The art of pivot marketing

As businesses attempt to swiftly pivot their strategy during these uncertain times, Shane Capron considers the marketing parallels that we can draw from basketball.

We live in interesting times (unfortunately) where almost everything that we relied upon as sign-posts of normality have been removed from our daily routine:

  • A morning exercise class
  • Dropping the kids at school
  • Stopping for a coffee at your favourite cafe
  • Watching sport with friends

While we hope much of this returns to normal in time, right now we’re all having to change, adapt and pivot:

  • Watching Michael Jordan in ‘The Last Dance’ is exercise, right?
  • Home-schooling …. send help!
  • Bread makers are back, sourdough starter anyone?
  • Zoom happy hours, otherwise known as ‘wait your turn to talk’.

It’s no secret that marketers look for consumer behaviour trends to attach their offering to and capitalise on. Often trends are studied over time; hypothesis are formed around their relevance to the target audience, business cases are built and a consumer journey mapped. Time is whittled away to the point where trends become norms, and innovation turns to repetition.

Now more than ever, marketers must move fast and take an educated leap of faith. Act quickly to remain relevant. Don’t and it could be lights out for you, your team, and possibly even your company. It’s time to pivot. 

In basketball pivoting is the often swift action of the ball carrier to rotate around one planted foot. It helps avoid a defensive player, and find an opening to shoot, pass or dribble to the basket.

A marketing pivot is quite similar.

Plant a pivot foot
Start your pivot from a stable base. Shifting towards an emerging insight requires sound underlying lifecycle marketing touchpoints, otherwise new customers excited by the innovative approach will quickly tune out, and then churn out.

Act on instinct
Sports stars are admired for their ability to play on instinct. Without acting instinctively moves are telegraphed and easily defended. Pivot marketing is no different. If it’s in a ‘Trend Report’ you’re too late. Look for early indicators and make your move. Hesitation will result in failure. If you fear failure, start with a small budget and prove out your approach, then scale.

Find the opening
Every successful pivot relies on an ability to spot an opening not yet occupied by your opponents. This often isn’t easy, but as Go Daddy founder Bob Parsons once said, “if it were easy everyone would do it, and you wouldn’t have an opportunity”. So gather a few of your strongest strategic minds and map out your pivot playbook. Great plays take practise so know you’ll get better at executing over time.

Make it count
To execute a flawless pivot you not only need to find the unoccupied space on the court but you also have to fill it a memorable way. Your ‘razzle dazzle’ is the campaigns creative storytelling approach. It should align to your brands core values and importantly genuinely appeal to your fan base or target market. As Burger King marketing chief Fernando Machado says, “Crazy is spending money doing something that nobody will care about”.

Finish the job
The greatest sports stars are the ones who can deliver under pressure. Produce their best performance on the biggest stage. Executing a remarkable marketing pivot is no different. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey said: “Everyone has an idea. But it’s really about executing the idea and attracting other people to help you work on the idea.”

Most Valuable Pivot ‘MVP’
The best pivot brand in the business today is Burger King. Their latest pivot was a response to the titanic shift towards video conferencing. The opening they found was recognising Zoom wasn’t only a critical communication device but also an untapped marketing channel. Burger King used images of their OOH ads to create ‘unique’ branded backgrounds. Offering a free whopper offer to anyone who uses the images for calls. Simple, timely, creative and well executed.

It’s now time to get out on the court and practise your pivot. For perspective, Michael Jordan famously acknowledges missing more than 9,000 shots throughout his basketball career. Mike believes he succeeded because he wasn’t afraid to take the shot. So be brave, fail quickly, practise lots and enjoy the success that follows. When you do you’ll change the way customers perceive your brand.

Shane Capron is the consumer marketing director of PayPal International.