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'What I learnt when I ‘did a pivot’ with my business last year' - lessons learnt from our CEO

It is very easy to get fed-up about the prospect of at least a couple more months of Coronavirus restrictions. It’s hard to imagine that there is anyone left in the country - even the perpetually optimistic – who isn’t absolutely exhausted by the ongoing effects of this dreadful virus.

We at JNI certainly are.

But I keep hearing people say things like ‘I can’t wait till things get back to normal’ or ‘I’ll focus on that when things are back to normal’. And every time I do, I think that we’re waiting for something that won’t come.

There is a whole new game out there now, its challenging to think about adapting to it. But it’s exciting too!

So, with the new year now upon us, more and more vaccines being granted approval by national governments, and a near-global desire to put 2020 behind us, JNI decided that we wouldn’t let it get us down. Instead, we want to use 2021 as an opportunity to look forward.

2021: the year of the pivot?

If there was a buzzword that defined the corporate landscape of last year, and may do the same for January and February for 2021, it would be ‘pivot’. I’ve heard it so much and I’m so very bored of it. If you aren’t yet, brace yourself, you will be. It’ll be the tagline for way too many round-table Zoom events and inter-departmental break away rooms at the beginning of this year.

‘Diversified vertical markets’, ‘realignment’, ‘creative solutions’, ‘shift of focus’, ‘greater business agility’, ‘portfolio revenue streams’. Could you build a collection of more boring phrases? Unfortunately, for anyone who reads business insider magazines, its these kinds of phrases that you’ll be seeing a lot of over the next couple of months.

Some of those phrases were in fact direct quotes from an article published by Forbes on what their journalists presume will be the trends that will drive small business in 2021.

Fortunately, as boring as the phrases used to describe ‘doing the pivot’ (as one Dutch newspaper calls it) are, what it actually means to do one is quite exciting.

The last year taught us a great many things. It taught us of the resilience of certain companies, the adaptability of others, and it showed us the previously unearthed brilliance of yet more. But it also highlighted that there were those that had become out of touch with their customers.

Changing direction can be exciting, it requires being inventive and creative. It forces you to sit down and have a long think about how you represent what your customers really want.

The businesses that successfully adapt to the changes we’re currently seeing will be a better representation of our society’s behavioural patterns. They will lay down the gauntlet for those that hope to follow in their footsteps or succeed them. They will develop new methods of doing things and new standards of good practice.

The times, they are a-changing. Businesses should take this as an opportunity.

So, how ‘to do a pivot’?

I’m writing this article because last year we did a pivot ourselves. At JNI, we had to make some pretty drastic changes to overcome some of the difficulties of this global pandemic. Hopefully, some of the considerations we made and the lessons we learnt doing so will be of use to those that are looking to make similar adjustments.

Before the pandemic, most of the branded merchandise we provided to our clients was distributed physically at launch parties, company get-togethers, or fairs. Obviously, with physical meet-ups curtailed, this had to change. So, we produced our online gift-giving platforms. We still provide branded merchandise but now we also provide the online mechanism for distributing it.

Our pivot took us online.

Our gift-giving platforms were the first of their kind and a truly inventive means of overcoming movement and event restrictions. By the tail-end of last year, they had become our best-selling products. The need to recognise and reward partners and employees while building a brand was still there. Our clients just needed a way to get their branded products to those people.

If I say so myself, the gift-giving platforms were a great mechanism for pivoting. They’re also a great example of the first important thing you need to do, before anything else, while adapting to 2021: redesign your business for e-commerce capability.


Your business might not be able to move itself online in quite the same way as we have in the branded merchandising industry. But it will need to work out e-commerce solutions to its current functionality. Unfortunately, if it doesn’t, those that might find your business online will almost certainly pass over your business in favour of one that allows them to conduct their transaction quickly, safely and efficiently with a few clicks of a mouse.

In 2021, every business has to have e-commerce capabilities. No ifs, no buts.

If the entirety of your selling mechanism cannot be conducted online, and with ease, you’re going to lose clients. Our industry, branded merchandising, has had to make greater leaps toward adaptation than most. But, we still did it. We couldn’t afford not to.

If you haven’t got the in-house skillset to adapt your business for e-commerce, don’t worry overly much. There are plenty of third-party providers that will take your transactional capabilities online. We used Confablo, who we’ve got a internal partnership with, so we knew we’d get good results and we have.

Its largely thanks to their incredible technical expertise that our gift-giving webstores sold so well.

Building a new revenue stream

The pivot is all about realigning your business with changing patterns in behaviour. When we were designing our webstores we tried to think about both how we took ourselves to market and what we were selling. The gift-giving platforms were a change to both those things.

For many companies adapting for e-commerce capability provides the how, my next piece of advice is consider if your business also needs to change the what.

There are loads of great examples of things businesses have done to adapt. We’ve all heard of the big design outlets producing PPE. But there are loads of other great examples: breweries using distillation by-products to produce hand sanitizer, mattress companies making face-masks.

Of course, your adaptation doesn’t have to move into pandemic related markets. A great example I’ve heard of is what Amsterdam-based babysitting company, Sitly, did. Sitly used to link babysitters with families and now it links those same care-givers with elderly folk who might need a hand picking up groceries. Inventive, compassionate; a great way of adapting.

Deciding in what ways your business can and should develop can be difficult but there are ways of thinking about it that can make the decision easier.

If we consider that your website now functions like a physical shopfront, thinking about changing the what of what you sell becomes a little easier. Potential customers have walked, digitally of course, into your store and so you’ve now got to consider what they’ll walk out with.

If you’re a pet insurance provider, for example, you know what has brought them there. You know they have a pet and they are concerned for its well-being.

If you’re the dog insurer looking to diversify your offering, you might consider selling light-up collars. If you’re a coffee shop, you might consider the online sale of beans sourced from a specific origin with the bean stamp featured on your merchandise collection. Get inventive.

As you do so, keep sustainability in mind. As we researched how to do our pivot, and as I read more and more about the trends predicted to define these first months of 2021, sustainability keeps coming up. So, don’t get left behind; trash landfills are full enough already!

Keep your message clear

The 2021, year of the pivot, adaptations will be built on one thing: how effectively a company digitises. One of the most important factors to consider as you do so, when designing or tweaking your website, is keeping your message clear.

We understand brand-building at JNI - it is our business - and so often we watch well-meaning companies throw their efforts into a website redesign or rebrand that works on one principle: new is better.

That simply isn’t true. New can be better but it isn’t automatically.

And it brings us to the first point of consideration that I think needs to be addressed when we interact with the notion of digitisation: projecting a clear message.

A business’ website has always been important but that importance is heightened now that it’s the only available portal between a business and its potential customers. And in the case of the website, clarity is better.

That’s what we decided when we shifted our marketing focus at the tail-end of last year and it’s the message espoused by Story Brand, the marketing consultancy firm used by Pantene and Intel. Your potential customers online are much more likely to leave your website without a purchase than they would be if they’d entered a physical store.

The online market knows its options are nearly endless and that the next one is only a few clicks away. Clarify your message, don’t let the reason they walked out be because they couldn’t understand what you sell.

It’s something we’ve considered quite a lot at JNI. Our website reads concisely: ‘Quality branded merchandise. Global or local’.

And we’ve applied that mantra to every avenue we use to interact with our clientele. Over the last year we’ve made sure that the messaging presented on our social media accounts is concise and consistent. We stuck to three main points that we wanted to stress to our potential customers. We kept it simple, we kept it clear.

Use what digitisation gives you

The second thing I want to talk about regarding digitisation is the importance of using the tools it gives you. The first couple of months of 2021 will be characterised by the fact that interactions between businesses and customers will be done, almost entirely, online.

That means a whole wealth of data is being constantly generated and it falls to the pivoting business to use that data properly. The CMO of Infosys India, providing his insight for The Drum, the well-known marketeers journalistic forum, makes the prediction, and it is easy to see why, that the companies which do the best over the next coming months will be those that informed their adaptations with data before they made them.

Digital first manoeuvring. If you’re going to alter your business’ operations this year do so after you’ve monitored how consumer patterns are shifting.


For those of you, like me, who have heard too much of the word ‘pivot’, I hope this article is the last you have to read on it. I also hope that some of what I learnt last year helps you or your company moving forward.

Adapting to this changing world is going to take some work. But it will be work well applied if it means turning 2021 into an opportunity instead of a downturn.

If you’ve decided that your business needs to change things up, then I hope what I learnt with JNI these last few months helps.

1. Make sure your customers can buy from you online, and make sure it’s easy for them to do so.

2. Consider why your customers come to you and what else you can provide for them when they’re there.

3. Have a clear purpose in your adaptation, and make sure it’s clear to everyone.

4. Make informed, data-first decisions on what you do next.

And good luck with the new year!

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