MOVING MATTERS: Navigating business through an ever-changing context
Published on 09 July 2020
The Chief Entrepreneur calls it a pirouette. Others call it a pivot. Jargon aside, both terms generally refer to changing your business to meet a new market, positioning new products and reaching new customers or positioning yourself differently with existing customers.
Something Jason Foss has experience with in his own business, Almost Anything.
When he first started in 1997, his business was called Almost Anything Desktop Publishing. The business purchased their first colour inkjet printer and started selling printed collateral for clients.
“We were doing some graphic design and newsletters as well as some business cards and a few bits and pieces like that.
“In the early days we were doing a bit of web design as well. The web was a bit of a strange and scary place for a lot of people in 1997, so there was not a lot of that work going on,” Jason reflects.
Fast-forward seven years to 2004 and this is when Jason’s business had a name change and went through a slight rebranding process in order to keep up with the times.
“At that stage desktop publishing just made us look completely out-of-date.
“We dropped the Desktop Publishing, introduced the Web and Graphic Design into the business name, which stuck with us for close to 15 years,” Jason reflects.
The business began introducing sign writing services and between 2005 - 2015, it experienced substantial growth as the web became mainstream.
During this time, Jason saw more businesses transitioning away from spending big money with the Yellow Pages in favour of business websites.
“Around 2015 we noticed that almost anyone could put up a website. Many of the really technical barriers that had held people back from making a website, had started to come down with the emergence of DIY sites such as Squarespace, Shopify and Wix.
“A common thing we were finding was a lot of businesses struggled with finding the right content to put on their webpages,” Jason admits.
When he asked businesses, "Why would I buy from you instead of somewhere else? What makes you distinctive or unique? Why you?", the majority of business owners either admitted they did not know, or would rattle off the usual clichés of being local and offering good service.
“That's not different. That's not distinctive. There's nothing unique there." It got us thinking, "There's a real gap here. Business owners struggle to answer that question all of the time,” Jason says.
Jason and his team started doing some research and upskilling in terms of branding by helping businesses figure out what made them different, and packaging workshops based around this.
Once again, the focus of the business started to move away from the technical side of things, to solving these problems they kept seeing repeatedly.
EYES WIDE SHUT
So how do you spot a problem or trend as a pivoting opportunity for your business?
According to Jason, it’s a matter of keeping your eyes open.
“Xerox invented the graphical user interface, the mouse and what we consider these days, a modern computer. But Xerox still make photocopiers.
“Microsoft and Apple took that idea and went where they went. Xerox invented it but they didn't do anything with it.
“Kodak invented the digital camera and didn't do anything with it.
“Uber's done it to the taxi industry and iTunes did it to the record industry.
“All you've got to do is keep your eyes open to what's happening. I've always been looking at what's coming that we need to be aware of?
“Because it's no point continuing to do the same thing over and over and over and over again because sooner or later, you'll get run down,” Jason cautions.
He maintains no business is immune from this. Customer interactions are vital in knowing what problems they are having and using those patterns to do something about it.
“If there's a hole there you can help them with, then do something about it. I guess pivoting is the new term for that. But just be aware. Keep your eyes open,” he urges.
ON TREND, ONLINE
While Jason adopts a low-tech, customer-based approach to pivot-worthy market trends, SmartHub Business Manager Elize Hattin says there are online tools which can help the search for emerging trends.
- https://www.trendhunter.com/ - Sparks new ideas as the world's #1 largest, most powerful trend platform. They unlock insights with a global network of 253,140 Hunters, billions of views, AI and a skilled team of Researchers and Futurists.
- https://trends.co/ Expand your network and discover the next big business idea before it explodes. Understand upcoming market trends, receive their premium weekly report, access their database of research, and network with the smartest people they know.
“There are people in the business of spotting trends and depending on your market, sites like these might or might not be a good fit for your business. Businesses can get some insight just having a look at their websites.
“Crowdfunding websites also give you an idea of what the customers are looking for and what they're willing to pay for,” Elize says.
Jason encourages businesses to also use their heads and be aware of what's happening and how it can apply to what you're doing.
He says his is a local business who looks after other local businesses.
I bring it back to what we changed to, to doing more branding work, the bigger organisations have been doing this for some time, and they spent squillions of dollars doing it in focus groups and studies and research and that sort of thing.
“But that doesn't apply to a local business, they can't afford to do all that. They need to cherry-pick some of the things that are practical and achievable," Jason encourages.
MORE THAN BUSINESS CARDS
What value does working on my branding bring to my business?
Jason is quick to clarify branding is more than a logo and a set of business cards.
“A brand is basically what your customers think about you. It's their gut instinct into what they think about you and your business.
“You can't set your brand because your customers decide what it is based upon their experience with you, but what you can do is put some things in place to help influence and guide that,” Jason explains.
He says first impressions really count, using Chemist Warehouse as a good example of effective branding.
“People might look at that brand and that logo and think it’s as ugly as they come, but for them it's perfect because they've positioned themselves as a budget option and having cheap prices. What they've done visually, is spot on for them,” he clarifies.
Jason says in terms the visual parts of a brand, businesses need to align with where you're trying to be; Are you trying to be better? Are you trying to be cheaper?
He explains the branding is what happens before you start implementing anything; it is the emotional attachment your customer has to you, your business and the positioning and strategy.
SIGNS OF THE TIME TO CHANGE
What might a trigger for change or repositioning your business to where the market is going, look like?
Jason says a good sign would be not getting traction, despite your marketing efforts.
“You're busy on Facebook posting and you're busy posting stuff on Instagram, and you're busy doing this, but you don't feel like you're getting any traction anywhere … that's a really big sign because what that tells me is that nobody cares about what you're trying to say,” Jason admits.
When working with his clients, Jason says one of the first things they do is identify their ideal customer and who they are trying to talk to.
“What's important to the business owner is not important to the customer. What's important to them is quite different. You can't read the label of the jar you're in.
“You need to get inside the head of the customer and look at your jar from the outside, not from the inside,” he urges.
Looking at your current customer base, Jason says the next step is to ask who are your favourites and who do you want more of?
“From their point of view, the challenges is, they don't know as much as you think they know about what you do.
“We strike this a lot…businesses say they are X industry. Everybody in my industry knows this.
“No, I bet you they don't. I'll bet you your customers don't know anywhere near as much about what you do as you think. I can put people on the spot. It's like, "Well, okay, how much do you know about what I do? Because, you're my customer, so using your logic, you should have the same knowledge as me,” he questions.
Assume that your customer knows a lot less than you think they do.
From there, Jason says to question, why choose you instead of somebody else?
“If your first answer is, "Oh, we're local and we offer good service," you'll find me snoozing in the background, because that's about the most boring, undifferentiated thing you can say,” he warns.
It is possible to pick one and dive deep, Jason says, using Domino’s Pizza as a real life example of doing this.
“Domino’s drilled down ‘we provide great service’ to ‘ we have fast delivery’ but went even further and said "It's delivered in 30 minutes or it's free."
“They went completely over the top and that was really successful for them.
For those businesses stuck at ‘providing good service’ as their point of difference, Jason challenges them on how good and how much are you prepared to back it?
“Good service is not a good enough differentiator. I'm still bored,” he exclaims.
HOW DO YOU MAKE YOUR CIGARETTES?
Jason quotes a scene from Mad Men, a popular TV period drama set in a 1960’s advertising agency, during which the creative team is trying to do is figure out how they're going to advertise cigarettes following a Reader's Digest exposé that they cause cancer.
He explains that the character Don Draper, the hero of the scene, asks the cigarette executives, "How do you make your cigarettes?"
“They went through the process. And he said, "It's toasted. I'm going to use that." On the blackboard it went and their response, "Well, everybody's is toasted." And he said, "Well, no. Everybody else's is poisonous, yours is toasted,” Jason quotes.
This technique is known as making the invisible, visible. To explore this, Jason encourages businesses to ask what is it you do in your business that you take for granted and could put your personal spin on it.
You have established your new positioning, you have decided you need to make a change … how do you transition that internally and operationally? If you employ people, how do you get them to change with you when people generally dislike change?
Jason says sometimes the change is relatively minor, being more of a matter of communication than operational. In this case, he says you simply change your communications on your website, social media. TV or radio advertising.
If it's an operational change, Jason believes it's always advantageous, to have your key staff involved in the strategy workshops as well.
“That way they've got a bit of ownership over what's happened, they've contributed. We find in those circumstances is operational changes become a lot easier because your staff are a bit invested in the decision as well.
“They're as excited about the new direction as you are and they're on board. The more you can involve staff in the process, the easier it is to then pivot and chase the new opportunity,” Jason encourages.
Elize agrees, saying one of her earliest career lessons was that every single person in your business has a perspective that is worth listening to because they are the expert of the little bit of the thing that they do.
MIND THE GAP
Jason’s final advice to business owners is expect to make mistakes.
“When you pivot your business off in a different direction, it is a form of innovation. You're moving into new ground, you're into some uncharted territory, and if you're innovating, mistakes will happen.
“If you don't make a mistake, you haven't innovated, really. Find them, learn from them, but don't get upset with people or don't get upset with staff or anything like that. It's part of the process,” he says.
The seasoned business owner says some of his earliest mistakes included trying to do everything himself and not getting external advice, admitting money is an issue when starting up.
“You've got to bootstrap and do it as cheap as you can, but not seeing an accountant and not doing those sorts of things actually, in hindsight, cost us a lot of money and a lot of opportunity.
“Get the experts to help you out, so that you can focus on what it is that you do well”, Jason advises.
Since his business began exploring branding and who their ideal customer was, Jason admits a lack of focus in what they were delivering to has come back to haunt them on more than one occasion.
“That's the advantage of having a clear strategy, knowing who you serve and what problems you're solving,” he advocates.
For further reading on the subject, Jason recommends Marty Neumeier's books, Zag and The Brand Gap.
Jason Foss is a strategic thinker, a deep thinker, a problem solver and is all things digital. He is the founder of Rockhampton-based branding agency Almost Anything and a member of SmartHub.
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