Off the sports field, the term “pivot” has become an idiom for business change. While pivoting can be circumstantial — think of all those that halted production lines to help with the Covid-19 pandemic efforts — it’s more often motivated by a mistake in the initial strategy, such as failure to understand who your audience is, a poor product-market fit or a business model that just didn’t deliver against your objectives.
A pivot can also be the result of a happy accident, when one part of a business sees an unexpected explosion in growth and resources are diverted accordingly.
Whatever the motivation, almost every company going through a period of upheaval is likely to require a swift, effective marketing strategy overhaul. The resulting approach will depend on the context, as well as how much of the “old” business or brand you want to take with you.
First, consider the level of change. Is your pivot more iterative than innovative, or more revolution than evolution? Is this a sweeping change, the same product but targeting a whole new type of customer or a total transformation of your product line up for the same audience?
To understand people’s response to change, and to predict how your audience might react, there’s a useful approach we can borrow from neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), called the Sameness/Difference spectrum.
All of us fall somewhere into one of these four categories:
- Sameness: These people are actively resistant to change and like things to say the same.
- Sameness with Exception: They prefer continuity, but they can handle minor changes every so often.
- Sameness with Exception and Difference: They are comfortable with both large and small changes if they aren’t too frequent.
- Difference: They relish change and switching things up frequently; without change, they get bored fast.
Marketing personas, although notoriously vague, can tell us a little about our customers. If you’re targeting accountancy firms or insurers, sectors that tend to be risk-averse, you may decide to treat them — for marketing purposes at least — as categories one or two. If you’re targeting fast-growth entrepreneurs or the C-suite, you might instead choose categories three or four.
When communicating to those with a predilection for sameness, dial down references to change and transformation, and emphasize references and similarities to business as usual, reliability and continuity of service. For those that relish change, dial up the difference, focus on the inadequacies of the status quo and demonstrate a clear break with the past.
Most pivots will have some element that will endure the upheaval — perhaps the technology, the people, the customer service or the overarching vision — that you may opt to maintain while building out a new offering. Even the most radically pivoting businesses will want to avoid resetting to a start-up position.
However, in certain cases, a pivot may become necessary because the old product or brand was in some way toxic. In this instance, you may want to hit the full reset button. But this will be a relatively rare occurrence.
Ultimately, the key is to match your marketing to your pivot, ensuring you give your newly refreshed business the best chance to deliver messaging that sticks.
Jason Ball is the founder of B2B marketing agency Considered Content, whose clients include Google, Oracle, AT&T, EY and Microsoft. Ball is also behind Prolific, a first-of-its-kind managed content service created for the B2B sector. He helps ambitious marketers differentiate their brands, generate demand and reduce friction from the buyer journey.