“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it” — Nelson Mandela


Who hasn’t felt some degree of fear, anxiety and uncertainty over the past few weeks and months? Our world and our industry have both been turned upside down — and at a rate previously thought unthinkable. So how can we make sense of our changing reality? And more importantly, how can we protect our people, our business and indeed our sanity?!

Of course, we don’t have all the answers at Brand Genetics. But we have been going through a ‘test and learn’ process to help our people and to ensure our business continues to function successfully. This has resulted in a 10-point plan, which we share below. We aim to continue to live our human-first values, even when physical human contact isn’t possible. We want to weather this pandemic storm — emerging (we hope) strong and resilient in the world of tomorrow.

1. Transparency and realism — with so much being outside of our control, we have found honesty and adult-to-adult transparency is vital. We do this through regular updates; what is the financial reality of the business, how are the numbers looking, and (most importantly) what is the likely impact for me as an employee? We feel it’s essential in managing our collective expectations, while also providing us with an opportunity to share the ‘good news stories’ within our own business.

2. Staying agile — as an insight and innovation agency that runs — and indeed champions — face-to-face research and workshops, we have had to pivot quickly into using different methodologies, such as online communities and smart video platforms, while also maintaining our human touch.

3. Learning new work skills — the team has also been quick to learn about and embrace new methodologies, with everything from running out first virtual client workshops to running internal training sessions to upskill the rest of the team. Both internally and externally, we’re adapting to meet our changing needs.

4. Learning new non-work skills — we believe in the power of a growth mindset, and have also found real value in new learning opportunities, both within and beyond work. Subscribing to online video classes from world experts on Masterclass has allowed team members to continue to invest in their futures, while also enabling people to explore their personal passions and interests. We have learnt about everything from The Art of Negotiation by Chris Voss to How to Win at Poker by Daniel Negreanu!

5. A revised new business focus — we have rapidly initiated new activities to meet the new reality and our clients’ changing needs. These have included setting up The Hive (a global panel of insight experts, explaining new consumer behaviours), compiling a free COVID-crunch database (a distillation of the plethora of emerging key trend reports) and hosting live webinars (to understand global developments from both a local market and consumer psychology perspective).

6. Maintaining routine and structure — we quickly recognised the importance of regular human catchups. We hold morning Zoom meetings for the whole team, to focus on key actions for the day, and to check-in with everyone to ensure they are navigating these uncertain times. Again, this did not come without hurdles! While for us in the UK, the morning feels the most sensible and impactful moment for team catchups, we have flexed this for our Monday meeting, ensuring our LatAm and US teams are also aligned and connected to the rest of the business.

7. Retaining our sense of community — we also realised a lot of these virtual catchups were, of necessity, task and work focused. So how could we replicate the ‘glue’ that holds us all together, the ‘water cooler’ conversations and the social office buzz — but virtually? The answer has been via a host of social gatherings, ranging from “Lunch is Lunch” (when people can join one another for a switch-off and a virtual sandwich) to “Feelgood Fridays” (where a collective playlist is shared over Zoom for the full day, in an attempt to replicate our ‘unique’ office atmosphere). Going one step further, we have also continued to evolve the weekly “Pub Quiz” trend to sign-off for the week on Fridays — increasingly attended, and now even being hosted, by kids, partners, parents and siblings!

8. Understanding one another better — virtual working presents different challenges for different people, and we are conscious (as per our lead value) that “we are all uniquely human”. So, we have initiated one-page personal “user manuals”, to help understand, communicate and work more effectively together — which cover things like your ‘superpower’, remote working style and personal motivations.

9. Sharing skills beyond the work — we have set up a “15 minutes of fame” slot, where different team members take us through an area of personal passion. So far, we have learned about novel writing, Bollywood dancing and online gaming. It’s amazing how many hidden skills have come to light!

10. Practicing as well as preaching empathy — as insight professionals, colleagues and friends, we strive to be empathic at all times. As we’ve entered the month of Ramadan, we wanted to support our colleague as she observed this religious rite under strange new circumstances. Each day a different member of our team has joined her to observe a daily fast and undertake the principles of charity, positivity and reflection. We have also partnered with self-awareness start-up Paradym, who have been supporting our team with mental health and wellbeing by providing tangible Covid-19 coping mechanisms. Both initiatives are proving to be great exercises in empathy and understanding for us all.

While many of these changes have been forced upon us, we (like many others I’m sure) have seen evolutions that have improved, strengthened or stream-lined our business. So, while this may be an exercise in reactivity and agility, many of the changes we’ve seen could well have longevity!

The Human Experience (HX) Learning?

Just as brands should stay true to themselves, so should businesses. However challenging and changing the times we are living through, the human imperative is to remember your roots, your values and your humanity.

Change remains the one constant. To paraphrase Charles Darwin, whom we consider to be one of the founding fathers of Brand Genetics, “It is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent, that survives; it is the one that is the most adaptable to change”.

So while we have all been forced to change and adapt to the new environment in which we are living and working, we must also ensure that our changes are consistent with our values — and that (at least in our case) means retaining a human-first approach, despite the challenges.

Andrew Christophers is Co-Founder of Brand Genetics, an agency specialising in unlocking growth by thinking human-first. Brand Genetics’ global clients include ABInBev, Estee Lauder, Mondelez, PepsiCo, Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever. Andrew previously held marketing and innovation roles at Cadbury, Guinness and United Biscuits.

Human-Centered Insight, Innovation and Trends from Brand Genetics

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