Can these Scandinavian forecasters predict our inner emotional needs?
The art of trend forecasting, of second guessing what consumers will want in the future, has been around for several decades.
In the past it was a fairly simple process, with companies often as not directing customer's needs as much as responding to them.
However, in recent years global trends have meant that forecasting has had to become ever more sophisticated.
Against a backdrop of increasing individualism, the world has witnessed rapid and unpredictable advances in areas ranging from information technology to genetics.
The ever pervasive threat of 'terror' is the latest addition to a list that have all combined to present consumers with an unprecedented range of possibilities and moral dilemmas.
In terms of consumers' choices, this has led to a distinct tendency for people to rely on their individual sensual and emotional experiences and responses.
These erratic consumer patterns make predicting trends increasingly fickle.
Where companies previously relied on traditional marketing research, many are now on the search for a 'holy grail' to help find how to best tap into this phenomenon.
As a result a new breed of creative agencies have emerged, offering companies unique approaches in identifying consumer needs.
One consultancy that has pioneered work in this area is Futuressence.
Based in London, the agency utilises a diverse network of professionals, ranging from graphic designers to anthropologists, in order to predict what drives consumers' decisions.
Futuressence aims to inspire companies to think in new ways
The consultancy believes that by pin-pointing the 'man on the street's' emotional triggers, companies can differentiate themselves in a saturated marked.
By engaging the consumers' inner emotions and senses they can obtain a greater loyalty and a stronger emotional bond between the brand and its users.
Futuressence's founders, Dane Stine Brahm Lauritsen and Norwegian Cecilie Frostad Egeberg, created the agency at the beginning of 2005.
Both had previously worked for a traditional trend forecasting consultancy and saw a gap in the market.
"By focusing on essential human requirements we saw that we could target the core emotions which will influence the consumer's choice of future lifestyles," says Brahm Lauritsen.
But rather than offering traditional solutions to this question, the consultancy wants to enable companies to think of their products in a completely different way.
This might be done using a number of different methods, ranging from tailor-made presentations and workshops through to storytelling, video clips and conceptual art pieces.
Futuressence's methodology is based around both 'mega drivers' (or 'mega trends') and 'meta drivers' (or emotional drivers) found within society.
Mega trends, which manifest themselves on a global level, include areas such as bio-science, the environment and the media.
These are filtered down into five emotional drivers, which are defined as 'sensorial', 'autonomy', 'anchoring', 'knowledge' and 'purpose'.
Each client's products and future needs are then catalyzed, using these five meta drivers.
In 2005, the consultancy was commissioned by Quest, one of the world's largest flavour and fragrance companies, to create a concept that would inspire its perfume developers.
Since one of the major products of Quest is perfume developed for washing powder, Futuressence decided to make cloth the centrepiece of their commission.
Research for a commission will normally begin with extensive use of the internet, magazines, BBC material and academic resources such as Harvard University's research archives.
Having pinpointed certain themes, the consultancy will then engage appropriate experts amongst its network of professionals.
With regard to Quest, the resulting concept, entitled 'The Invisible Cloth' focused on the intangible values we associate with cloth.
Each of the five meta drivers were presented in a particular way.
With regard to the 'purpose' emotional driver, a Mongolia tent or 'gher' was used.
Mongolians see their ghers as a miniature representation of the universe.
A lone gher amidst the vast open stretches of the Mongolian Steppe
The felt forming the walls symbolizes the 'edge' and 'dome' of the universe.
When making the felt it is splashed with the fermented mare's milk that the Mongolians considers sacred to protect them against evil spirits.
This reinforces their spiritual identity and their purpose in life.
In considering the 'knowledge' emotional driver the example of an elderly lady who made Harris Tweed was used.
Marion Campbell made unique designs for more than 72 years.
Her work symbolizes the process of how the old traditional ways of making are kept alive.
"When wearing a garment made from Harris Tweed, the owner has an 'inside' knowledge, not immediately accessible to others," says Brahm Lauritsen.
Further examples combined to demonstrate all five of the meta drivers and present Quest's perfume developers with a uniquely emotional approach to cloth.
The resulting ideas that this provokes offering them a novel outlook in furthering their business aims.
The trend for previously traditionally-minded companies to commission creative agencies to identify the emotional needs of their customers has led to some fascinating of examples of sensory marketing.
Singapore Airlines uses a patented smell to entice its passengers
Exploiting the sense of smell, Singapore Airlines has created a patented aroma, the evocatively titled Stefan Florida Waters.
Sprayed on to hot towels before take off, passengers learn to identify the smell with using the airline.
In Japan, hypersonic sound is being used to deliver marketing noises or other messages in a very personal way.
Employed within drink dispensing machines, passing walkers will suddenly hear in their mind the sound of ice cubes dropping into a glass and the unmistakable 'psst' sound of a can opening.
With the continuous outsourcing of production from Europe to the East, companies are forced to take the logical consequences of these development and recognize the importance of nursing their creative capital.
Companies such as Futuressence seem well placed to react to this phenomenon.
'"Karaoke creativity,' copying an existing product, can bring a company to the same level as its competitors, but seldom to the top of its sector," says Brahm Lauritsen.
"In an atmosphere where such added focus is on creative capital, the big players of the future are the ones who dare to adopt a wider approach to creative thinking today," adds Brahm Lauritsen.