'Pivot' is a word I've heard a lot in the past few months, especially as more and more companies make the decision to change the focus of their business. The idea is to keep one foot firmly planted in your core business while using the other to explore a different direction. The move generally results in the company making a slight course correction, and growing as a result.
The danger arises when you decide to pivot your business without conducting any kind of research or consultation with your existing customers. Just ask Netflix. Its pivot involved spinning off its existing DVD-rental customers and keeping only the streaming business under the Netflix brand. Unfortunately, the company's customers didn't like that idea. In fact, they were vehemently to opposed it. So much, in fact, that Netflix's pivot ended up being more of a pirouette, and the company was forced to scrap its plans.
Now, I'm not privy to any information regarding the research Netflix did before attempting to mess with a brand that customers loved. However, considering the chosen name for the new business was already taken on Twitter, I suspect the decision was made very high up. I can almost picture the excited boardroom discussions that included all of the company's executives, investors, business partners, and, well, not a single customer.
That's exactly what I want to help you avoid. Customers don't like change. Unless you're Apple, customers generally don't like to have their boat rocked or their world turned upside down. Changing your logo, canceling a product, or even a simple pivot, can lead to disaster—unless you figure out how to bring the customer into the decision process.
Here are some ways you can do that.
Send out a survey
Here's the thing with surveys, you have to review the results with some skepticism. Customers may tell you they'd pay for a new product you plan to make, or will stick with you, should you change pricing, but what customers think they'll do and what they will actually do, can often be very different. Still, that doesn't mean you shouldn't find ways to survey them on a regular basis. Whether you're sending e-mail surveys or setting up feedback loops, if your customer feels like they are being listened to, they'll be less likely push back come pivot time. And, you may find clues that your upcoming shift might cause more complaints than you had predicted.
Use your Facebook page
If your company already has a Facebook fan page, I guarantee you that it will be one of the first places disgruntled customers head to, should you make a decision they don't like. So, with that in mind, use your Facebook fan page to engage your customers and seek their feedback on anything that could change the course of your company. While you don't want to tip your hand to your competitors, you can be subtle in seeking feedback from your audience.
Thanks to the wonders of social media monitoring and measurement, you can gather a lot of information about your Twitter followers. With tools such as Klout, you can determine the influence a particular customer has on Twitter. These are the ones you should monitor closely and get an idea of what they like and don't like about your company—or competitors. What small decisions you've made have led to praise or criticism? You'll start to get a picture of how your big branding shift will be received.
Once you've identified the Twitter users that exert the most influence on your company's brand, it's time to reach out to them.
Before making any major pivot with your brand, you should identify the customers, critics and business partners that have the most influence with their blogs, forums or Twitter accounts. Create a Customer Counsel and invite them to join it. If your company is large enough, fly them out to your headquarters and sit down in a room to get their feedback on your planned move. Not only are they more likely to buy-in to your decision, but you may just find they have some great feedback too.
When it comes time to make the announcement, you're more likely to find smooth sailing thanks to the support of these newly minted advocates.
Run a contest
This last suggestion is particularly suited to smaller businesses that are preparing to make a major shift in direction or branding. Run a contest and ask your existing customers to come up with your new logo or suggest a new product or service. You don't have to promise you'll use their idea, but you may just find that your customers come up with something that would have taken you time and money to figure out with on your own. You've created engagement and excitement to boot!
I want to leave you with an alternative stance you can take when making a major pivot. Just do it and push on through. Sure, Gap appeared to win brand loyalty by reversing its logo redesign, but just one year on, that loyalty has not helped the company--which recently announced it will be closing 21 percent of its stores in the U.S. Meanwhile Facebook is constantly criticized for changes it makes to its social platform, yet rarely reverses course. It's hardly struggled as a result!
Sometimes you have to perserve and push on, regardless of what your customers tell you. After all, as Henry Ford once put it, "if I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have said "a faster horse".