October 12, 2020

The Virtual CMO Podcast

Change is constant, but not everyone accepts it. Some organizations pivot in business and some companies don't ,and fail. Some leaders step-up their game and recognize the need for change. Others steadfastly continue with business as usual. Understanding how to make your business successful in the 21st century requires leaders to spot trends, understand that change is often required, and adapt to new marketplace realities. 

In this episode, author Allen Adamson gives us tips and insights on optimizing your business for change and makes the case for how companies successfully made a pivot. The Five Echelon Group's Founder/CMO Eric Dickmann has an in-depth conversation with the co-founder of Metaforce and renowned author of "BrandSimple" and "BrandDigital"-Professor Allen Adamson, about how to effectively and smartly pivot in business. They discuss how Apple thrived, IBM shifted, and what can be learned from Kodak's missed opportunities and Blackberry's stubborn failures as they discuss his new book, "Shift Ahead."

Allen Adamson is an author, professor, and co-founder of Metaforce. He is a recognized industry guru in all disciplines of branding. Adamson received his BS from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, and an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. Aside from being a book author, Allen is also an esteemed business speaker and industry commentator who has given talks in premiere shows like NBC’s Today Show, CNBC’s Squawk Box and Closing Bell, and Fox Business Network. He, too, is a frequent guest lecturer in New York University’s Stern School of Business, Cornell University, and the Harvard School of Continuing Education. Allen Adamson, in his term with North America of Landing Firms, was able to strike major partnerships with many notable companies such as P&G, Unilever, Sony, FedEx, and HBO. Allen is a man of many things; he too has authored many books to help businesses. His upcoming book “Shift Ahead: How the Best Companies stay relevant in a Fast-Changing World.” is a definite must-read.        

Why Shift Ahead?

Shifts require bold action. Allen Adamson’s and Joel Steckel’s insightful business book "Shift Ahead," teaches leaders to adapt to the faster-changing world. A pivot in business takes time, effort, and money to make the end goals successful; this book recognizes these lessens and offers a straightforward and specific strategy to stay ahead of the curve, competition, and evolving demands of the market. Shift Ahead is jam-packed full of interviews with CEOs and experts in diverse fields discussing how the smartest companies and organizations shift their strategies to stay relevant in the face of exponential changes. Everything from technology, the forces of globalization, politics, culture, consumer tastes, and human behavior. Staying relevant, competitive, and profitable is tough, but having this book can provide an edge to stand out above other competitors. If you want to execute change and overcome obstacles while maintaining your authenticity and competitiveness, you must SHIFT; to stay credible, you must FOCUS.

Most of us find it hard to keep pace with everything that is going on in our world. Innovations are everywhere, and updates are consistently being fed to us. In 2019, figures showed that 90% of the business population represents small and medium-sized enterprises. How many of that 90% are willing to pivot in business to serve their clients better and gain more in the long run? In Avishai Abrihami's "3 Rules for Making a Successful Pivot", he defines a pivot in business as the art of recognizing that the pursuit of a specific idea, direction, or product - in which you've invested significant time, money, and energy – is no longer the correct path to follow. The people's preferences change from time-to-time, and you should learn how to keep up with the trends.

Here are Abrihami's 3 rules in making a successful pivot:

  1. Be gusty, not foolish.
  2. Be transparent
  3. Don't look back.
Benefits of digital pivot in business

The Wrong Mindset

Allen's colleague, Professor Scott Galloway says: "Universities have been slow to change, and have been doing the same basic thing for years. They haven't been forced to innovate." Allen Adamson believes that universities should be starting to shift ahead by developing new, efficient, and conventional means of instruction to cope better during these times. University seeks to shape the multidimensional experience of the student (academics, sports, social, food), but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the schools are only able to achieve one-dimensional instruction. Most educational institutions settle with traditional teaching approaches and methods of learning. Allen tells us that this "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mindset of universities is just wrong because they have been ill equipped to handle the monumental changes required by remote learning, social distancing, and other factors brought to light by the pandemic. Educators must learn how to keep up with the fast-paced environment by stepping out of their comfort zones and taking risks instead of the familiar and easy.

Businesses relationship with digital transformation

Keeping Your Business Relevant

Today, we are inundated with data about our businesses. This amount of information can be overwhelming for many business owners and often, it's unclear what story the data is telling. You probably remember the company, Radio Shack, which had been selling electronics to hobbyists for many years. Over time, their market declined as more mainstream retailers started selling the kinds of electronic devices consumers wanted. Despite the drastic decline in customer purchases and satisfaction, the company struggled to adapt to new marketplace realities. Shortly before they completely shut down operations, they made efforts to recover by significantly changing their brand positioning. It sounded good, but they were too late. Customer service was inefficient, the brand was perceived as old and tired, and they didn't have the funds to retrain their staff. If they only chose to execute this strategy years before, the tables could have turned for them.

Many companies tend to not differentiate on anything but price. That's a red flag! A bigger competitor can easily squeeze you out of the market. Products and services need to have perceived value beyond price to have staying power in a highly competitive marketplace. Even low price leaders like Wal-Mart and Amazon are constantly innovating because they know low prices aren't enough. Case studies reveal that if you wait for sales to start falling, it may be too late for you to recover. You need to be constantly looking ahead.

Allen adamson

Shift ahead and do something new if you're struggling to keep the lights on.” 

Sales is a lagging indicator; when sales start falling, pivoting can be difficult. There's a temptation to double down on existing strategies instead of looking to see of a more significant change in your business is required. Maybe your company's strategic plan isn't relevant anymore and it's already time for you to change your business model and reconstruct your sales approach. The one barometer that business owners often pay the most attention to is profit. But cutting expenses to squeeze additional profits can sometimes hide the fact that your business has fundamentally changed. If you wait too long to acknowledge that something's wrong, you could be facing some serious challenges to get the company back on track. It's hard to shift ahead and is often a risky bet but the struggle is part of the process. A pivot in business will require you to take risks before getting the plan right. You have to keep your head in the game!

Struggles of Kodak and Blackberry

Many businesses continuously fail to watch the trends and end up being beaten by emerging competitors. Kodak was recently awarded a government contract to create pharmaceutical chemicals for generic drugs. Years before their decline, they had spun off a pharmaceutical division thinking it wasn't a good business to be in. They didn't see the changes ahead and were fearful of hurting their existing core business.

Years ago, Kodak was a pioneer in film photography but was wiped out by the digital revolution. They knew that the digital era was coming, and even had some of the first patents on the technology, but chose to protect current chemical profits rather than risk moving into this up and coming digital revolution. If only they have decided to pivot their business to digital products they could have been a leader in today's digital world. Often, companies are fearful of investing in shifting direction because they are scared of making mistakes, taking risks, and sacrificing short-term profits. Wall Street does not often reward risk taking or long-term thinking. It's fine for a business to enjoy the profits earned, but keep in mind that tomorrow's gain is not guaranteed because competition is always changing. 

Systems of Intelligence

Another brand that was vaporized because they failed to transition is Blackberry. Allen says that Blackberry felt invincible to change, to the point that they were so confident that the market would always embrace their devices with keyboards and reputation for security. With the introduction of Apple's iPhone, users now had a computer in their pocket and it's innovative design, App Store, and ease of use took Apple from a successful company, to the largest market cap company in the S&P 500. Stubbornness to acknowledge shifts in the market, changing consumer preferences, or other marketplace realities have doomed many companies and CEO's. Being the smartest guy in the room often means being the one who is willing to acknowledge change and adapt, even if pride and ego take a hit in the process.

Preparing for Pivot in Business

Allen encourages businesses to keep their working environment as diverse as possible. Adamson tells us not to stay in a bubble. Hire people from different backgrounds, education, social status, and way of thinking. Analyze what your competitor does, and do it better! If you all work in the same cloud and always look at things from the same perspective, you might not see the early signs that a pivot is needed.

Allen Adamson sees shifting ahead and pivoting as similar concepts. According to him, there are times where you don't have to change your product; you just have to make your product cost less or function a little better; sometimes minor tweaks or adjustments are all that's required. "There is a big gap between the knowledge of needing to work out every day, not sit at a desk all day, and to stop eating Twinkies, and the realities of what happens when you sit at a desk all day, don't work out, and have a Twinkie at three o'clock. " Allen adds. Knowledge without action doesn't produce results.

Who is holding back companies' digital transformation initiatives?

IBM has always been a trusted computer brand by consumers and corporations. They have shifted and pivoted their business multiple times during their history. It's hard to stay relevant for a long time in technology because technology keeps changing. Adamson believes that IBM could stay in the technology business for decades because of the superior customer service they offer to their customers. Others have learned from their dedication to service.

Allen then reveals to us why Apple has replaced IBM as the world's most trusted technology provider. He says that Apple is selling more than just its screen and high definition camera; they offer the best customer experience possible to their customers. The whole customer experience design has come to the forefront. It's not just about the product; it's the entire experience of buying and being serviced. That's why their fans are so loyal and growth trajectory unprecedented. They are often not first to market but see opportunities to pivot and take advantage of product ideas and features missed by their competitors and by doing so, create a more satisfying customer experience for their users.

BrandDigital by Allen Adamson

Three Steps to Become a Good Leader for Change

  1. Leaders attend to shift ahead and keep their business relevant. - Just because you had an excellent day today, doesn't mean a good day is coming tomorrow.
  2. Understand that not every day is a good day.- Earning enough profit today does not mean you'll always be profitable. Things change.
  3. Good leaders are always trying to look around the corner.- Good leaders are always cautious of market trends and pay attention. They are confident with their product and services but not overly complacent.


  • People should learn how to keep up with the fast-pacing environment by stepping out of their comfort zones and taking risks instead of relying on the familiar and easy.
  • A pivot in business will require you to take risks and maybe multiple  tries before getting the plan working.
  • Keep your working environment as diverse as possible to get differing points of view.
  • Leaders look at what they need to do to shift ahead and keep their business relevant.

Episode and Guest Links

Eric Dickmann - Founder/CMO of the Five Echelon Group, can be found online on Twitter or his personal webs

Allen Adamson - Book author and Co-Founder of Metaforce can be found online on LinkedIn.

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