Skip to main content

From insight to foresight

man with binoculars

In a nutshell

  1. Cultural analysis and foresight are crucial tools for understanding your audience, achieving a competitive edge and making better decisions.
  2. You can also use cultural analysis to stay relevant, avoid missteps and answer important questions about innovation, product development, future planning and more.
  3. TRA employs always-on tracking and fit-for-purpose frameworks to gain a deeper understanding of culture and its impact on customers, employees, and markets.

To stay ahead of the game, organisations must embrace new ways of thinking and doing business. 

In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, achieving a competitive edge is harder than ever.  

That’s why at TRA, we incorporate a deep understanding of wider cultural context and its impact on customers, employees, and markets when working with clients.

In brand and advertising, the word culture is used to refer to everything that that encapsulates what it means to be human. All humans have culture and exist within culture. Just like you don’t feel wet when you dive into the ocean, only when you get out of the water – we don’t feel culture even though we are entirely immersed in it. 

Cultural analysis and cultural foresight are crucial tools for organisations looking to gain the foresight necessary to stay relevant and succeed. 

By utilising a cultural analysis approach, businesses and organisations can gain valuable insights from a wide range of sources, including social media, popular culture, the arts, new business models, political activity, social movements and more. 

These signals can provide a wealth of information that traditional data simply can't offer, allowing teams to stay ahead of the curve and make better, more informed decisions. 

What is cultural insight? 

Cultural insight is a notoriously difficult thing to define or quantify. Here are some brief explanations of what we believe culture is in the world of brand and marketing (and what it is not): 

Cultural insight IS examining the shared set of values, beliefs, and customs that shape the way we live our lives, all of which is constantly evolving and adapting to the messy nature of human existence.

Cultural insight IS a different way of knowing people. By understanding the culture around us, we can connect with others and communicate in a way that is relevant to them. It equips us with a common meaning that transcends language and helps us build relationships. For example, Australians and Kiwis have specific brands of humour we use to connect and tackle difficult conversations – understanding this element of our culture is key to knowing and reaching your audience. 

Cultural insight IS understanding the story of shared meaning and staying relevant. No one individual owns bits of culture, and it is always plural, never a single factor of our lives. One of the biggest global brand challenges is staying relevant to the shared meaning of today's culture, staying on code and increasing t likelihood that people will identify with your brand or organization.  

Cultural insight IS NOT random or spontaneous. Cultural forces can start big and have ripple effects that permeate all aspects of life. Or, cultural signals can develop over time, bubbling up and shifting beliefs and behaviours over time. Understanding the signals and interconnected movements are key. A snapshot in time is not enough to understand culture; we must continuously analyse its patterns to stay relevant and plan for the future. 

Cultural insight IS NOT short-term. Culture is a dynamic force, requiring always-on methods to monitor the flow and the shifts and form a strong foundation for analysis. Cultural foresight allows us to gain insights into the drivers of shared meaning in the future and plan for long-term strategies. To achieve this, we must look beyond individual signals and analyse the patterns of those signals.  

Cultural insight IS NOT impossible to understand. Even though the data may be dynamic, unstructured and ‘messy’, we can understand culture through appropriate tools and structured frameworks. If we can read the patterns in the signals, we can see what will become the drivers of shared meaning in the future. From there, we can plan long term strategy and ‘know’ people in their future.  

Why do we use cultural insight? 

Cultural analysis and insight can help solve some major issues or challenges for organisations. 

Using a cultural lens can help you see opportunities before they appear, helping you develop new products, innovate services or discover new business opportunities.  

It can also help you gain and maintain a competitive edge by knowing where your category is heading before others do, and by having a unique perspective to draw attention to your category.  

Cultural analysis also helps you avoid missteps or backlash by ensuring you’re on-code and aware of key cultural context changes impacting your organisation and the category you’re operating within. 

You can use cultural insight to answer pressing questions that will have wide-ranging implications for your organisation or business as a whole, such as: 

  • When my innovation is ready– what will the cultural context be like?  
  • What business will we be in the future?  
  • How will we define audiences in the future?
  • What will be the context that sets people’s needs for the experience we will need to deliver?
  • How can I get my team thinking about the role of culture in our future planning?  
  • What can we learn from fringe groups that will help us design for future audiences?  
  • How can we design today for a different context in the future?  

How do we ‘do’ cultural insight? 

Accurate, impactful cultural analysis and foresight needs a systematic and robust approach.  

That’s why TRA employs always-on tracking, constantly monitoring the shifting signals and contexts of the culture we live and breathe. We know that true meaning can only be discerned by observing patterns in the data, so we need to be scanning for signals of emerging change – all the time.  

In addition to our always-on tracking, we have a cultural toolbox full of fit-for-purpose frameworks to help insight and marketing teams can gain a deeper understanding of culture and its impact on their customers, employees, and markets. 

Me – We – All  

One structure we use to understand cultural signals is the Me-We-All paradigm.  

We firstly analyse the signals that apply to the individual: self-expression and identity, before extrapolating out further to consider those signals that affect people as a group: how we work, live and connect with one another.  

Finally, we take into account the larger cultural forces at play affecting humanity globally, including technology and our environment. 


Another framework we use to understand varied and ever-changing cultural signals is the three horizons scenario framework.  

This scenario framework is an effective way of working when there is a need for multiple layers of planning based on cultural foresight, as an aid to thinking about current assumptions, emerging changes, and possible and desired futures.  

The three horizons are: nearsight, foresight, and farsight. Each horizon provides a different level of insight into cultural signals and can be used to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of culture on customers, employees, and markets. 

The first horizon, nearsight, focuses on the here and now. It is about understanding the current cultural landscape and how it is affecting customers, employees, and markets. This horizon is essential for gaining insights that can be used to make immediate decisions and respond to changes and trends quickly. 

The second horizon, foresight, is about looking ahead and anticipating future trends and changes. This horizon requires a deeper understanding of cultural signals and how they are likely to evolve over time. By gaining foresight, organisations can stay ahead of the curve and prepare for changes before their competitors do. 

Finally, the third horizon, farsight, is about understanding the big picture and the long-term impact of cultural signals. This horizon requires a broad perspective and an ability to see how cultural trends and changes are likely to play out over many years. By gaining farsight, organisations can make strategic decisions that will have a lasting impact on their success. 


This is only the beginning. 

Embracing cultural analysis and foresight can be the key to unlocking new opportunities, identifying emerging trends, and understanding the needs and wants of your target audience on a deeper level. It's time to stop playing catch-up and start leading the way by embracing the power of culture. 

At TRA, our team of experts are constantly discovering new ways to get the most out of cultural analysis and foresight for organisations. After all, We Know People – and culture shapes everything people do, from the products we buy to the way we communicate with each other. 


Laura Mulcahy
Director of Cultural Strategy
Laura is a futurist and trend forecaster. Prior to joining TRA, Mulcahy spent nearly a decade at Nike, USA, most recently as Research Manager leading and executing research across the US, Europe and Asia, which ultimately informed and inspired Nike’s design, brand and business. Prior to that she held the role of Nike’s Senior Trend Forecaster, working alongside the Global Trend team to research and analyse global trends and lifestyle shifts that drive sport and culture.

back to top

Discover more content

Stay in touch!

Sign up to receive our latest thinking straight to your inbox each month.