Why and how disruptive marketing can be your brand's catalyst for success

Disruption and innovation are much more than the trendy buzzwords they have become. In fact, when executed effectively, a disruptive and innovative marketing strategy can be the catalyst for success that your brand has been searching for.

In today’s consumer-driven society, traditional advertising has become stale, impersonal and in many cases, ineffective. With disruption and innovation at the forefront of any new business strategy, established brands are being forced to find new ways to remain relevant — at least, if they want to continue to thrive, and in some cases, survive.

In today’s [also] digitally-connected society, consumers are constantly bombarded with thousands of advertisements from companies trying to pull them in every which way. And as technology has evolved, so has the American consumer. What this means for brands is that in order to stand out, they must do something different. And with that in mind, disruptive marketing is arguably no longer just something to consider, it’s a requirement for success.

So, what does disruptive marketing actually mean and how can it be used effectively? This article digs into why the strategy has become so popular in recent years and how it can be a valuable tool for any marketing team looking to take their brand to the next level.

Disruptive innovation: The origins of disruptive marketing

The idea of disruptive marketing comes from disruptive innovation, which is defined by the Harvard Business Review as, “a process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses.” In other words, disruptive innovation takes place when a new product or service displaces a well-established one by anticipating the unique, and often unnoticed, needs of the consumer and offering something the old product or service didn’t — in short, it fills needs that have been overlooked. This is typically accomplished by offering something better, cheaper, more useful or more convenient — or a combination of all of these (or more). Disruptive innovation makes things more accessible to more people, and very often, it even adds new words to consumers’ everyday vocabulary.

When Apple introduced iTunes, and the iPod, people could create their own music library (legally) and take it with them on the go. They had access to singles, that weren’t available on CD, and could store them all in one place, without dealing with a giant stack of CDs. Plus, they could listen to them on one, small, sleek device that fit into their pocket. And although there were other brands out there, we didn’t call these new devices Mp3 players — we called them iPods. CDs and disc players didn’t just become outdated, they were virtually replaced by one new, innovative device unique to a single company.

Disruptive innovation can also reimagine an entire concept that’s currently accepted as the norm.

When was the last time you called a taxi? You probably can’t remember, because you called an Uber. This service revolutionized the way we get around by giving us instant access to transportation at an affordable price — using the one device we have with us everywhere we go. The entire experience of calling a cab — which is simply needing to get from point A to point B when we don’t have access to a car or don’t want to drive — has been flipped on its head and replaced with a new norm. Something everyone did for so long was changed by one innovative idea offered up by one single company. And no one has been able to replicate the same impact that Uber has had on American culture.

What is disruptive marketing?

Similarly, disruptive marketing takes something people are used to and approaches it differently — it challenges the “norm” — what consumers know — and gives them a new, fresh and unique perspective. Disruptive marketing throws traditional marketing and advertising rules right out the window and replaces them with a new type of creative process — one that gives consumers more access and makes them part of the conversation. It connects consumers with brands on a more personal and relatable level. It’s unexpected and takes people by surprise by doing something no one else in the industry has done.

Disruptive marketing can take something — that on the surface may not be very exciting — and turn it into something consumers don’t just want, but need. How? Instead of simply pushing a product, it provides an experience that consumers can relate to and engage in by telling a story that people want to be a part of. Disruptive marketing upends traditional thinking about what a brand can be and where a product, service or even an entire industry can go.

Disruption is about taking risks — not being afraid to challenge the status quo. Disruptive marketing means doing something different that makes consumers stop and look — by being innovative in its approach. We’ve never seen it, so it makes us think differently.

Disruptive tactics are what allow you to prepare for a dynamic and constantly-evolving market. Because whether you’re ready for it or not, the face of business is rapidly changing every day — as is the technology supporting it — and if you aren’t willing to do what it takes to keep up, you will almost certainly fall behind before you even realize it.

In order to execute disruptive marketing strategies effectively, companies must be willing to shake things up — and in many cases, this means evolving their business model, offerings and how they engage with consumers. Disruptive marketing encourages brands to rethink their entire brand strategy in order to do implement a new approach. Sure, it’s risky, but what can be even risker is maintaining the same business model without ever reevaluating its effectiveness in the current marketplace.

With all that said, there can never be one, concrete meaning for disruptive marketing. Many of the components for success may remain the same, but what constitutes disruption is based on the context of the current (and future) marketplace and the world around us — which is always changing.

Therefore, what is crucial for marketers to understand is what disruptive marketing means in today’s ever-changing society of reshaped consumer behavior and expectations, where people want, and even demand, relationships and innovation from brands they do business with.

The benefits of disruptive marketing

Disruptive marketing involves creative disruption — taking a new approach to the creative process and doing things differently than before. This is how you grab people’s attention, in a very crowded space, and get them to stop and listen to what you have to say. Here are a few things that disruptive marketing tactics allow you to do in today’s environment.

Change common perceptions

One of the biggest reasons why companies are implementing disruptive marketing is because it allows you to change the perception of your brand and even the entire industry — by encouraging people to think about things differently. When used effectively, instead of seeing the same old company (or industry) doing the same old thing, consumers can experience, and engage with, a brand that not only understands them, but also fills a need in their life (whether they had recognized the need or not).

By changing the way people think, you give them a new, better and more positive way to view something, regardless of how long it, the company or the industry has been around. And as a result, by changing the perception, you can change behavior — even create a new norm.

Engage with consumers on a personal level

In today’s digitally-connected world, consumers view many traditional advertising strategies as impersonal and out of touch. People don’t want to be yelled at by advertisers who are simply selling a product. We have more choices than ever before, which means you need to make me feel something that others don’t. People today want to experience a brand and know why they should choose it. They want to feel part of a community — like you are speaking directly to them and giving them something that you understand they need.

Disruptive marketing allows you to do that just — engage with consumers on a more personal level — one that makes them feel something. By getting creative, you are no longer just selling a product or service, you’re telling a story that fits right into the lives of your target audience. You’re telling a story that resonates so well it could actually be theirs.

It can’t be duplicated, only imitated

Once you decide to take a risk and do something that no one else in your industry (or any industry) has done, no one will be able to have the same impact — on consumers or the marketplace. When you are the original, everyone else becomes the copy cat. In other words, when you are Uber, everyone else is a ride-share service. Sorry, Lyft people, but Lyft just isn’t Uber — it never will be.

Crucial components of disruptive marketing campaigns

The best disruptive marketing campaigns all do certain things very well — which allows them to reap the rewards of the benefits mentioned above. Here are a few of those things.

  1. Spark Emotion: In the words of Maya Angelou, "people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Effective campaigns will always elicit some type of emotion. Whether you make people feel happy, sad, inspired, empowered or make them laugh — or a combination of all — they will remember the emotional connection they made when they experienced your brand.

  2. Clearly define the target audience: Defining who the target audience is — as well as their unique needs and wants — is absolutely crucial to delivering a compelling message. You can’t be everything to everyone, so don’t try. For a disruptive marketing campaign to be effective today, it must take a risk, which means honing in on the needs of one specific audience group. Once you clearly define and understand who it is that you’re targeting, you can begin to see things from their perspective and speak to them in a way that will resonate.

  3. Empathize with consumers: Once you define your audience, you must really get to know them. While old school marketing tactics feel out of touch, disruptive marketing allows you to insert your brand into your consumers’ everyday lives. When you step into their shoes, you can show consumers how you can meet their unique needs and wants — and make them feel like they are part of your story. You can give them the human touch they need in order to be confident in their decision to choose you.

  4. Reinforce brand values: Disruptive marketing establishes interactions with consumers, rather than just transactions. It tells a story that communicates the values with which consumers want to be associated — in a genuine and authentic way. People want to know more than just what you do, they want to know who you are and what you stand for — and how that is tied into your business strategy. Effective campaigns demonstrate all this, giving consumers a reason to choose your brand.

  5. Be unique: To be disruptive, you have to do something that no one else is doing or has done. You have to give consumers a new way to think about something that they’ve become used to, maybe for years or even decades. Disruptive marketing campaigns ignore the rules and do something bold — something that stands out. They create buzz-worthy content that people simply can’t ignore — and more importantly, don’t want to.

Disruptive marketing is a combination of data and intuition

When you throw the rules out the window, how do you know what to do next? Disruptive marketing is about taking risks — doing something new that goes against pretty much everything you’ve ever done before.

Part of what makes a marketer great today is intuition — the ability to identify a good idea and know not just that it will work, but why it will work. You have the experience, knowledge and insight, along with a gut feeling, that make you confident the idea is a winner.

But of course, you can never be certain. This is where data comes in. Disruptive marketing encourages you to look at the data in a different way or explore data that in the past has been overlooked. In doing so, you can find the evidence you need to turn your gut feeling into a data-driven strategy.

Nothing is 100% fail-proof, but it will certainly make you even more confident that your intuition is headed in the right direction.

Alex Thomas