Some very interesting conversations this week. Went for a sunny, spring walk with a leisure industry marketer who took charge at a well-known brand last year, just in time for Covid. She told me a 14 month story of fleetfooted operational decision-making, personnel management and rising to the challenge of closure, reopening, re-closure….
No real marketing, though.
Other news from the frontline suggests that, in terms of new plans and initiatives, a lot of businesses “are still treading water”. Not my phrase, but the words this week of one University contact who works with hundreds of external companies.
It’s a shame because actually, as we stand here in April, there very certainly appear to be two big reasons for Brits to be cheerful, and only one potential fly in the ointment.
The fly, clearly, is the Indian coronavirus variant. Red list or not, there are plenty of geopolitical risks with India suffering a covid meltdown. But these are risks for the entire global economy, not just Britain.
The first reason the economic sun is shining, obviously, is the vaccine programme, an objectively undeniable success. Any downside, mostly from confident-yet-unvaccinated young people partying hard, is probably a price worth paying, as £100millions of pent-up demand starts to flow into the economy.
It’s not just about hard numbers. Psycho-logic, as Rory Sutherland calls it, is just as influential over people's behaviour as the harder, rational version. Emotional intelligence says a class leading UK vaccination performance will boost confidence in our country, internally and externally, over and above the figures on paper. As the Americans say, you can take that to the bank.
The second reason to be cheerful is this: the verdict on Brexit is turning out to be basically… ‘nothing to see here, move on’.
At least that’s pretty much what Wolfgang Munchau, ex Financial Times Deutschland editor, says in today's EuroIntelligence morning briefing. He bases this on, among other things, the almost complete rebound of UK exports, since the drop in January, to the EU.
(Please don’t shout at me and tell me your own export business has been horribly affected, as I’m sorry if that’s the case.)
Most of Wolfgang's piece is a poke at Project Fear –the biased commentators whose “wrong and deceitful” forecasts of doom, post 2016 referendum, started turning out to be false almost immediately. And have continued to be wrong ever since. But his basic facts are encouraging. You may still be secretly pleased to learn Munchau doesn’t actually think Brexit will be an economic success. That’s up to you. But right now the indicators are it isn’t going to be a failure, either.
So the question has to be: what are our hesitant UK businesses waiting for?
Some of them may be worried that they haven’t changed enough. Another University conversation this week touched on the pervasive pandemic myth of ‘flipping’ - the assertion that businesses wanting to survive needed to reinvent themselves overnight or die.
My contact and I agreed this was ....not true.
Now there are, indeed, some inspiring examples of flipping, like ESP Fitness, who turned themselves into a consumer facing, fast-delivery brand in a week. But realists should recognise the average business neither will, nor needs to, radically change.
(Honestly, markets themselves don’t change that quickly. Don’t believe me? This January, with most stores closed, we still did only 36% of our shopping online. That was double the previous year’s figure, by the way.)
But what businesses do need is to start looking outwards again. That means assessing their offer against the competition and developing genuine customer insight to help them do so. Some of that insight might, indeed, relate to changes from the pandemic. Either way, companies need to check, maybe refine, their outbound strategy. And then get stuck in and start selling things.
‘The sun shines on the righteous’, after all.
You may of course be reading this and secretly thinking “gosh that’s true, but I still have my 41st HR meeting Monday afternoon…..” In which case, you could consider buying shares in your competitors.
Or get someone in to help you.