. Use the items in List A to develop your scenario. Add others as needed. Don't try to be accurate or prophetic. The goal is to develop plausible and credible scenarios of the future.

  3. For each scenario, create a proposition that enables your company to compete in that future. You might try something like "Our Company aspires to __________________." Notice this aspiration might be different for different scenarios of the future.

  4. Finally, for each scenario, identify both the specific competencies that would be needed in the future, and which products should be most vigorously pursued or supported.


Have each team present their scenarios of the future and the supporting information. What you will quickly learn from this process is that certain themes and scenarios will appear most likely. In any event, and most importantly, you will begin to obtain consensus over the scenarios that are more or less likely, and that will help you determine what types of things you should be doing today to get to the future.

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image of Allen Weiss

Allen Weiss is MarketingProfs founder and CEO, positioning consultant, and emeritus professor of marketing. Over the years he has worked with companies such as Texas Instruments, Informix, Vanafi, and EMI Music Distribution to help them position their products defensively in a competitive environment. He is also the founder of Insight4Peace and the former director of Mindful USC.