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How to grow your sales when all looks lost – Pivoting your brand with confidence.How to grow your sales when all looks lost – Pivoting your brand with confidence.
March 22, 2023

How to grow your sales when all looks lost – Pivoting your brand with confidence.

Yesterday, I moved into an Airbnb just outside of Torquay in Australia. Completely off-grid and minimal, it has no oven.

Arriving late, we’d bought oven pizzas for dinner on the way, so had to improvise. Turns out, the BBQ does a pretty good job of cooking pizza. Who knew?!

While I won’t switch to BBQ pizzas permanently (it wasn’t that great), this experience reminded me of how products often excel at unintended uses. It’s usually customers who uncover the magic.

Take Play-Doh, for example. As a child, I adored it, but did you know it wasn’t originally designed for children’s entertainment?

How to pivot your brand with confidence — and avoid failure.

In the early 1900s, Noah McVicker invented a wallpaper cleaner at his family's soap company, Kutol Products. People rolled the off-white dough across their dirty walls to collect the soot produced by coal-burning furnaces.

Cleo, Noah's brother, struck a deal with Kroger grocery chain to sell the wallpaper cleaner. Though successful at first, the rise of vinyl wallpaper and the decline in coal furnaces reduced its demand.

In 1949, Cleo McVicker died in a plane crash. His son, Joseph, and son-in-law, Bill, came in to revive the company.

Luckily, Joseph found out his sister-in-law, Kay, had tried using the wallpaper cleaner at the nursery school she ran. Instead of its original use, it became an inexpensive material for the children to make Christmas ornaments with. It was non-toxic and a huge hit! They rolled it, kneaded it and used cookie cutters to make shapes with it.

So he went about rebranding the product as a children’s toy. And luckily, they had Kay’s creativity to help them! Joseph and Noah were going to call the toy “Rainbow Modeling Compound” – not the most inspiring of names! – but Kay and her husband Bob put their thinking caps on and came up with a much more child-friendly name: Play-Doh.

What followed? Kutol transformed from an obsolete cleaning product to a must-have children's toy.

They devised the ideal marketing approach, too. They convinced Bob Keeshan – better known as Captain Kangaroo – to use Play-Doh on his TV show each week in return for a percentage of sales. Business skyrocketed and remains strong today, with Play-Doh being inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998.

Under Hasbro's ownership, Play-Doh has sold over 3 billion cans in 80 countries worldwide.

By pivoting and marketing Play-Doh as a children's toy, the company found its product-market fit (PMF). Successful startups typically pivot twice before they find PMF, with 42% of startups still failing because of some combination of product/market factors.

Finding the market your product is best suited to is critical to your startup’s success. Being open to pivoting and being able to do it quickly is extremely important early on in your business journey.


Never assume everyone is using your product in the same way.

“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself” - Peter Drucker.

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How to find PMF by unearthing what your customers actually love about your product

To fully understand your customers, you need to observe them using your product in the right context. This is where focus groups and just talking to people about what they might have done often falls short and fails to provide the true insight that leads to nailing PMF.

So, here’s how to get started:

  1. Gather observational data. Observe customers as they interact with your product or service in real-life scenarios. This may include visiting your customers in their homes! Avoid relying solely on self-reported data, as this may not accurately represent their actual behaviour or preferences.
  2. Expand on your initial findings with more data. Combine qualitative and quantitative research to gather well-rounded insights: user interviews, surveys, and data analytics. You can also look for cues such as sentiment or common themes in word-of-mouth channels, watching how someone explains the value of your product to someone else.
  3. Identify patterns and trends. Analyse the collected data and insights to identify common patterns and trends that suggest what customers truly value about your service.
  4. Create user personas. Develop personas representing the core segments of people using your product based on your collected data. Include their preferences, pain points, and the aspects of your service they most appreciate.

With each of the above steps, you’re developing a set of hypotheses.

Next up:

  1. Experiment to test your hypotheses. With fully formulated hypotheses about what your customers love about your product, you can test them through experiments. For example, A/B test different landing pages or perform a ‘smoke test’ for a proposition you want to learn about but can’t deliver yet.
  2. Iterate and refine. Based on your findings and new insights, improve your product and proposition, but also continue to generate new hypotheses for testing.

Product-Market Fit is the point at which you’ve identified a target audience that is buying your product at the price you’re selling it and through the business model you’re using. For growth, you must also operate in a good-sized market within which those happy customers spread the word.

All the above steps and testing are with that goal in mind. So be prepared to test big ideas and pivot until you get there.

Test your:

  • proposition
  • messaging
  • audience
  • pricing
  • pricing model (one-off/subscription/membership etc.)

You’ll note I have NOT mentioned the ‘colour of your buttons’ or ‘heading font’. Focus on the big wins.

Once you’ve found product-market fit, that’s when to invest in a bigger brand strategy and a new visual identity.

Keep being an outlier 💪

J + K