For most companies, a pivot is something that creeps up. The KPIs are off – sales are down, revenue is down, the competition is circling, their message isn’t getting through – something has changed but they don’t know why or what.
When I get called in to these companies, we begin by backing up and diving into the brand’s position. Nine times out of ten, the brand position was defined at a point in time, never to be changed again. All of the executives sighed with relief “glad that’s done!” and off they go to the next important product feature or customer issue. They charge the marketing team with defining the brand, the market, the positioning, the messaging, the customer. They do all this work and forget one very important thing: Their brand must continue to evolve and grow as customers change and respond.
Imagine if things never changed – your market never changed, your customers never changed, your competitors never existed. It’s time take the way-back machine to one of the biggest failures to pivot and make sure you don’t fall into the trap.
There was a time when we would stop at the video store on a Friday night, rent a movie and return it the next day. In the store. It seems archaic and when I tell me kids, they ask me if there were pencils when I was a kid. (Thanks guys.) In reality, it was only 10 years ago. The disappointment when all the hot new movies were all out and having to settle for reruns. As if that wasn’t enough frustration, the complete lack of convenience of going to the store and then having to go back to drop the movies off after we watched them was just part of the process. The list of inconveniences and flaws from a customer perspective goes on and on, but the reality was that, for a certain period of time, in-store movie rentals were the only way and Blockbuster was the king.
That was all until one day, when a company called Netflix changed the game. They let you rent movies online. You could try the service for free and then it was a fixed monthly price to rent movies. You could line up your queue, and they would send you the movies in the mail. Watch, send back in the same postage-paid envelope and the next movies get mailed to you same-day. And then, a few years later, you could stream all the movies you wanted for that same monthly price. And just like that, the movie rental business was changed forever.
At the end of the day, Blockbuster failed because they ignored the opportunity to pivot. They had brand awareness, thousands of stores, people buying what they had to sell and it seemed like everything was going their way. But, they put their brand and their offering on cruise-control and they didn’t change. I kept waiting for them to at least try to pivot. To at least acknowledge that the market was changing and that people wanted something different. Instead, they stood still in their original brand position and, by the time they tried a “reserve your movie online feature,” they had already missed the boat and just a few months later, stores started closing and the rest is known as a B-school business case in what not to do when you run a business.
How do you prepare your brand to avoid the same mistakes? Watch for the 5 signs it’s time to pivot.
1. Your customers have changed. Your customers may love you today, but their needs are always changing. Do you know what they are thinking? Pay attention. You must deeply understand your customer’s mindset. Why did they buy? Why did they renew? Why did they leave? Know where your customers are going, what they want, how are they using technology, which other apps/products they are using, how they are interacting with you, why they love you (or don’t). Customers’ expectations are always changing and you must keep listening.
2. Your competition has stepped up their game. Yes, you have competition and knowing how you are different and what they do better, who they’re targeting and how they’re positioned is critical to your positioning. Knowing and articulating where you’re going to play and how you’re going to position your business is core to standing out and differentiating. Where is your value versus your competition? A deep understanding of your competition can also lead you to the realization that it’s time to pivot.
3. Your market has changed. No one has a crystal ball, so you need to keep your eye on the bigger picture and see where your market is going. How is your market changing? What are customers demanding? Who is leading innovation? How will these changes affect your position in the market? It’s tough in the day-to-day to pick your head up and look forward, but you must, or you might have the greatest product no one wants to buy.
4. Your brand position sounds like all the other guys. Give your brand positioning statement a sound-alike test. Line it up against your top 3 competitors and see if it sounds the same or different. While your at it, line up your homepage against your top 3 competitors. Does it differentiate you enough so your customers will know why to buy your product and not the other guy’s? Be honest.
5. You’re afraid to change. Let’s face it, change is scary. But with change comes opportunity and you can either stand still and miss your moment, or you can put your neck out there, pivot and change. So many companies fail because they are afraid to take risks. It’s not always easy to know where to start or how to pivot, but that’s where I come in. Remember your ability to recognize the pivot and take the turn is what could mean the difference between success and failure.
The moral of the story is that your brand is the heart of your business. It is a living, always evolving, integral piece of your success and needs constant care and feeding. Just as the needs of your customers change every day, so does the market. Successful companies remain successful because they are always looking at what’s next, not afraid to take risks and striving to pivot in order to meet the needs of their ever evolving customers and marketplace. Are you ready to pivot?