June 5, 2020

Is it back to basics?


Is it back to basics?

As brands and companies slowly dig themselves out of the trenches, business and marketing strategies have to be re-evaluated or, in many cases, completely overhauled. Read on for some amazing personal insights that were shared by local and global thought leaders and companies on going back to basics across their business value chains, and what that means to them and for their customers.

Gabrielle Robertson - Senior Business Analyst

Gabriella Robertson is an IT professional who has worked in ERP and CRM for close to 10 years. She has worked as an internal consultant for a government agency overhauling their entire ERP and leisure management software. She has also worked internationally as a senior analyst and project manager in the UK, Sweden, Lithuania, Australia, and Dubai. She is currently the Senior Business Analyst for an international agricultural firm based in Christchurch, New Zealand. We reached out to Robertson for her take on back to basics and what it means for her industry and she had some interesting insights to share.                                                      

In the IT world, before COVID, many of our projects were “nice to haves”, in the sense of “it would be nice if we upgraded our server” or “it would be nice to find a more cohesive way of managing tasks.” As lockdown started looming, many of these “nice to haves” became “must haves.” We MUST train all new users on how to work remotely. We MUST have team meetings to know what our colleagues are working and to feel like a valued member of a team.


This hit our IT team hard.


Many of our users had never heard the term VPN. They didn’t know how to troubleshoot a crappy internet connection, or that computers sometimes get confused and you need to just turn them off and turn them on again. And don’t even get me get me started on setting up a printer at home… We also hadn’t had an internal IT team meeting since the start of the year… so we had to start back at the beginning.

We had to start with how we communicate with people outside our team, not necessarily over email (YIKES)… #Zoommeetings

An even bigger basic we had to go back to was… we had to communicate… with each other… and trust each other. We had catch-ups for about half an hour at 10am each day. These moved to Monday, Wednesday, Friday after a few weeks. We started laughing and problem solving together… but not physically together. With our users, we ended up getting to know them better. Rather than remoting onto our colleague’s machine and fixing it for them, we walked them through how to fix the problem on their own while they shared their screen. We also learned about some of the plights of their jobs and to not roll our eyes every time someone sent us an issue we thought was “low priority.”

For the IT industry, we have been shunted right back to where we are most uncomfortable; social interaction and face-to-face communication. Let’s be honest, it’s much easier to send an email to the guy across the room than it is to get up and talk to them… but that is NOT the most effective way of communicating. This realisation has really changed things. Now that we are back in the office, we generally go and speak to our colleagues rather than just responding via email. We have some new priorities and projects based on feedback from our users which we actually listened to. We also now have a new found respect and trust for each other. If someone says they’ll meet a deliverable, they will.  If someone needs help, we trust that they will come to us and they trust that we will listen.

This experience has shone a light on how interwoven IT professionals need to be with all users. By us listening to our users, we are able to fix problems and help our colleagues do their jobs better… which helps us be more agile and do our jobs better.

Robertson’s video can be viewed here for further insights.


Anas Ghazi - Chief Strategy Officer, The Stagwell Group

Anas Ghazi is the Chief Strategy Officer at The Stagwell Group based in New York City. Described as a customer obsessed global chief marketing executive who is focused on driving business growth inspired by data-driven insights, Ghazi has worked with some of the world’s leading brands from American Express, Kantar one of the world’s leading data, insights and consulting companies to the Stagwell Group which is digital-first, full-service marketing and communications group.  Below is what he had to say on the topic of back-to-basics.                                                     

To address the question of whether companies are going back to basics I must set the stage for where we are as a global community. COVID-19 was the precipitated social isolation to flatten the curve that lead to an economic crisis creating joblessness globally inclusive of more than 40M unemployed in the US. In-the-midst of this were the consecutive murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd leading to worldwide protests for justice, racial equality and the overdue collective recognition Black Lives Matter.

In this sub context, the idea of going ‘back-to-basics’ takes on an entirely different meaning. Though we are in the digital era where technology has never been so fundamental to our existence, antithetically people’s reliance on Zoom calls and online shopping has led to a craving for human relationships and the basics of conversation, hugs and community. Simple ideals that have been around for millennia. Ideals that are flourishing in a world of scientific and technological advancement.

From a marketing and brand perspective the reaction to this highly complex time has been emotional. It has been raw. It has been authentic. We are seeing brands like Nike creating painfully honest content about the prevalence of racism in America. We are seeing brands such as Ben & Jerry’s blatantly confront racism and memorialize their position with an ice cream flavor. We are seeing notable entrepreneurs like Alexis Ohanian Sr. step back from board position at Reddit so that a black person can be given the spot to drive more representation in corporate America. In this era of ‘Shelter in Place’ we’re seeing people make the choice to protest (in some cases with six feet distancing) and fight for a cause that is building community and connection. In this highly polarizing time, we’re seeing people on both sides of the spectrum speak their truth and reach out for community.

In terms of how we’re responding to the moment, it’s by bringing all of authentic ourselves into work every day and speaking our truth as each of the three narratives unfold. The marketing team is forty percent people of colour, eighty percent women and one hundred percent a team built on conviction and action. As a team responsible for growth, we’re engaging with our clients by providing complimentary COVID-19 briefings with data from the weekly Harris Poll to help brands navigate this complex time. We’re creating spaces for meaningful conversations during our weekly webinar series ‘Back To The Future’ where we’ve had  colleagues from P&G’s Native, LinkedIn, TripAdvisor and Conde Nast speak about the ‘new normal’. In addition, to this we’re taking action to strengthen own culture at Stagwell as an organization. Outside of what each individual member of the team has personally contributed to the movements against racial injustice and discrimination, we’re bringing our personal narratives to shape company policies for diverse, equitable and inclusive talent management, benchmarking and trainings to be the best version of our self that we as a company, as a group, and as a team can be. 

Ghazi’s video can be viewed here for further insights.

An interesting interview by B2B Institute Global Director Jann Martin Schwarz with IBM's Michelle Peluso, SVP-Digital Sales and CMO, addresses how IBM as a company feels that agile teams and brand investment will be the driving force to their growth into recovery. In her thought provoking article, Peluso outlines some five steps which she feels will help an organisation’s teams to weather and recover from the COVID challenge.

Peluso says, “A global pandemic, as much as any major crisis, requires organizations to adapt quickly. Marketing leaders, in particular, need to move fast while applying a strategic, structured approach. But in our current circumstances, I believe how we act is as important as what we do: As we reimagine the future for our companies and for our people, we must act with purpose, agility, and empathy”

Peluso clearly outlines in her article that the how is underpinned by acting with purpose, agility and empathy, however the what is driven by five key steps marketers can take to further help lead their companies through this moment and beyond. These five steps are underpinned by (1) Support your employees, (2) Pivot to support customers, (3) Position your brand for the moment, (4) Generate demand virtually, and (5) Contribute to the cure and solution. Michelle Peluso’s full report on the five steps can be downloaded here.


The future of how we work is further unpacked by those closer to home. In a recent blog by The Tribe Group in Australia, the focus is on content and how to continue to reach your customers through effective content creation. Tribe strongly subscribes to the fact that marketers will now more than ever require bold, stand-out digital content as companies and brands start to rebuild and their appetite for consumption increases. This requires your content to achieve more with less in order to cut through and this maybe the only way to break through what they call “slingshot messaging” to reach the eye-balls and ears of your customer base.

Tribe CEO Anthony Svirskis, was quoted as saying in Forbes, that:

“Brands will need to spend to get customers back and differentiate themselves from every other business trying to do the exact same thing.”

Tribe breaks this down into three key pieces of advice from leading marketer and their own Customer Success Manager from locking in your digital strategy now, setting your campaign up for success and looking at the formats which are working right now.

The principles of how we continue working into the future was also addressed by Isaac Taylor from M2M Magazine. In his interview with Christian Pistauer, Workplace Strategy Director of Meta5 Group in New Zealand, Pistauer was quoted as saying that COVID-19 will dramatically change the commercial real estate sector in New Zealand for many years to come.  Says Pistauer, “The proclaimed ‘death’ of hotdesking or activity-based-working might be premature. Economic pressure, demand for flexibility and digitisation will push things into a different direction. The introduction of activity-based-working combined with work from home policies can reduce real estate requirements by up to 30-50 percent”

Not surprisingly though, Pistauer like many other senior leaders is of the belief that COVID has demonstrated that companies can practice remote or agile working and remain productive. “There will be a shift in the way employees see their workspaces. As many have come to realise, the office does provide a valuable space for collaboration as well as intangibles such as socialising and bond-building. The office will become a hub – a place that employees choose to go to fulfil a certain type of work.”, says Pistauer.

So maybe back to basics is everything that we have always known but been too afraid to practice. What has become very clear though is that everyone’s perception of what is normal has been vastly skewed by COVID. It is probably less a question of going back to basics but remaining authentic to your customers’ as well as your staff’s needs to continue to remain relevant and deliver best value.

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