Outside of the sports field, the term “hub” has become an idiom for business change. While the pivot can be circumstantial – think of all those who have interrupted production chains to help with the Covid-19 pandemic efforts – it is more often motivated by an error in the initial strategy, such as the inability to understand who is your audience, a bad product. fit with the market or a business model that just hasn’t lived up to your goals.
A pivot can also be the result of a happy accident, when part of a business sees an unexpected explosion in growth and resources are diverted as a result.
Regardless of the motivation, almost any business going through a time of upheaval is likely to need a quick and effective overhaul of their marketing strategy. The resulting approach will depend on the context, as well as what part of the “old” company or brand you want to take with you.
First, consider the level of change. Is your pivot more iterative than innovative, or more revolutionary than scalable? Is it a radical change, the same product but targeting a whole new type of customer or a total transformation of your product line for the same audience?
Then think about your customer. To retain your existing customer base, you will need to think carefully about how to communicate this change. What’s in it for them? Why is this a good thing? Why might they, in fact, want to stop buying from you? The latter can be important when you have a customer base that is only marginally profitable at best, and you are focusing on a new Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).
To understand people’s response to change and to predict how your audience might react, there is a useful approach we can borrow from neurolinguistic programming (NLP) called the Similarity / Difference spectrum.
We all fall into one of these four categories somewhere:
- Similarity: These people are actively resistant to change and like to be told the same.
- Similarity with exception: They prefer continuity, but can handle minor changes from time to time.
- Similarity with exception and difference: They are comfortable with big and small changes if they aren’t too frequent.
- Difference: They like change and change things frequently; without change, they get bored quickly.
Marketing figures, while notoriously vague, can tell us a little more about our customers. If you are targeting accounting firms or insurers, industries that tend to be risk averse, you may decide to treat them, at least for marketing purposes, as category one or two. If you are targeting fast growing entrepreneurs or the C suite, you can choose categories three or four instead.
When communicating with those who have a predilection for similarity, reduce references to change and transformation, and emphasize references and similarities to the status quo, reliability and continuity of service. For those who love change, make a difference, focus on the shortcomings of the status quo and demonstrate a clear break with the past.
Most Pivots will have an element that supports the upheaval – perhaps technology, people, customer service, or the big picture – that you can choose to maintain while creating a new offering. Even the companies that pivot the most radically will want to avoid reverting to a start-up position.
However, in some cases a pivot may become necessary because the old product or brand was somehow toxic. In this case, you may want to press the full reset button. But it will be a relatively rare event.
Ultimately, the key is to match your marketing with your backbone, making sure you give your newly refreshed business the best chance at delivering a message that sticks.
Jason Ball is the founder of the B2B marketing agency Considered Content, whose clients include Google, Oracle, AT&T, EY, and Microsoft. Ball is also behind Prolific, a one-of-a-kind managed content service created for the B2B industry. It helps ambitious marketers differentiate their brands, generate demand, and reduce friction on the buyer’s journey.