How (and why) to radically innovate your company
By Jennifer Morrell
PostcardMania’s latest pivot has been almost entirely technology based. You read that correctly—its latest pivot. Before you get to the dynamics of the latest retooling of the company that Joy Gendusa started in 1998 with just a computer and a phone, it is important to chronicle just how many times she has hit the reset button. And just how successful each one of those resets has been for the full service postcard direct mail marketing company.
The first time PostcardMania pivoted, it was a small design and print brokerage firm. Gendusa, recognizing the need to create a product she could scale, changed the business thinking from being all things to all people to specializing in direct mail postcards. The next pivot came as large commercial printers, recognizing PostcardMania’s success, started copying the concept and undercutting its prices. With the ball in Gendusa’s court, she repositioned the company from being a printer to a marketing company that specialized in lead generation—using direct mail postcards as the first channel.
The company’s third iteration happened with the incorporation of digital channels attached to direct mail with integrated tracking methods—DirectMail2.0, as Gendusa calls it. PostcardMania spun the concept into a product it called Everywhere Small Business. In order to help small businesses get leads, PostcardMania had to utilize Google and Facebook, coupled with mail tracking and call tracking, to get the best results. That was in 2013.
“As a company, you have to be responsive to what the market is doing, because that affects what your customers want, need and expect from you,” Gendusa says. “Pivoting is important because it opens your business up to a new type of customer in a saturated market, and continues to differentiate your brand from the competition.”
Is the strategy mandatory? Gendusa says absolutely not. “Every business and every business owner is different. For those that are always looking to grow and expand though, pivoting is probably in the cards.”
Back to where we started, PostcardMania’s latest pivot has been almost entirely technology based. Gendusa had tried several times to create an online storefront, where business owners, marketers, etc., could order direct mail marketing pieces online themselves. But it was important to Gendusa that PostcardMania not sacrifice its marketing expertise for online ordering convenience.
“We’re a marketing company that specializes in small business advertising first, and a printer second,” she says.
In 2018, after PostcardMania started operating at a level of profitability under the watchful eye of her senior executives, Gendusa set out personally to make the pivot happen, hiring a staffer to work directly under her to research the industry and create new contacts to gauge demand.
“Once we fully understood the new industry we wanted to pivot into, and had thoroughly researched the competition and how to be better than them, I focused on hiring developers,” Gendusa says. “Once you have the vision and the right people in place, it’s just a matter of trial and error and putting yourself in the shoes of the end user until you get the technology right.”
Today, PostcardMania reflects the technology company she had always envisioned—one that offers proven, results-based marketing and superior printing quality on demand. “Pivoting should always be on the table as an option, because it has the potential to open new revenue streams for your business,” she says. Sure, the investment is higher, but so are the potential returns. You have to be fully invested in your pivot to maximize the moment—do it right and see it through to the end. It’s essentially like starting a new business from the ground up, and all of those initial costs and investments have to be done to get everything up and running smoothly and profitably.”
“Pivoting should always be on the table as an option, because it has the potential to open new revenue streams for your business. You have to be fully invested in your pivot to maximize the moment.”
— Joy Gendusa, Founder & CEO, PostcardMania
Plan. Ignite. Execute.
In their book, “IGNITE: Setting your Organization’s Culture on Fire with Innovation,” David Neff and Randal Moss present a scalable process that companies can implement to find, evaluate, develop and launch their next major innovation. Big proponents of testing and learning, Neff and Moss say that in today’s ultra-competitive business landscape, the blueprint for finding your place is to identify your objective and goals, find the problems getting in the way, and then design hypotheses to test where and when pivoting is necessary.
“Pivot is not always the answer,” Neff says. “The answer would be rooted in approaching that moment with a test and learn an experimentation mindset. What was the problem? What was our hypothesis? How did we run a test? What were the results? Only then could you take the data and pivot.”
As the authors stressed in their book, they firmly believe that all new ideas, innovations and pivots can be approached with a stage-gate mindset as a series of experiments. While this was once confined to innovation departments and R&D labs, this behavior—and the sometimes obsession with it—rests in testing how the model works.
Moss says that pivoting is more like a slow turn—think a cruise ship as opposed to a ski boat. Large organizations rely on strategy as a rule of thumb and get beholden to it. To make a change is to shift the whole institution, a move he says takes energy and time, which are often in short supply during a pivot-or-die situation. On average, smaller organizations are better positioned to pivot. Smart, larger organizations can structure themselves so that sub-sections can reinvent themselves independently.
“Being organizationally prepared is mission critical,” Moss says. “Having a mindset of exploration, of risk, and of future vision is critical. It is far easier to take advantages of ‘a moment’ when there is structure in place to do so with resources on standby and a process for fast validation and testing. The last thing anyone wants to do is build the proverbial plane as they fly it. You know opportunities will present themselves, so get ready in advance. It does not matter what they look like so long as you are prepared to take advantage of the moment.”
Taking advantage of the moment is something that Gendusa and PostcardMania know well. While she says pivoting is still pretty rare in business today with more than enough to keep a company busy, when the opportunity presents itself, act.
“Having a mindset of exploration, of risk, and of future vision is critical. The last thing anyone wants to do is build the proverbial plane as they fly it.”
— Randal Moss, author, ‘IGNITE: Setting your Organization’s Culture on Fire with Innovation’
“You have to be somewhat separate from the day-to-day minutia before you develop enough of a viewpoint to see your business and your industry from the outside, and see where it’s headed,” Gendusa says. “You can’t develop that viewpoint without having the right people in place to take care of your business and ensure it continues to grow and expand without your hand directly guiding every move. For me, it happened many times for different reasons.”
As PostcardMania settles in on its latest business strategy, Gendusa and her team keep an eye on where the market may take them—pivot in tow.
Four things every company needs to pivot
- A solid leadership team to keep your core business running smoothly and profitably
- A vision for where your industry and business is headed in order to pivot that way (plus a proven ROI to back it up)
- Enough reserves to cover your new investment costs
- The drive and time to dedicate to carving out a new uncharted path for your business