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The Role of Disruptive Marketing


The Role of Disruptive Marketing

When is “disruption” a positive? When it’s used to upend the status quo and fill a need gap—frequently a need no one even realized existed. Although it’s an often-heard buzzword across many different industries, and the concept of disruptive marketing/advertising seems to be everywhere these days, its formal roots can actually be traced to “disruptive innovation,” a business term coined in 1997 by Harvard Professor and scholar Clayton Christensen. Harvard Business Review summarizes Christensen’s theory as “a process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses.”

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Consider the advent of the transistor radio, video streaming and smartphones—all disruptors in their own right. A common example is Netflix, and how the streaming service successfully challenged the ubiquity of video rental stores and cable television. 

More recently, disruptive innovations in business and technologies have given way to disruptive marketing, a means by which brands can grab audience attention and market share by presenting themselves in a unique, out-of-the-box way.

Why is Disruptive Marketing Important? 

As noted by research service Wonder, “disruptive ideas and strategies are what keep the market moving forward and growing,” and disruptive marketing “presents the opportunity for lower or less-established businesses to level the playing field with more known businesses by giving them an edge.”  

An interesting feature of disruptive marketing, by its very nature, is that no two brands can or will go about it in the exact same way. Success is tied into making your own distinct mark, not by copying someone else’s. Disruptive marketing sets up a brand to be unique, whether in the story it tells, the image it portrays, or the definitive solution it provides.

One example of an extremely successful disruptive marketing strategy is from the prescription eyeglass company Warby Parker, established in 2010 by four Wharton MBA graduates. The company identified a need, researched consumer preferences, and delivered a new model for fashionable, affordable prescription eyewear. Then, through its “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program, the company incorporated a social cause into the mix, prompting customer loyalty and a unique buzz, which they continued to leverage through direct engagement with customers over multiple social media channels. 

Another heavy hitter in the disruptive marketing game is retail outfitter REI. The company’s award-winning 2015 #OptOutside campaign is often cited as a stellar case study in disruptive marketing. In effect, the brand went against the common practice of drawing in customers for Black Friday sales, considered one of the biggest retail shopping days of the year. Instead, REI, through its innovative social media campaign, encouraged its customers to go outdoors. By the time the campaign had drawn to a close, the hashtag had earned 6.7 billion media impressions and encouraged 1.4 million consumers to spend their day outdoors rather than pushing their way to a cash register, catapulting the already popular brand to new heights.

What Benefits Can You Gain from Disruptive Marketing?

According to U.K.-based The Click Hub, the benefits of disruptive marketing can include shifting the perception of your brand, connecting to customers, and preventing copy-cats, with the main tips for incorporating disruptive marketing being: 

•  Create an emotional response.

•  Step into your customer’s shoes.

•  Be unique. 

The above-mentioned strategies echo the primary ideas from Geoffrey Colon, the author of “Disruptive Marketing: What Growth Hackers, Data Punks, and Other Hybrid Thinkers Can Teach Us About Navigating the New Normal,” who (as summarized by Forbes) advises:

• The world is about conversations, not narratives.

•  Think about how people behave.

•  The best marketing is analog, experiential and in the physical world.

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Disruptive marketing strategies look at what the competition is doing…and then turn it around and do something completely different! It might seem counterintuitive, but it is this very act of breaking away from the expected norms that can set a brand’s disruptive marketing campaigns up for success by rising above the competitive marketing noise. At its core, disruptive marketing thrives on recognizing a customer need that is not being met and leveraging that to fill the void—in a way no one else is doing.