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Many brands seem to effortlessly execute and replicate strategies that gain engagement and loyalty, realize search visibility, and improve conversion rates over time. Yet, regardless of how robust their plan is, most businesses will go through a season when they need to implement a pivot in their marketing strategy. Sometimes the shift is monumental, and other times slight tweaks can have a ripple effect across channels.
I define a marketing pivot as an intentional change in strategy: a decision to adopt a new platform or channel, engage a new target audience, or create a different type of content. Knowing both when and how to pivot is necessary to stay nimble, and adapt your marketing approach when necessary.
One of the things I enjoy most about digital marketing is the ability to research, test, and implement opportunities quickly to make an impact on audience engagement. Yet, it’s important to evaluate your strategy, budget, and current approach before getting too excited about shiny new platforms and channel strategies. Pause and take a step back.
Every pivot should have a purpose. If your digital team ventures into a new strategy or platform without an agreement on the “why” behind that change, then it could be difficult to justify the expense, effort, and time. Pinpoint an opportunity or clarify the perceived reasoning behind a known issue before you chart the course for your pivot.
Here are some examples of when it might be time to consider a change to your digital strategy:
If any of these prompts resonate with the state of your strategy and spark excitement about finding a path forward, then keep reading to learn about how to effectively close a gap in your digital marketing approach. And if you know something isn’t working, but you’re not sure where to start, performing a marketing mix analysis or competitive analysis can help uncover traffic sources, users, or content that isn’t performing as well as it should be.
There are three ways I categorize pivots. Each has different motivations, financial support requirements, and expectations of results that can influence the pace and visibility of your plan. Identifying the type of shift you need or want to make as an owner of the strategy, channel, or team can help clarify urgency, timeline, and goals that are foundational for making a pivot in digital strategy. I’ve also included some questions to ask when preparing to address each type of pivot.
I associate these pivots with the “I have to/I need to” language from a marketing team. For example, “I have to improve organic traffic to this section of the site by the end of the year, or we will lose budget.” They are always time- and budget-bound, requiring a thorough plan. These opportunities can have a broad-range impact and carry amplified risk or reward for paving a new path forward. Plan your commitment and communication with leaders wisely by addressing these potential roadblocks early on:
These pivots, usually associated with “I want to” or “I want to learn,” are often driven by innovation and a desire to test from within a team. “I want to expand brand awareness and drive organic traffic with this audience by testing podcast advertising.” Because these changes are driven by a team closer to the day-to-day strategy, there’s usually more data and motivation on hand to support the change or pilot a test to inform directional results. Set your team up for success by asking the following questions:
There are times that tools and advertising platforms are updated and force change. Or, a new feature release encourages further investment in one platform over another. These shifts in advertising methods likely start with a “let’s try this” attitude. For example, “What would happen if we shifted our paid social budget from Facebook to Instagram, and started advertising on Pinterest to increase top-of-funnel awareness about our product?” Consider the following when changing or expanding a platform or tool:
One of the most important steps when making a change in strategy is documenting where you started. Get very clear on your goal and what you, your team, and your stakeholders aim to accomplish. Below is a template to get you started:
Next, set a measurable goal and KPIs you can use to track progress after launching your test and make decisions about how to evaluate performance and budget.
Once you have settled on the goals, it’s time to build your pivot plan. Don’t worry, you can always adjust, but having one in place makes things much less stressful in the midst of testing.
With a documented plan in place, it will be easier to gain buy-in from peers and leaders on making a change in strategy, no matter the size. Now, after all of that prep work, you’re ready to launch your pivot—exciting!
Pivoting is a necessity for survival in some industries, as advertising platforms evolve, and as audiences expect more from brands to which they are loyal. In digital marketing, the tools we use make it easier to test and transform strategies, expand audiences, and run experiments.
My most memorable projects at Portent have been coaching clients and team members through upgrading their digital strategy. But let’s be honest, some pivots do not go as planned, whether due to timing, depth of audience awareness and engagement, or not properly connecting implementation across channels.
Even when KPI progress doesn’t meet expectations, it doesn’t mean that the budget was a waste of time and effort. If you start your pivot plan with a baseline metric and hypothesis, it will be easy to look back and see how far you’ve come (e.g., if brand awareness increased and organic traffic rose by 15%). More importantly, you’ve gained valuable insight about your customers that you can apply to future initiatives, as well as the capabilities of your marketing team, who adapted to a new business approach and can now iterate on the process.
I once worked with a client who asked for a pivot plan with every strategy I recommended. She wanted to know that our team had clear performance metrics top of mind and that we were prepared to quickly make a change when initiatives didn’t proceed as planned. Proactive communication about pivots and their potential impact became a habit after six months of planning and launching a new site and building an audience for her brand.
You might not be recommending frequent digital marketing strategy changes with a rapidly evolving brand or a demanding manager right now. Still, chances are you will in the future. I hope these tips help you confirm or organize a plan for how to execute and communicate your next pivot effectively.
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