Cabin Fever Musings

In 2016, the BBC released HyperNormalisation. It is a gritty watch (very Adam Curtis) requiring a cold towel, a strong coffee or a bottle of wine depending on your predilection. It endeavours to explain why chaotic things are happening and how we have retreated into a simplified fake version of the world. A bit like the Virtual Grand National at 5pm this afternoon.

Events keep happening (or rather, not happening) that are out of our control. No sooner had I opened Gordon Forbes’ ‘A Handful of Summers’ – ‘The funniest tennis book ever written’ according to The Times, Wimbledon was cancelled.

What has been cheering me greatly, however, has been waking up to the daily missives from the team @Fitzdares who, as you know if you are reading this, have been touching base with us (a genuine tonic). Full of insights, whimsical nuggets, jocular and self-deprecating in nature, they are packed with good intention to lighten the mood in these uncomfortable times.

Thursday’s Tonic included a market which will have me thinking for a good while. Who will reach 21 Slams first? Federer, who is one away? Rafa, just two away? Or Djoko, who is four adrift, but was unbeaten in 2020 before the pandemic struck. Well, Novak is priced at 12/1, Rafa at 1/5 and Roger at 11/2.

That strikes me, emotionally at least, as massively tempting; the maths will doubtless be correct though. That said, 50/1 for none of them to reach 21 Slams catches the eye too. William Skidelsky’s ‘Federer and Me’ is a good read by the way. I was an Agassi fan; I loved the baseline and that return of serve.

Talking of baselines, if you need a good playlist, here is a Lockdown special – an absolute peach from a man who seriously knows his musical onions… Nick Angel (cult fact, Sergeant Nicholas Angel in Hot Fuzz was named after him).

Lockdown is giving us all time to think. Andrew Grove wrote an outstanding book, possibly the best I’ve read, called ‘Only The Paranoid Survive’. In the book, he talks about strategic inflection points, critical decisions that need to be taken to pivot business and in times of trouble, to navigate what he calls “the valley of death”.

Cue obvious statement: this is a strategic inflection point for us all. Decisions we make now, from the top of global governments to the intimacy of household spending, will determine our direction of travel. On this, I am optimistic. When the restrictions are lifted, rather than bulldozing back in, I hope Government use this as a chance to scale us back, or better put, re-introduce us to ‘normal’ in a better, gentler way, with the environment and sustainable supply chains as the focus.

Above all, I hope everyone takes a moment to choose who they have a relationship with, with regards to their service providers. Do the companies you spend your hard-earned with share the same values as you. Do they really? They might say they do, but do they?

Not in a smug way, but in a genuine feeling you get from the look and feel of a business. From your electricity provider and the car you lease to the cleaning products you buy and recycle, the bank you have, the shop where you source your food, the website you get your tickets, the music you stream, to, if you do enjoy a flutter, your bookmaker.

Harvard Business Review wrote an excellent piece on the ‘direct to consumer’ model – it’s changed. No more can you scale with some cheap CPAs through social. The metrics have caught up. As Scott Galloway says in another great piece for Business Insider, ‘the definition of good marketing and business strategy is finding products for your consumers versus finding consumers for your products (piling stuff high in a store and hoping people buy). Streamlining the supply chain to offer better value on a better product is the way to go.’

Forgive me for a segue into the gaming sector for a moment, but this is why operators are merging with each other left right and centre, the most recent given clearance this week in the UK – Oddschecker, SkyBet, PaddyPower, Betfair, BetStars and PokerStars will all be owned by the same company. Why are they, and Ladbrokes, Coral, Bwin before them, merging? Because the model is not there anymore. For 20 years they have been piling stuff high, but the costs have caught up; of acquisition, of regulation, of everything.

Marketing strategies need to change. We are all sick of them. The big winners have been Soho agencies, TV companies, Private Equity firms and the senior management they have backed. But so too the consumer by the way – despite the headlines and the endless invasive requests for Source of Funds, they have never had it so good. So many firms fighting for your business, coupled with a regulator rightly protecting those at risk like never before.

But the product has become homogenous and the lack of relationship has spawned a promiscuous customer. But who can blame them? The result: a race to the bottom. This is Round 8 of Sugar Ray Leonard vs Roberto Duran territory – NO MAS. Much how I feel about bats and wet markets at the moment.

The future is about communities, relationships, loyalty. Organic traffic born from offering a great product and delivering passionate service. Enter stage right Will Woodhams, CEO at Fitzdares, a leader with customer service coursing through his veins.

In February, Helen Brocklebank, outstanding CEO of Walpole, asked me to help with a programme called Brands of Tomorrow, which mentors 12 start-ups each year. For businesses that ultimately deal in discretionary spending, many of the founders are doubtless thinking that the timing to have taken the risk to set up their companies is desperate luck.

But luck is a big word. One I’m familiar with, it’s definition and meaning worthy of exploration by Godel, Esher Bach. What is inescapable is that we are where we are. Spending time during this isolation to think and read as best we can, to talk as openly and honestly to mentors, stakeholders and our customers is key. Are we actually giving them what they want? With this approach and the courage of your convictions, you’ll bring the odds in your favour.

These are tough times. I’m sure we’ve been watching a lot of TV in the evenings. But goodness I miss The Sopranos. What a show. At this point in time, Tony would want an army of Gary Coopers.

My Gary Cooper? I have a few. But right now, it is Nick Luck – saving us with profound levity later today at 17:00 on ITV with the HyperNormal Virtual Grand National. Let’s come together, roll the dice and take your chance. All profits go to the NHS. Let’s enjoy a window of light relief. But once those virtual nags have weighed in, it’s time to put the thinking caps back on and for us all to plan for a better, cleaner, brighter and healthier future.

Please play responsibly