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Why ‘Pivot’ Is the Word of the Day

And before it gets tired, you need to understand what it means for small business

Shop-talk disclaimer. Once in a while I like to talk business, because (small) business is something I’m passionate about. I hope you find it helpful.

When I decided to make the hottest term in marketing right now the subject of my post, I LOVED that an episode of Friends came up in my first Google search. I’m a sucker for Friends, and the scene is obligingly hilarious, if somewhat unrelated. Although what I find fitting about it is that Chandler admits to not understanding what Ross meant when he said “Pivot”.  

Friends ‘Pivot’ Scene

Today, I hope to enlighten any Chandlers out there. (FYI, Chandler is my Hero)

Originating within the startup community, Pivot is a popular term in business right now, and particularly in my area of expertise: marketing and branding. It is all the rage, often referring to how to ‘change’ your business to adapt to changes happening around it. I don’t disagree with the thinking, but I do sense that it is being perceived as a reactionary tactic. Pivoting is intended as a proactive measure that allows you to foresee and avoid unnecessary change. I’m concerned that it has become the blanket term to changing how you do business ‘during these times of uncertainty’… UGH.

“…we all talk about pivots as if they are big changes. But we also hear entrepreneurs talk about pivots as little changes. And we’ve started to see the word come up to refer to anything… so which is it?”

Jacqueline Kirtley – Wharton, University of Pennsylvania

Key message here: Pivoting is about being proactive, not reactive. It’s about learning and understanding where/when/how change needs to take place BEFORE you make any changes.

Why I like the term

Pivot means the same thing in my world as it does on the basketball court (soooo not my world): essentially anchoring your weight onto one solidly planted foot while you move the other foot so your body can easily pivot. This allows you to stay alert and be at the ready for any sudden or unexpected movements or threats coming your way.

In marketing context, pivoting is about keeping yourself/your business nimble and agile, so you can more easily adapt to unexpected external threats. So now you can appreciate why it’s such a popular word right now, as we enter week 10 of COVID-19 in Canada. With the pandemic, many freelancers and small businesses (like mine) remain in limbo, as we await the return of some kind of normal where we have customers again. See, the creative company my wife and I run relies mainly on healthy marketing budgets, international travel, and live events. Needless to say, I’ve had LOTS of time to work on my Wiseguy sideline, and my wife Simone has been sewing a crap-tonne of masks and scrub caps for the front lines. All good! And thank you Canada for the small business subsidy!

Yes, we’ve stressed about it, and looked into ways to compensate and prepare for the worst… But I’ve also been able to appreciate a lot of things about our small yet successful business established on our extensive skills and experience. For almost 20 years, we’ve been able to expand our portfolio, grow our network, hone our talents, and diversify our skills. For this I am grateful as it gives me confidence as a business owner, but are we READY for what’s to come, as business is already starting to trickle in, albeit in mere droplets?

Are we ready to adapt to all the disruption COVID has caused and will continue to cause for the foreseeable future? How will we adjust to how we service our clients? What will that service look like? Is it worth as much as it was a mere three months ago? How are we even supposed to know?

THIS, my friends, is what Pivoting is all about. It’s not about hoping to see the future. If that is something you are hoping for, I wish you luck. It’s about being as ready as you can be for whatever may come, gathering data accessible to so many of us (thanks Google), informing ourselves, analysing and forming insights that we as business owners must be able to do if we want to stay in the proverbial game.

You can quote me on this: “In this day and age, we are all marketers. Like it or not.” We must acknowledge this in order to succeed. Not only in business, but pretty much in anything we want to achieve. The world is not only more accessible than ever, it is more competitive too. You MUST stand out among a crapload of competitors, in everything. Gah!

Fear not! This is good news for small business, as you need only make a small pivot to begin to see measurable impact. The key is to get informed before you make any pivotal moves.

This is the time to educate yourself. You need to revisit your market and learn what’s different about them, their needs and what they now value most. Find out how your customers and competitors are affected by these times and what they plan to do about it.

Ask yourself, “What parts of my business create the most value for my customers?” Identify your greatest strengths and focus on the ones that deliver the greatest return. As a successful business owner, you appreciate the importance of being proactive, prepared to address challenges as they arise.

There is one thing you need to start doing more than you’ve ever done before: care a little less about making money, and care more about giving your customers what they want and expect from you. It is no longer enough to satisfy their needs, you must now show them that they really matter.

This is where the term pivot has the deepest meaning. You lean into what you already offer as a brand, and then you pivot your offering in ways that provide them greater value. You are able to do this because you’ve taken the time to seek wisdom in the data and insights all around you. You’ve collected the data that every ‘marketer’ needs, but more important, you’ve listened and responded accordingly.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how businesses everywhere operate. Undergoing a massive transformation and pivoting to a new direction could be the only way many companies stay alive.”

Blake Morgan –

Since C-19 hit, we’ve had the benefit of witnessing what happens when big brands fail to make it about anyone but themselves. (see my blog post: Hey Brands, How About a Little Empathy?) As empowered customers we no longer tolerate it, are often vocal about it, and the collateral damage is potentially irreversible. Consider this a gift from which we are able to gather wisdom about how to better prepare ourselves, our businesses, and our brands in ways that matter most to our ‘new normal’ customers.

Parting words of wisdom

Three things you need to do from now on:

  1. Listen
  2. Care
  3. And be there.

Remember that. It’s just good manners.

Now get to it my fellow independents, you’ve got some homework to do.

SP Wiseguy out.

Note: I’ve provide some links to relevant articles I’ve cited in this post. I think you’ll find them relevant. Enjoy:

When and How Entrepreneurs Pivot

10 Examples Of How COVID-19 Forced Business Transformation

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