How to Use Marketing for a Successful Business Pivot

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that a lot of businesses fail. 21 percent of businesses don’t make it past their third year, and a full half don’t last five. The ones that do last can credit their success to a number of factors.

Some of them perfectly hit the nail on the head, spotting a niche or a trend in the market that no one else was filling and creating the perfect solution. Some enter huge markets, taking a small but reliable slice of a giant pie. Some of them are simply lucky with their product or marketing.

Others are forced to evolve, pivoting to a different business model when the first one doesn’t work out. That shift can simply be a change in branding, like when Marlboro pivoted from a “women’s cigarette” to the legendary Marlboro Man. Or it can be a seismic shift in the purpose of the company, like when Odeo went from a social network for finding podcasts to the micro-blogging platform we now call Twitter.

Pivoting is a risky undertaking, so it’s understandable that you’ll be hesitant to make such a major change in your business. When you do, marketing is going to be a vital tool in your toolbox to make that pivot a success. Here’s how to get started.

How to Know When to Pivot

For every success story like Twitter, there are many more business pivots that didn’t work out. A pivot isn’t a cure-all, it’s a last resort when nothing else is working. Here are a few things to look for when you’ve exhausted your other ideas:

  • The competition is too strong: Odeo got out of the podcast game and pivoted to Twitter for one very important reason — Apple. When iTunes started incorporating podcasts, Odeo knew they could never keep pace, so they decided to get out of the space entirely.
  • One major strength: Flickr was founded as an online role-playing game that included a photo-sharing feature. The game wasn’t very popular, but people loved the photo-sharing, so Flickr abandoned the game and leaned into their strength.
  • No one’s buying: Howard Schultz thought he had a great idea when he started selling fancy espresso machines and coffee beans, but no one wanted what he was offering. Instead, he started building coffee shops reminiscent of the elegant cafes he had seen in Europe, and Starbucks was born.

How Marketing Can Help

When you do decide to pivot, you’ll need to do so quickly and efficiently. You can’t do things halfway — that’s a good way to waste a lot of time and money that you can’t spare.

One of the biggest roles of marketing is to show the world what’s important to you. When you found a new business or pivot an existing one, you’ll need to tell your audience who you are, how you’re different from your competitors and your previous self, and the reason your company exists.

That’s where marketing can shine. When you take the time to truly evaluate what matters to your company and your people, what problem you’re trying to solve, and why your customers should trust you, you’ll be building the framework for your marketing language.

Marketing is also a great way to show people what hasn’t changed in your company — the things you were doing well that are sticking around. Even if you weren’t producing a good product, you might have had incredible customer service that you’re proud of, and it’s worth telling people that that hasn’t changed.

Finally, marketing is how you spread your new identity. Your new business will probably come with a new logo, new colors, new website, new voice and tone, and an all-new branding language. You already have an audience, so take advantage of that audience to show the world the new you!

Don’t Fear Change

Pivoting a company is a risk, but so is starting one in the first place and watching it fizzle. The more you prepare, the less risk you’ll take on, so take the time to decide who you’re going to be before you set plans in motion. And once you do, tell the world!

“Marketing is the only way that anyone will ever know about what your company does and why it exists — embrace it!”

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