business news in context, analysis with attitude

I got a lot of reaction to yesterday's FaceTime commentary about the "back to basics" mentality, in which I argued, in part:

I really hate the phrase "back to basics." About as much as I hate the phrase, "get back to fundamentals." I've been writing about this industry for a long time, and I can't tell you how many times I've heard that phrase uttered from lecterns or used in articles - usually during tough times when companies are looking for a solution to their problems.

Here's the thing. If you're not already doing the fundamentals, if you're not doing the basics, then it may well be too late. You're dead.

There are plenty of companies that are, and that are building on the fundamentals with initiatives in e-commerce, social media or in other areas.

The fundamentals are a prerequisite just for getting into the game and staying in the game.

MNB user Ratiba Mekki wrote:

I love reading your articles. I try to read them daily, not only due to my involvement with various grocers, but English is my second language. With that being said, I appreciate your style of writing. I love how you are not afraid to be opinionated and most of the time I appreciate it.

Except for today’s column in regards to “back to basics”. You said you hate it? Your reasoning wasn’t strong enough to support your negative view. Its quite ironic, because I think that majority of companies need to do exactly that. I think that going back to basics puts things in a clearer perspective. Also, you usually sound positive and this time I felt like you were leaning toward “giving up” vs. “fight till the end”. Can you imagine if all companies would follow your advice; avoid going back to basics method and just completely vanish from the industry. When I was in high school, my mom would buy me clothes at Target and I was so embarrassed and I hated shopping at Target, so did all my friends. Guess what changed, they revamped their methodology, went back to basics. Anyway, the reason why I am writing you is that I never found myself disagreeing with you and I wish you could write me back or post something to expand on this subject. I didn’t understand why all of a sudden you sounded pessimistic.

Aside from that, I think you are a brilliant writer and l will continue to read your articles. I just feel like I would like to understand  a little more when you say you HATE back to basics methodology.

First of all, I cannot tell you how flattered I am by your kind words. They mean more than you know.

Second, don't worry about disagreeing with me. Nobody should always agree with me. (Just ask Mrs. Content Guy.)

Finally...I don't think I was being all that pessimistic or negative, and I certainly am not advocating a "giving up" mentality. What I'm really doing is suggesting that everybody needs to raise their games in the current environment ... and that being good - even great - at the basics is necessary just to get into the game. That's not being negative. It is just raising the bar.

I do think that sometimes, when executives talk about getting back to basics, it is because they don't have any other ideas, and the train may already be off the rails. But I also don't think that this is pessimism. Just reality.

However, feel free to disagree.

MNB user Jeff Gartner wrote:

I also cringe when I heard the phrase "we need to get back to basics" or "back to fundamentals." When  I hear or read those words, I'm thinking the speaker senses the world is passing his or her organization by and they don't know how to innovate and adapt. And then whatever they do is always reactionary so they continue to stay behind their market.

We all know this, but thank you for the reminder.

MNB user Steven Ritchey wrote:

I see too many retailers, large successful ones who don’t pay enough attention to the basics.  They may be very technologically advanced and be making good use of social media.  When I see can openers j-hooked on the cereal aisle, and toys j-hooked on the canned vegetable aisle, someone ‘s not paying attention to details.  When I see charcoal displays with no lighter fluid, someone isn’t thinking.  When the meat market, produce and deli people are glorified stockers who don’t know the product they are stocking, someone isn’t paying attention.  When I can shop in the same store for 10 years and never see the store director on the floor, something is very wrong.  I was lucky, I came up in a company that understood the value of good cross merchandising, of a visible store director, of having people in the perishable departments who knew  their stuff.  I saw how it’s supposed to work in the store.

Someday soon, social media and an internet presence may be “basics”, but if you have a great media presence, but your physical store isn’t up to par, you’re not hitting on all cylinders.  You might be making money, but, you’re not being as effective as you could be.

I think that people use the term “getting back to basics” because it sounds good, I wonder how many retailers out there know what the basics really are.

From MNB user Krag Swartz:

“Back to Basics” and “back to the fundamentals” do represent trite cliché.  And they tend to be a catchall for “loss of focus…taking our eye off of the ball…returning to our roots…renewed emphasis on what made us great, etc.”  I bet that these phrases all mean something different to each retailer/company.  In an industry in which competing priorities and limited resources shape the reality of strategy investment and execution, retailers cautiously walk the high wire of R.O.I. and relevance – usually the safety net is that “basics” thing.  When strategies fail, these same retailers/companies are criticized for “straying from the brand”…”they forgot who they were.”  The “basics” aren’t always the staid and stuffy and irrelevant.  Sometimes the “basics” are the essential elements of the brand:  the core competency – the heritage - the relationship with customers - the traditions(symbols and rituals). 

Your brand, MNB, has all of these components too, and they could be described as your basics…and you know when you’ve strayed from the brand.  So, maybe it’s all semantics in this ignorance of cliché.  Maybe we need new vocabulary…and a catalytic kick start that innovation can bring.  We have our soothsayer.  That would be you Kevin.  Thanks for continuing to live your brand:  Retail News with Context, Analysis and Attitude.

You are too kind.

The good news about the MNB brand is that there are so many folks out there who burnish it, every day, with their own comments and participation. (And by sharing it with their friends an co-workers. It is a matter of pride to me that my subscription list grows by 75-100 a week, mostly because of word of mouth.)

A perfect example of how you all make the brand better is how I got a bunch of emails yesterday responding to my story about the eight-year-old Miami orangutans that are highly facile with the iPad, allowing them to communicate with human beings as well as providing stimulating enrichment activities to keep them from getting bored. (I said that they better be careful about the monkeys getting Amazon accounts...)

One MNB user read the story and wrote:

I’m thinking Clyde from Every Which Way But Loose.

We do love movie references around here.

MNB user Glenn Cantor wrote:

I can just see the receiver at the zoo scratching his head wondering about the large, Federal Express shipment of bananas.

There also was a piece of the original story noting that trainers have to hold the iPads for the orangutans because the equipment is just too fragile to just hand to them. Which led MNB user Steve Rash to write the email that, in just eight words, illustrated why I love MNB and the MNB community so much:

So, Gorilla Glass is too fragile for orangutans?


That was the line I wish I'd thought of, and wish I'd written.
KC's View: