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The Great Pivot: 5 Tips for Pivoting During the Pandemic

Amid the economic downturns and doubt, panicking has transformed into pivoting. Faced with the possibility of dwindling sales and new operational hurdles, many businesses are shifting product offerings and services in the wake of COVID-19. 

Instead of surrendering to uncertainty, companies have created innovative opportunities by identifying gaps and creatively adapting to the market’s current needs. Not every business is set up to withstand social distancing measures, but with the right amount of dexterity, companies have found inventive ways to reassess business models and stay connected with customers.

Here are five tips for successfully leaning into the pivot:

 

1. Listen to your customers. 

In times of crisis or drastic change, it’s easy for businesses to talk to customers. Instead, businesses must first listen. This is the time to better understand customer sentiment both within and outside of your industry. You may decide to initiate customer feedback surveys to understand their current concerns and challenges, or you could reach out to a broader market and send out audience surveys on a larger scale. This is also the time to closely monitor the news and social channels to identify customer pain points arising because of the pandemic. By keeping your finger on the pulse, you can better deploy strategies that fit the needs of your community. 

 

2. Repurpose, reposition, or reimagine. 

When you’ve identified your customers’ challenges, you’ll be able to personalize your offerings to truly match their demands. Assess your current products or services to see if there are any immediate ways you can meet the market’s current demands. Next–and here’s the fun part–identify ways you can pivot your products or services to meet customer needs. Think outside the conventional perimeters of your industry. Crowdsourcing ideas from an external audience for this brainstorm may also lend themselves to ideas you would not have considered internally.

We’ve seen countless ways businesses have pivoted during this global pandemic. When the fashion industry saw an immediate and desperate need for personal protective equipment, designers like Christian Siriano pivoted from couture to face mask production

Many restaurants felt an immediate impact from shelter-in-place orders across states. But they also realized the need for grocery essentials, many of which were dwindling at supermarkets but were in ample supply at their restaurants. Businesses like Panera began selling these key items–such as milk, eggs and bread–directly to customers who needed them. The fast-casual chain named this program Panera Grocery. In many cases, businesses have what customers need, they just have to find a way to make it operational and marketable.

 

3. Be sensitive. 

It’s imperative to remember that pivoting does not mean exploiting. Businesses must understand consumers’ anxiety over spending in this current economy. There is still a strong desire in most communities to stimulate the economy and support local businesses. However, businesses must be mindful of their messaging and the naming of products and services. Avoid messaging that leads with fear or overly aggressive tones. Customers are seeking peace, not more uneasiness.

One example of a poorly named product is Tom Brady’s recent supplement release. His health and wellness brand TB12 recently launched an immunity blend called Protect, and was instantly criticized for exploiting coronavirus fears. Any messaging during this time must be made with the utmost thoughtfulness and empathy. Be sure to consult your team or even poll an audience on branding and naming before launching your pivoted product or service. 

 

4. Communicate with transparency. 

Whatever your pivot or strategy is, it needs to be properly communicated. Be sure to keep your website and social media channels up to date with your latest operational news and hours. Customers want to know if you’re still operating and in what form or fashion. Transparency builds trust, so don’t be afraid to be candid with your customers. Share your plans, strategy and timeline–the more information you can provide, the better. If you are continuing operations, be sure to include what you’re doing to ensure that both employees and customers are protected and safe. In a time where we all yearn for stability, the more you can communicate and provide reassurance to your audience, the better.

It’s extremely important that your current marketing materials and collateral are up to date and reflect the current environment. Review the ads that are currently running and be prepared to cease those that may be considered tone-deaf. Caribou Coffee recently went viral because its coffee sleeves inappropriately stated, “Fight the urge to remain indoors.” The coffee company had ordered the sleeves pre-pandemic but failed to assess and consider how tasteless that messaging is in today’s climate. 

 

5. Be prepared to pivot again. 

These are unprecedented times and none of us know what lies ahead. Even after your business has pivoted, continue to check in with your team and customers. Consumer needs and spending habits will continue to shift and you must be ready to evolve with those changes. 

We’re stronger together and this may be a good time to consider partnering with other businesses or organizations as you pivot. The pandemic has prompted unlikely partnerships such as United Airlines and Clorox. The brands have come together to launch United CleanPlus in which Clorox products are used and available throughout the terminal and airplanes in order to enhance people’s safety and promote health. 

The pivot is truly having a moment. A global pandemic was the catalyst for the great pivot of 2020 and has forced businesses to acclimate to our ever-evolving virtual world. Stay-at-home orders and social distancing have left gaps in the market, and businesses are discovering ways to fill those gaps. While temporary for some, others have shifted their models completely for the long term. 

Although there is no universal strategy, businesses that are nimble, compassionate and transparent will thrive. When we make it to the other side, your business may look different than when it started. But trust that you will make it to the other side. 

From previous recessions, we know that crises can spur greatness.

 


 

Darpan Munjal headshot for Crunchbase article - pivoting during pandemic

Darpan Munjal is the founder and CEO of Squadhelp.com, the world’s No. 1 brand-naming platform and a two-time Inc 500 company. He frequently contributes thought leadership content on branding, naming, entrepreneurship, and technology to major publications including Forbes and Entrepneur.com.