Tom Hanan is in charge of the strategic direction of Webrepublic, the leading fully integrated marketing agency for our digital age. He frequently speaks at national and international industry events and is a member of the board at IAB Switzerland, where he is a part of the “Programmatic” focus group. He was named EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ by EY in 2017. In 2020 Tom Hanan was included in the list of the 100 most important figures in Swiss business by the business magazine Bilanz. Before founding Webrepublic, he built up Google’s presence in Switzerland and Austria as Google’s first employee in Switzerland. Previously, he was head of Yahoo! Switzerland for three years.
As we emerge from the acute phase of the COVID-19 crisis, our journey towards a new normal begins. EY asked various thought leaders and decision makers to take stock and share their insights into what’s next. Investment in technology, rapid decision pathways and a flexible working model – that’s the new reality that Tom Hanan, founder and CEO of Webrepublic, anticipates for companies. In our interview, he explores why and how consumer behavior also plays a central role in future success.
How was the lockdown for you personally?
We moved house during this period, so there was a lot to do at home. For that reason, lockdown wasn’t that dramatic for me. A few deliveries took a long time to arrive due to corornavirus. But I wasn’t surprised to see that many companies and their technical infrastructures were reaching their limits; systems were overwhelmed and people had to wait in line virtually. This highlights the fact that there remains some catching up to do in this area.
What were you least prepared for?
I don’t think many of us were expecting the sudden and rapid global shift in economy and society that occurred because of coronavirus. I wasn’t expecting mandatory face coverings, or the fact that I had to send our people to work from home almost overnight. We quickly mobilized our own internal task force and have been able to cope well with all the measures so far. I’ve also been thinking about the fact that – despite the detailed Epidemics Act – the government was also relatively unprepared when these big events happened. I think there’s much room for improvement.
How did the crisis affect your business?
Thanks to our broad customer portfolio and a history of long-term partnerships with our customers, we’ve managed to get through the crisis relatively unscathed so far. We’ve completely avoided measures such as job losses. With our expertise in digital marketing, we’re able to support our clients through these turbulent times and guide them with advice. But we’ve felt the impact too, of course. Customers operating in the tourist industry and luxury goods have been hit directly, and hard, by the crisis. Their sales collapsed to virtually zero within a couple of weeks. Campaigns were paused, postponed or permanently cancelled in some cases. For the majority of customers, though, we’re seeing a shift in investment from traditional media and towards online advertising. It’s a trend we’ve been observing for a while, but the crisis has acted as an accelerator. Investing in performance campaigns enabled many companies to make up through digital channels for sales lost through physical outlets.
What opportunities have arisen for companies in the last three to four months?
For many companies, the coronavirus shock has been something of a reality check in terms of the relevance and potential of technical infrastructure, and the role of the web as a central lead and communication channel. Digital data enables a better understanding and use of changing user behavior, interests and general trends. As I see it, accelerated decision-making processes – a result of the crisis – are a big opportunity. And we’re not the only ones benefiting from more courage to take decisions. We’re also seeing it in our customers, who’ve become significantly more efficient. Many are using the time to tidy up and reflect: where will there be future growth potential, where can we develop, and where do we need to catch up? I think it’s all the more important right now to look to the future with positivity. This situation is in some respects a unique chance to pick up new, innovative topics. It’s something I see as a big opportunity for us as well. Our goal is to make 2020 our most innovative and efficient year to date, whether at the strategic or operating level. We’ve accelerated decision pathways and decided to cut meeting time massively at all functional levels, and we’re sharpening our focus. Last year, we already expanded our management team and introduced an extended management to shift responsibility to the relevant divisions and cultivate our culture of bottom-up innovation. Over the last few months, this organization proved highly effective and it’s an important reason why we’ve been able to respond so rapidly to the new situation.
Our goal is to make 2020 our most innovative and efficient year to date; we’ve accelerated decision pathways and decided to cut meeting time massively at all functional levels.
How has COVID-19 affected the way you as an organization work?
We were able to switch instantly to remote working. It worked very well because we already had the infrastructure in place. It was nice to see how the whole team was pulling together in this extraordinary situation, how we overcame the challenge together. We’ve grown as a company and as a team and have become even more efficient. We’ve seen the last few months as an important – and real – test of how to approach the topic of remote working as an employer in the future. Even though everything worked smoothly, there are some limitations: it’s difficult to keep up spontaneous personal interaction and cultural aspects via video call alone. So it’s really about balance: how can a company afford its people a certain degree of flexibility, while continuing to cultivate corporate culture?
So it’s really about balance: how can a company afford its people a certain degree of flexibility, while continuing to cultivate corporate culture?
What will the new reality look like at Webrepublic?
We’re seeking a new normal for our future world of work. Our ideal setup would see decision-making powers even more strongly integrated in the individual divisions. After all, rapid decisions and, especially, efficient decision-making pathways are key survival elements in today’s highly dynamic environment. In future, we will also increasingly adopt an even more flexible working model. We have learned many lessons in recent months, and we now want to make targeted use of these.
Rapid decisions and decision-making pathways are key survival elements in today’s highly dynamic environment.
What will you take with you from this crisis?
The interesting thing about the current situation is that those who were quick to understand how the situation affects the consumer psyche, and adapted their communication and sales strategies accordingly, have emerged from the crisis in a good position. These days, it’s vital to keep an eye on that. Specifically, that means really understanding user behavior and actively measuring performance. To understand your target group, you need a granular analytics setup and an understanding of how to interpret data. So besides investing in technology, you also have to invest in control mechanisms and qualified specialists who can interpret the data. Once companies have this foundation in place, they can make data-driven decisions about their strategic direction and other investments – even in a fast-paced environment like the one we’re experiencing now.
Do you have any future tips for our readers?
Stay attractive and active, whether through new infrastructure or a more flexible working model. As a company, you need to be signaling to customers and the environment that you’re taking measures that build trust. In future, it’s going to be even more important to develop an understanding of how you communicate with potential customers on the market to reduce uncertainty and create trust. I think we’ve all felt how important transparent communication has been throughout the crisis. Lockdown one day, mandatory masks the next. It feels like every day brings a new rule. So you need a task force that can really get to grips with the central issues for the company and its target groups. You should never forget that the situation is psychologically stressful for your own employees as well as customers. So you need to be as good as possible at sharing and comparing information, both externally and internally. Combining offline and online data will become increasingly important in future. For example, targeted use of CRM data can help you reach offline customers online. On the infrastructure side, advertisers should develop an integrated first-party data strategy, break down data silos, build structure and close gaps. At the core of solutions like Google Marketing Platform or Adobe Ad Cloud is the ability to bring data sovereignty into your own company and to manage all digital communication measures via your own infrastructure. Then you can use user segments from your website to manage programmatic campaigns, for example, or reactivate inactive app users through specific campaigns.
Stay attractive, whether through new infrastructure or a more flexible working model. As a company, you need to be signaling to customers and the environment that you’re taking measures that build trust.