The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, or so the saying goes. Many entrepreneurs have become enamoured with the word ‘pivot’ over the past few years, using it as something of a badge of honor. For example: “Yeah, we started out with a fintech SaaS (Software as a Service) offering for investment banking, but now we’ve pivoted into a healthcare app.” Using the word ‘pivot’ is how you sound cool when admitting what you were doing wasn’t working.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with using the word pivot, but there are good pivots and bad pivots.
In the business classic Think And Grow Rich, author Napoleon Hill tells the story of a miner who dug himself into debt trying to find a vein of gold he was convinced existed on his property. The vein was there, but the miner stopped digging three feet short of reaching it and left to do something else. Bad pivot.
Sometimes we assume, without considering all the options, that a pivot means changing our product. “Customers don’t like what we’re selling, so we need to sell something else,” an entrepreneur might think.
But what if it isn’t that complicated? What if the solution isn’t to change what you’re selling, but how you’re selling it? Here are three case studies of entrepreneurs who achieved success not by pivoting their products, but by making relatively small and simple changes to their marketing.
When Sarah Kauss created the S’well bottle – a dual lined, stainless steel bottle that keeps liquids warm for up to 12 hours and cold for up to 24 hours (without any condensation forming on the outside), she formed a charity partnership framework, donating a portion of the proceeds. This became the primary focus of the marketing on the website, but sales weren’t as brisk as she would have liked.
“Of course, people liked the charitable aspect of what we were doing, but we found that it wasn’t a primary force when it came to making a decision to buy,” Kauss says. “People were buying because they loved the product.”
Kauss decided to focus on the unique design and quality of the bottle. Soon thereafter the product caught the attention of Oprah’s O Magazine and a mention there led to deals with various retailers, including Starbucks which now carries S’well products in thousands of its stores. That’s good for both S’well and the charities it supports.
Ravean is an apparel startup currently marketing its product, heated hoodies and jackets, through a Kickstarter campaign. Initially, the company marketed its products towards three broad groups: skiing, camping and outdoor enthusiasts generally.
“The response was terrible,” says Co-founder Bryce Fisher. “We pivoted by making our marketing location based within these same categories, but still got a very mild response.” While lots of people were seeing online ads the company placed and visiting its Kickstarter page, very few were committing to fund the project.
“We realised we had to target the people who already knew what Kickstarter was,” Fisher says. “This small change brought back two-three times ROI (return of investment) on our money, and then we began to split test by age, gender, and location, raising the ROI five times.”
Ravean started out with a goal to raise US$100,000 through its Kickstarter campaign, but it has blown past that, raising over US$1 million.
SODO makes high-end athletic clothing. The standard operating procedure for an athletic apparel company is to gather celebrity athlete endorsements to give the brand credibility and drive awareness and sales.
“We believed that paid athlete endorsements would be the key that would allow us to scale rapidly, just as it had for other brands like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour,” says Mark Nelson, Founder and CEO of SODO. “We engaged a lot of pro athletes by sending them gear to try out, and we got good feedback and started negotiating endorsement contracts, but as we spoke with the athletes’ agents and attorneys we started feeling like we were losing the sense of authenticity we had gotten from the athletes when they weren’t being paid.”
The SODO team started to wonder if perhaps it was a better statement of quality if it didn’t pay athletes to wear the clothing, but they wore it anyway.
SODO decided to change its strategy and now has over 40 pro athletes working behind the scenes to help it develop and refine the product. It has been able to save a lot of cash by deciding to not go down the endorsement road, yet sales are going strong with the clothing line available at select Nordstrom and REI stores, elite gyms, and the SODO Drop Shop, its mobile e-tail unit.
The lesson from each of these three examples is that when your business isn’t finding success, look for something small and easy you can modify, rather than assuming large, disruptive changes are necessary. Perhaps the simplest change is the right one, and you’re just a few feet away from striking gold.
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