Lessons from Brand Pivots after the 2008 Recession

SWAN of the Week, Number 145
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Tech is getting insufficient credit for the current situation response. This entire social distancing protocol made possible by social media, zoom, video games. Also streaming TV, movies. Everything you thought was bad for you is now saving lives. You’re welcome.


Happy Friday!

Taylor Lorenz at The New York Times writes “Stop Trying to Be Productive” and that the “…internet wants you to believe you aren’t doing enough with all that “extra time” you have now. But staying inside and attending to basic needs is plenty.”

I think that’s great advice for our personal lives. 

Everyone is sharing links about free online classes, workout challenges, and ways to utilize this at-home period with new skills. But I don’t really think everyone will come out of this knowing a new language, how to code, and their kitchen pantries color coded and alphabetized. Maybe I’m wrong. But it is indeed okay to just cope right now on the personal side.

But for our clients and brands, we do need to start thinking about what we’re doing today and how it will affect tomorrow. In the past week we worked through Triage Communication Strategies in a Crisis, then Proactive Communications & Organic Content Strategy in a Crisis, and now we’re going to talk about Rebuilding & Pivoting.

In an effort to understand where we’re at and predict where we’re going, this week I’ve been studying how companies pivoted and what innovation came out of the 2008 recession.

Post-2008 Recession Pivot Examples

For example:

  • Starbucks opened up their company to customer-generated ideas and started investing more heavily in mobile technology and customer personalization. Today, mobile-standard is key to quick-service restaurants.
  • Netflix gained 3 million members by debuting the ability to stream an unlimited amount of content per month atop the disc-delivery service and at different pricing tiers. Today, you can’t be a media company without a streaming platform option.
  • Uber was founded as a response to not finding a taxi in post-recession marketplace. Today, app-based convenience culture is standard, and the “gig economy” has crossed into countless industry categories.
  • Instagram and Pinterest were developed and launched as a response to consumer demand to enjoy social media through images (and not always being sold things through blog posts and links). Today, image-forward social media is still the most popular and impactful.
  • Square and Venmo were created to allow people to split lunch, buy each other a beer and exchange money without involving big banks or writing a check. Today, mobile commerce has allowed almost anyone to accept micropayments — whether you’re a food truck, Etsy crafter or selling Girl Scout Cookies.
  • Groupon was invented to allow consumers to get a deal and small businesses to pre-sell inventory or service slots to drive immediate revenue. Deal getting became a social experience. Today, consumer companies are pushing gift cards as a way to maintain revenue, and consumers are looking for ways to still have fun and experiences without breaking the bank. And with social undergirding all interaction at the moment, it’s Groupon’s moment to shine again.

These companies embraced bad circumstances and used them to solve both old and new problems based on changing consumer culture, needs and habits.

Just studying these 8 companies then and now can give you ample insights into small shifts you can apply to your brands today. No, they don’t line up exactly with your problem. But there’s a lot to learn from small pivots that can apply to our brands as we think about similarities in the last recession and the coming one.

Top-line lessons from Post-2008 Pivots:

  • Embrace creative challenges
  • Factor in shifts in consumer habits, spending, and connectivity
  • Listen to your customers and involve them in solutions
  • Explore tiered pricing
  • Freemiums work
  • Make small bets
  • Pilot and pivot


On the job front, it’s still early in this crisis, but there are already talented peers in our industry who need work to cover their bills and have lots of talent to offer. 

There are two key places I’m tracking that have jobs posted — The One Club’s list and David Chouinard’s list at Candor of companies who are still hiring versus those who are frozen. And in Minnesota, the Business Journal offered a high-level look at some of the bigger companies still hiring.

If you know someone looking for a job right now, be sure to make time to chat with them and help them out. We need to stick together, and there are so many smart people in our communities who deserve all the support we can offer.


Every quarter I keep a Spotify playlist of the songs I’m playing on repeat. It’s like an aural time capsule of sorts. It’s a new quarter this week, so here’s Q1 2020: SWAN WRAPPED – Q1 PLAYLIST.

See you on the internet!


Every week I keep tabs on what’s trending, new technology and consumer habits that impact the social web. Get these weekly POVs in your email by signing up here.

COVID-19 Links: The NYT writes “Viral Challenges Are What’s Keeping Us Occupied.” Apple launched a website and a new app dedicated to COVID-19 screening. The Guardian shared 20 learning apps for stir-crazy kids. The Office’s John Krasinski launched a YouTube channel dedicated to good news. Spotify Kids launched early. And college students are rebuilding their schools in Minecraft and hosting virtual graduations for themselves.

Local Community Help: This week Facebook made its Community Help feature available nationwide. The COVID-19 Community Help hub will allow people to request or offer help to those impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, as well as donate to nonprofit fundraisers. NextDoor also recently launched a feature called “Help Map,” although it’s a bit buried in the app.

YouTube’s TikTok Killer? YouTube is working on a Shorts feature that will include a feed of brief videos posted by users and will take advantage of the video service’s catalog of licensed music, songs from which will be available to use as soundtracks for the videos created by users.

New Facebook Live Tools: The number of people in the US watching live-streams via Facebook Live has risen by 50% since January, and Facebook is introducing some new tools within the Live platform, including automatic closed captions, an audio-only options for videos, and the ability for fundraisers to generate toll-free telephone numbers within their broadcast.

Streaming Sports in the Mainstream: In the absence of live sports, streaming platforms like NBA League Pass and NFL Game Pass are being offered for free, and have full libraries of old games on demand. Fox and FS1 are going to broadcast a “season” of virtual races that include current, past, and rising NASCAR stars against each other in iRacing. Esports leagues, who had just been finding traction in IRL arena tournaments, are temporarily moving back to virtual and streamed events. Twitch has seen 31% growth. YouTube Gaming is up 15%. Pokemon Go is changing their format so you can more easily play at home. And the Minnesota State High School Drone Racing Tournament has been pivoted to virtual races.

Augmented Reality Glasses Update: This week Facebook beat out Apple on a deal with microLED provider Plessey, which is one of the few companies that’s able to provide the key components required to make functional AR glasses a reality. On the Apple Glasses front, a patent recently published by the US Patent Office suggests Apple Glasses will use touch controls rather than the motion and joystick controls found in other AR and VR devices. The rumors still suggest we could see mainstream launch of AR glasses as soon as 2022.

Insta Sticker Selfies: Instagram is testing animated selfie stickers for stories. The option is available (to those who can access it) via a new ‘Selfie’ sticker option, and the rounded, selfie stickers can be applied as many times as you like within a Stories frame.

TikTok of the Week: Check out this family quarantine PowerPoint Karaoke challenge. Maybe try your own this weekend? Here are some PPT slides to get you started.


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