Art of the Pivot

In today’s rapidly changing world, it is often necessary to alter marketing direction somewhat rapidly.  This often leads to confusion and uncertainty in the rest of the organization.  Care must be taken to show how things are moving from one point to another.  Everyone must see that these moves are deliberate and well thought out rather than random acts of trying anything that might work.

I once had a wise mentor who talked about the importance of stability in an organization and used the toy top as a metaphor for organizational control and chaos.  He said that when you were on top of an organization you should view the direction you give as similar to holding a spinning top in your hand.  As kids we all tried to move our hand steadily, slowly and deliberately so that the spinning top continued to spin in our hand as it moved around.  If we jerked a little the top would wobble and eventually fall out of our hand to the ground.  The same is true when leading an organization.  Movements must be made so the top continues to spin in the hand.

When running a brand, it is also important to always consider the toy top as you make changes.  What seems like a simple change to you often gets magnified greatly by the time it gets to the other layers of the company and it could easily cause the top to fall over.  Eric Reis coined a concept that is getting a ton of attention now.  He talks about “pivoting” rather than just jumping all over the place.  Like the toy top, this is also a useful concept about how to implement change.  Take a quick look at the attached piece in Forbes by Martin Zwilling that shows how this idea can be used.

A simple way of looking at the “pivot” concept is to think of a basketball player.  Once the player stops dribbling as long as he keeps one foot in place, his pivot foot, he can move the other foot all over the place.  The same is true when you change marketing direction.  You can pivot as long as you keep all the learnings and good things from prior work in place and just move from there.  Just like deliberately moving the top, you need to give thought and a careful explanation when moving from one point to the next through a pivot.

One of the issues seen in the marketing mix of too many products is that things don’t seem all that tied together.  Maybe they are and maybe they are not, but for some reason it doesn’t seem that way.  More communication may be needed to explain how things fit together and how something done last year has evolved into a modified idea for this year.  One of the problems may be that in recent times there are so many folks assigned to a marketing team and the teams are often organized by the tactical areas they administer.  Each person manages a set of projects and for whatever reason things don’t always appear to be linked to what the others on the team are doing.

There is nothing that demonstrates organizational dysfunction as much as sales representatives and even leaders talking about the marketing function as people who just put out a bunch of things for them to use.  They think that the role of marketing is similar to that of a short order cook, who simply takes the order from Sales, cooks it up quickly and delivers it for their use if they decide it is worthwhile.  Marketing allows this to happen because they have not put in place a solid explanation as to how things in the mix all tie together and how they all work off each other.  I guess you could say the vision and strategy for the brand might not have been communicated throughout the organization.

Talking about a marketing plan and how things evolve, either dramatically or even slowly, is a little like telling a story.  Always remember to connect all the pieces.  Always remind people where things were in the past and why and how things changed over time.  Take the time to connect the dots and point out where and why pivots were made.  Make it exciting and interesting, like a story.  Keeping the top spinning is an art, but it is sure fun to watch when it is done right.

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