Pivoting in a Pandemic


Dr. David Hagenbuch, Ethicist and Professor of Marketing, Messiah College, Author of Honorable Influence, Founder of MindfulMarketing.org  

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  Evaporating demand due to COVID-19 has caused many industries to sour, yet some innovative organizations continue to score in unexpected sweet spots.  Thanks to creative thinking and agile adjustments of their marketing plans, certain companies have rapidly repositioned themselves for productivity uninfected by the virus.

Serious fans of basketball are familiar with an offense skill, not often employed in the current era of three-point shooting: the pivot foot.  In order to move with the ball, a player must, of course, dribble.  Once he stops and holds the ball, he can’t dribble again; however, he can still move provided that one ‘pivot’ foot remains planted on the floor.

Few basketball players use their pivot foot to its full potential, but those who do can adeptly avoid defenders’ grasps by turning their bodies 180 degrees, or even in full circles.  Doing so, they can make what may have looked like a lost possession into an amazing pass or a spectacular shot.

The coronavirus has caused many organizations to ‘pick up their dribble,’ stopping them in their tracks.  Some companies, however, have realized that both feet don’t need to be bolted to the floor.  They can still pick up one foot and pivot, finding profitable new opportunities, sometimes in a direction opposite the one they were facing.

A few firms that have made very ‘hard pivots’ are those that have decided to manufacture products they never made before, including ones crucial for lessening the pandemic’s impact:

  • 3M, Ford, and GE are partnering to produce respirators desperately needed by those suffering from the harshest effects of COVID-19.  The companies are “repurposing existing parts and hundreds of workers in a wartime-like battle against the outbreak.”   
  • Leveraging its 3D printing capabilities, Ford is also expecting to produce 100,000 face shields per week, which frontline healthcare workers need to protect themselves from the dangerous droplets that coughing and sneezing patients propel.
  • Many companies have started manufacturing for the first time the smaller, lighter face masks that people increasing wear to avoid spreading the virus if  sick, or to avoid contracting it if healthy.  Some of the mask producers include Carhartt, Eclipse International, and Gap.  Even high-end fashion brands like Burberry, Dior, and Giorgio Armani have promised some of their production capacity. 
  • With Purell and its competitors unable to meet demand, several companies we wouldn’t expect also are now bottling hand sanitizer, including distilleries of Anheuser-Busch and Pernod Ricard, the maker of Absolut Vodka.  According to FoodDive, “Drinking alcohol and rubbing alcohol are not identical substances, but they can be used as substitutes for each other.”

The preceding pivots are in the spirit of President Trump’s invocation of the Defense Production Act, which allows a commander-in-chief to divert civilian manufacturing capacity and resources to the production of goods that promote national defense.

Meanwhile, other organizations have seen market disruption in their own industries and moved decisively to capitalize on the resulting opportunities.  Those pivots have often involved emphasizing specific goods and services that complement the ways many of us have been forced to adapt our daily lives, for instance:

All of the above are prudent pivots; however, one of the most significant ones I’ve seen comes from an organization you may not know, unless you have a child between the ages of two and eight who likes soccer.

“Driven by the belief that a positive experience with sports can make a lasting impact on a child’s life,” Soccer Shots teaches soccer skills and life skills in affirmational ways to the youngest of athletes.  Since opening its first franchises in 1997 in Charlotte, NC and Harrisburg, PA, the company has grown to nearly a half million enrollments in 37 states and Canada.

As one might expect, Soccer Shots’ business model is based on face-to-face interactions between coaches and kids in physical spaces.  So, how does an in-person organization respond when social distancing directives don’t just spread the field, they end the game?  The player pivots. 

The company has swiftly created “Soccer Shots on the Go,” a virtual sports education program that allows young people to learn soccer skills with Soccer Shot coaches, in the safety of their homes.  Soccer Shots Franchising (SSF) describes the program:

Soccer Shots On The Go uses our expert-approved curriculum to help families get moving and have some fun…at home! Each week, you’ll receive an age-appropriate video packed with soccer skills, character development and creative ways to stay active. Soccer Shots On The Go also includes activities and resources for the entire family delivered directly to your email.

The notion that learning soccer ‘online’ can’t be quite the same as learning it on the field is not lost on Steve King, executive director of the company’s Harrisburg-York, PA region.  He readily acknowledges the difference and puts in perspective:

“Certainly there are some different or missing components compared to being in-person, including the child-coach interaction for which we are so well- known, but the quality of the video sessions is terrific, and our longtime experience with child development and curriculum-based programming is seen in both how the videos are produced and how the child is engaged with the coach who is on-screen.”

Helping others survive the devastating health and economic impacts of coronavirus comes first, then individuals and organizations should think how they can thrive amid the challenges.  In the face of unprecedented disruption, Soccer Shots co-founder Jason Webb cheers his team for making just that kind of “impressive pivot,” skillfully creating “a quality, professional-produced program alternative” for all those Soccer Shots serves.

Sometimes anguish is unavoidable, but pivoting in the face of pain is Mindful Marketing.”

About the Author: Dr. David Hagenbuch is a Professor of Marketing at Messiah College, the author of Honorable Influence, and the founder MindfulMarketing.org, which aims to encourage ethical marketing.