Still working on that sponsored email newsletter even though open rates have fallen like a lead balloon and advertisers are pulling out? Still generating that marketing funnel report that your colleagues are ignoring? Still offering a product like a magazine that is so unprofitable, you’d be richer if you just shut it down?
For a few weeks now, we’ve been talking about initiative inertia: what it is, why it’s affecting your company, and the damage it can do if left unchecked.
Last week, we talked about how to begin to change the dynamics within your company, getting rid of outdated mindsets and clearing space for positive change. This week, we’re going to focus on that positive change and how to create it with your curveball.
What Is Your Curveball?
Initiative inertia becomes a problem when your company neglects the concept of change entirely. You’ve settled upon a way of doing things and have grown timid about exploring new methods and approaches.
The issue is that this leaves you completely vulnerable to outside changes. When disruption hits, you’re so stuck in your old systems and processes that you’re unable to make the quick changes necessary to weather the larger shifts in your industry.
This is where your curveball comes in. It’s the thing that breaks you out of your initiative inertia rut and allows you to effect change in a predictably positive way.
To find the right curveball for your business, you need to focus on finding your spin: a new piece of information that helps you settle upon the right kind of change. Let’s take a look at the three main categories of curveball you can introduce to shake up your business model.
Optimization curveballs are insights that lead to more traffic, conversions, renewal, or a higher customer lifetime value. These are typically tactical, but they can have real value, especially when they’re stacked.
Take a look at what the New York Times has done with their subscription model. The Gray Lady keeps optimizing its membership approach and continues its tremendous growth curve, despite constant industry disruption.
Its latest change to its paywall strategy is employing a dynamic paywall. This means different prospects are receiving a different number of free articles per month before they hit the paywall.
The New York Times’ spin was recognizing that, depending on the source of traffic (from Google, Facebook, email, etc.) and the level of engagement on site, certain visitors were more or less likely to convert under certain metering rules.
The Times has tweaked its paywall to give itself the best shot at driving conversions. This change comes directly from insight the team has collected on the behavior of existing customers.
New Market Curveballs
The next type of curveball you might choose to employ is a new market curveball. These come into play when you realize there’s an underserved market that would benefit from your product.
Take a look at what Randall Reilly has done with its Trucker News magazine. The business realized female truck drivers were an ignored subset of its population—one that had unique challenges, needs, and interests—and so it created the She Drives section of its site.
These articles speak directly to the needs of female drivers. They address concerns the women have about their health, rights, and safety. In a time when the trucking industry is doing more to recruit women drivers, the magazine helps those women acclimate to life on the road and addresses the needs of an ever-growing portion of the trucking community.
Randall Reilly’s spin was recognizing there was a hidden but engaged market in its audience: female truck drivers.
New Product Curveballs
Sometimes you realize the products you’re offering do not fully meet the needs of your existing customers. This is where a new product curveball comes in. This type of curveball corresponds with the launch of a new product that better meets the demands of your existing customer base.
The New York Times’ digital subscription is again the leading example of how to introduce new, targeted products. Its crossword and cooking subscriptions are separate from the basic subscription model, and the offerings speak to specific subsets of the Times’ existing subscriber population (cruciverbalists and home cooks, respectively). In the early summer, the paper announced it was adding another new product, this one aimed at parents.
The Times’ spin was recognizing there were certain components of its main product (i.e., a complete subscription to nytimes.com) that were lower hurdle commitments for certain segments of the audience. Get them in for the crosswords, then over time, upsell them to the main product.
The Times has assembled expert teams in these areas, and the value that they add through these products is so important to customers that they’re willing to pay extra for the additional products. These standalone subscriptions have been wildly successful for the Times; nearly a third of new subscriptions in Q3 of 2018 were for the cooking or crossword products specifically.
Keeping That Innovative Spirit Alive
Once you’ve found your spin and launched your curveball, don’t stop there! Keep digging and keep experimenting. Testing allows you to see where your new ideas and offerings are most effective. You can also spot what’s not quite working like you thought it would.
Then you can clarify your tactics and offerings, come up with new product ideas, uncover a potential niche market for your content, or better understand how to drive renewals and conversions. This is where you establish a cyclical method to innovating. Once you’ve thrown the first curveball, you can get into a rhythm of throwing even more.
When you establish a system that fosters continual innovation, you also need to keep up with the process of creating bandwidth. At some point, your first great curveball idea will grow old and stale. At that point, it becomes part of the systems and products you prune to make way for your latest innovations.
That’s the thing about inertia: While it’s true that an object at rest tends to stay at rest, it’s just as true that an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Once you get your company moving, you will get better and better at spotting curveballs and being ready to catch the next great idea and run with it.
About the Author
Rob Ristagno, Founder and CEO of Sterling Woods, previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and e-commerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. He started his career as a consultant at McKinsey. Ristagno holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College and has taught at both Harvard and Boston College.
Rob is the author of A Member is Worth a Thousand Visitors: A Proven Method for Making More Money Online. He regularly speaks at key media conferences, including at Niche Media events, Specialized Information Publishers Association meetings, and the Business Information and Media Summit.