You say you want a (brand) revolution? 5 steps for creating “disruption”

You say you want a (brand) revolution? 5 steps for creating “disruption” 1200 882 brandecho

Disruption has become a popular buzzword, but what does it really mean in a brand context?  And how can a brand truly “disrupt” without trying too hard—or becoming at risk of presenting a phony persona that doesn’t match actual consumer experiences?

The term Disruptive Marketing was advanced by author Geffrey Colon, who wrote a book in 2016 called Disruptive Marketing: What Growth Hackers, Data Punks, and Other Hybrid Thinkers Can Teach Us About Navigating the New Normal.  Colon emphasized that the ability for brands to converse with core audiences is, by today’s standards, far more effective than “hard selling” when it comes to stimulating purchase and advancing loyalty.  After all, brand awareness is now strongly driven by quality content, and information is, in turn, increasingly peer-to-peer shared and distributed.  For these and other reasons, we’re in a current environment where marketers simply can’t shy away from taking the right, strategic risks at the right time if they want to stand out.

Moreover, this new age of more progressive marketing is totally defined and measured by metrics and analytics impact—criteria which are now deeply interwoven with campaign success.  How does a particular ad or marketing concept move the needle in terms of brand awareness and sell-through?  Which target demos were effectively reached?  What’s the repeat purchase rate?  How does your product fare (or fail) versus the competition?  The question of Big Data and performance measurability underlies nearly every initiative undertaken by any company with a serious marketing budget.  But taking an overly cautious stance when it comes to brand marketing may also make it difficult for organizations and their products to effectively compete in this area.

Without question, savvy communicators need to be on their game.  Falling back on outdated modes of marketing can quickly cause a would-be category leader to fall behind, while the wrong knee-jerk “bold” moves can also derail good strategy and come across to the marketplace as non-genuine or out of touch.  Relevance is increasingly important to both consumers and industry watchers, so a good brand strategy needs to take care to connect the dots.

So, what’s a creative brand, with a solid product story, to do if it really wants to breakthrough?

Here are FIVE tips for marketers to consider when it comes to launching a brand initiative that’s feisty, creative and at least a little…disruptive.

First of all, disruption doesn’t necessarily mean generating a video that instantly goes viral, or waging a zany publicity stunt that lands a feature spot on the “Today Show.”  (That level of visibility would, of course, be welcomed by most, but true disruption is more strategic, sophisticated and subtler.)  Creating “flash” doesn’t necessarily equate to aspiration or emulation—and these are two qualities that many truly disruptive brands achieve nearly holistically.  But not being afraid to break out of the box and challenge marketing and industry conventions is definitely a place to start.  While this kind of change can’t be forced, or necessarily homegrown, it can be identified, nurtured and cultured.

Airbnb’s brilliance in rethinking destination travel and hospitality created entirely new standards for the travel space.  It was fresh.  It repurposed existing assets (and literal real estate).  It created new revenue models for property owners looking to offer up non-utilized space.  It was peer-to-peer optimized and it worked seamlessly on mobile…resulting in nothing short of a total sea change both in terms of business model and brand adoption.  The message is: Don’t be afraid to shake things up.

Second, look for the holes in the marketplace.  Identify opportunities to deliver the new “new.”  According to a recent research study, 88 percent of Americans are drawn to concepts, product ideas and services that are original and fresh.  It’s part of our societal ethos to be attracted to that which hasn’t been overdone or overused.  Call us a disposable culture, if you will—but the modern day consumer populace tires easily and the excitement that comes with the embrace of the unknown or untried is simply hard to resist.  This is especially true for those early adopters who thrive on on-the-cusp trial and brand evangelism.

Third, consider greater simplicity.  Some of the most effective category disruptors have excelled because they streamlined traditional, behemoth models that had become too complex and cumbersome.  More complicated doesn’t equal better—it just equals more complicated.  Really think about your product application, supply chain and distribution, and, most importantly, your story to reveal whether there’s a cleaner and more direct way to deliver your goods to market.  Particularly, with Millennials (the hottest current consumer demographic sweet spot), “no frills” still sells.  Keep it real whenever possible.

Fourth, lighten up.  Our world is full of gravitas—and a little brevity goes a long way to endear your brand and your wares to the consumer public.  Don’t be afraid to inject (appropriate and non-offensive) humor into your brand story.  The hearts and minds that you’re wooing will thank you—and they’ll be more likely to share your story or news with others.

Fifth, take the time to really understand both your consumer and your industry niche.  There are simply zero substitutes for strong and intuitive category knowledge.  Know the demographics, memorize the analytics, and learn the lingo.  Brands that fake it are less likely to make it.  The marketplace—customers and competitors alike—will respect a brand that has done its homework and paid attention to the nuances and details that matter most to their target audience.  And, don’t hesitate to learn from the companies and brands that are riding the white swells.  Look and learn from digitally native vertical (or v-commerce) applications like Dollar Shave ClubEverlane and Glossier that turned their brand identity, product sourcing or distribution (or all three) on its ear.  These and other hot emerging brands represent good company to keep—and “like” commercial entities often create business collectives, or top brand “sub-cultures,” that become indirect incubators for shared change and fresh ideas.

Lastly, if you aren’t doing it already, start looking at your company from a “moon view”—top down, bottom up, far away, close up and with a keener perspective to experience the total brand that you can become versus just one part of your operation (such as, for example, your product development).  The whole of your company may look very different to you—and to your intended audience—through a slightly fresh and adjusted lens.


Social me that. The importance of consumer micro-groups in branding

Social me that. The importance of consumer micro-groups in branding 1200 800 brandecho

It’s a concept that’s received a great deal of attention and chatter in recent years.  The question of “me” versus “us” when it comes to brand loyalty and choice.  Which is more powerful?  Individualism and distinct identity in consumer shopping behavior?  Or, the validation of joining in the shared experience of a so-called “affinity circle”…a group of kindred spirits motivated by a collective set of preferences, lifestyle demographics, opinions, viewpoints and passions?  The continued spotlight on the power of tribal marketing has turned heads in the advertising, social media and public relations communities for some time now, but there’s still a disparity of opinion among the experts on which approach is a more effective guiding force for marketing initiatives.

For decades, Madison Avenue and its communication practitioners spoke of reaching the individual—of appealing to and developing what makes each of us special, different…unique.  Perhaps it was a residual effect of author Tom Wolfe’s “Me Decade” mentality of the 1970s that celebrated the push for self-betterment, likely an indirect backsplash to the communal social messages of the Sixties.  But the same era also marked a deeper sophistication in consumer marketing with more integrated ad spends and a greater focus on strategic message development that nurtured new cottage industries and established brand building as a serious marketing discipline.

The focus on the individual continued through the strong economic and high consumer spending years of the 1980s and 1990s when the growth in material acquisition and consumer packaged goods (CPGs) production—especially in America—seemed almost unrelenting.  And throughout the latter part of the 20th century, the advertising industry began to apply brand “personality” to products and services that they found, via statistical research, mimicked the temperaments and personas that their target consumers claimed as their own.  Marketing to the individual—tapping their individual desires—was a paramount strategy.

But as social consciousness has shifted, so have consumer purchase habits and attitudes—and the marketing industry, in turn, has continued to intuit these changes.  In the earlier days of database marketing, research entities like Nielsen, a leading analytics/metrics evaluation source for the media broadcast industry, took the approach that television and radio audiences with similar product likes and dislikes tended to live in similar tiny “block groups.”  These groups corresponded to a matrix of indices that offered complimentary marketing goals and opportunities.

That was the prehistoric days.  Now, thanks to the era of Big Data, analytics tools can enable marketers to be so granular in their research, metrics evaluation and data targeting, that they can reach consumer targets with infinitesimal degrees of accuracy—in how they interact with them, talk to them, apply social trends, and enhance point-of-purchase sell-through.  In this sense, marketing philosophies and practices have evolved right alongside the technology that is hastening yet further change and adaptation.  This ready availability of data has taken things to an even more sophisticated level.  And, marketers are now paying more and more serious attention to the “collective think” of highly relevant micro-cultures, where the sway of opinion among consumer affinity groups, each year, is becoming increasingly relevant.

After all, we are indeed first and foremost social animals—and while we love to have that unique, standout dress fresh off the fashion show runway, or be the first early technology adaptor among our friends, or have the first new household gadget at the dinner party, we also are ultimately deeply driven by an intense and sustained need to belong.  It’s how and why certain purchase groups are, in the first place, drawn together—and toward—certain brands; and why the success of these same brands is impacted by how effectively they respond to the evolving cultural attitudes shared by their stakeholders and constituents.

It’s, of course, also the same reason that social media is now so intimately interwoven into our lifestyle and culture, and why the need to be accepted and share common experiences that reinforce our core beliefs and values should never be overlooked by marketers.  These are powerful emotional drivers, which according to many recent research studies and reports, present a far more compelling impetus for purchase loyalty than catchy slogans, BOGOs, clever ad buys, press releases, and even the most inspired creative trending.  We are creatures of the “tribus”—what authors Avi Shankar, Bernard Cova and Robert Kozinets in their book Consumer Tribes referred to as “fundamental to our experience of life.”   It’s also the reason why, as the authors explained, “social ‘links’ or social relationships, are (simply) more important than the things we love…”

While much of this is true, the inane sense of self also can’t be overlooked.  Our drive to survive and excel among our peer group (basic Darwinian economics) is also a fundamental element of the human consumer mentality.  People will still strive for success—and that success will, at least in part, continue to be influenced (for better or for worse), to a degree by our interaction with the world around us—and our “being” in the world in light of this individualized experience.  And, this interaction, certainly to a degree, involves the various choices we make on a daily basis as consumers.  Consumerism, while it encourages the acquisition of goods, in and of itself is not tied to a financial transaction.  Whether we spend money or not…consumerism still exists:  It’s about choice, preference, and, ultimately, free expression.

For this reason, we believe that, as marketers, to effectively reach the masses, we must always consider BOTH:  The tribe and the tribe member.  By devising marketing campaigns that resonate with the Individual (their aspirations, dreams, and goals) and also the Group or many Groups they hold dear, we can communicate more fully with the Whole Consumer.  They are complementary core tactics in marketing’s essential playbook.

And, even so, every individual consumer remains an intricate puzzle of opportunity and complexity, whose purchase behavior—collective or otherwise—will continue to respected and studied for years to come, across multiple eras, as the consumer landscape ebbs and flows.  Even the most savvy of marketing data statisticians and gurus are likely to admit that there is no one single answer—no fool proof formula for developing the perfect Marketing Persona for every consumer segment and demographic.  It’s the Yin and Yang of experiential marketing and why the Audience of One must also be the Audience of Many…and why the Audience of Many still always has—somewhere in it’s crowd—an Audience of One, since no one of us, despite our deepest connections can ever be exactly the same.


#CreateAnEcho: Key ingredients for powerful branding

#CreateAnEcho: Key ingredients for powerful branding 1200 1200 brandecho

The term “brand echo” isn’t just our agency’s nomenclature—it’s an entire philosophy toward building a successful brand footprint for your business, product, cause or venture.  At its root, creating a brand echo is all about developing a unique brand statement that’s both distinctive and powerful—one that becomes uniquely recognized, meaningful, and deeply impactful to intended audiences.  This brand statement—because of its memorability, way of connecting people and businesses, and fresh identity—is the very essence of what “sticky” consumer and constituent relationship building is all about, and it often represents the point at which a brand becomes truly synonymous with the widget or service being sold, if not the entire industry or category.

A genuine brand echo—when properly set in motion—can and does generate organically, but only after a great deal of hard work.   Once foundational awareness is established and momentum for greater adoption takes hold, a brand identity that’s positively embraced can quickly catch fire as long as a steady stream of innovation and fresh thinking are available to continually nurture and aid its progress.

But first, a little perspective behind the “echo”…

Although the notion of brand building, as we know it today, came into being during the so-called Golden Age of Advertising (the period during the mid- to later 20th century), it’s certainly not a new concept—at least in the generic sense.  Governments, religious groups, military institutions and the like throughout history all built and established public “identities” or personas to further their respective influence and reach.  But the modern era of brand cultivation has taken identity development to a whole new level of sophistication.  Today, brand building is a carefully orchestrated, strategic art based on a complex series of associations.

And, thanks to technology innovation, our contemporary digital world presents literally an omni-channel canvas through which companies and thought leaders can present and grow a brand footprint—creating multi-faceted, integrated options for marketers.  When that brand footprint manages to effectively resonate throughout core circles of influence to create a flourishing and participatory brand community that is both loyal and interactive, a “brand echo” is born.  This echo is made all the more powerful when it enables a brand entity to truly stand apart from others in their segment or business space—extending brand associations beyond just awareness to direct point-of-sale incentive and purchase (and repeat purchase) intent.

In a nutshell, a brand echo is the collective awareness (both positive or negative) that a commercial organization, individual, cause or campaign has in the eyes of its audience.  A desirable brand echo, naturally, arouses positive connotations.  It may reflect broader lifestyle implications and connections.  It may be evolutionary in nature, leading other individuals, or even an entire business category, to strive for greatness.  It may signal a breakthrough or marked achievement in a particular field or sector—and it generally espouses an aspirational, goal-oriented relationship with intended audiences that motivates and also drives progress.  Executed correctly, an effective brand echo can help businesses and organizations receive greater attention for the work they do and for the products and services they bring to market—creating customer-driven conversations that are sustained and ongoing.

So, what are the core tenets of an effective brand echo?  Among other factors, a good brand campaign involves four primary areas:

  • Character
  • Content
  • Community
  • Contagion

And, each of the above is uniquely relevant to the brand experience.


Good brand building can help to position a company, or an individual’s, offerings through a fresh, and even disruptive, lens—via a new visual image, identity, slogan or presentation.  The branding discipline can help an organization to present its best offerings in the most positive light—highlighting performance attributes and strengthening their meaning to key audiences.  It can also help to influence how popular these offerings become with common audience groups.  What a good branding effort CANNOT do, however, is change inherent product quality (or lack thereof), customer service, CRM or supply chain effectiveness.  That’s the work of the organization or individual itself.

Good branding CAN augment what a company is doing right, and help to place its product in a broader spotlight where it can get the attention it deserves, especially if the deliverable or offering is truly exceptional.  To this end, a good brand echo requires, at the onset of any campaign, the existence of a quality product or service that makes a positive impact in the community or industry.  A successful branding campaign then works, in turn, to accentuate the many merits of that brand’s standout offering, which is in essence its “brand character.”


Growth of a solid brand footprint is also rooted in truthful and compelling “story-sharing,” which is driven and disseminated by quality content.  For this reason, the creation of unique, intuitive communications and marketing materials—that work across marketing channels—goes hand-in-hand with helping a good brand to reverberate among intended audiences.  In today’s communication environment, an occasional social media post no longer counts as effective content.  Superb story building involves the use of video, live and immersive experiences, viral materials, GIFs, memes, chats, webinars, online serials, interstitials, and multiple other media (both on- and off-line) to reach vast points of contact.  And, it must remain fresh and timely—constantly stimulating the consumer or recipient with new questions, experiences and real-time relationship building.  Good content also must present a unified “brand voice” that’s strong and distinct, and that ideally represents the desired values and core beliefs of its intended audience.  Most importantly, it must be genuine and supported by tangible assets, verifiable product claims and facts, and “brand differentiation” that is lasting—to help set it apart from others in the category.  


The most effective brand identities and campaigns encapsulate, not just one individual experience, but also a shared, collective experience that resonates within a common community.  The ability to create a marketing phenomenon that has a trickle effect across multiple recipients within a broader sphere of influence is difficult to achieve.  But when a product or service truly answers an unmet need within a mass or niche marketand is able to share and communicate its vision in a compelling manner, it then has the potential to community-build on a far broader level.

Community acquisition, in turn, can lead to mass trial and adaption—the Holy Grail of successful marketing.  If that brand phenomenon can go even a step further and align with a broader societal cause, opinion, passion or cultural shift, it is positioned to make an even strong and more substantial impact.  The first step:  Truly understand your own product and its audience, and identify how your offering can fulfill expectations among your core user group like no other—and then join that community.  Don’t just market TO, but rather become a contributing PART of, your intended audience group and earn a trusted relationship that is reciprocal, instead of one-directional.


So let’s say your organization possesses a quality product or service.  It has a great story, and a credible corporate parentage that is solvent and demonstrates social responsibility that resonates with many.  It also creates compelling ongoing content, and has established a robust community within which to engage.  There is still one powerful ingredient that really successful brands—the ones that get people talking at the water cooler—almost always possess:  the contagion factor.  Contagion is what makes a consumer product a “must have,” what makes a story a “must share,” or an individual a “must follow.”  Contagion is the hardest element of a successful brand footprint to achieve because it is the least commercial—and most holistic—in nature.  But when you’ve got it, it’s gold.

Communications experts know that word-of-mouth, peer-to-peer sharing is the single most effective form of organic marketing.  More powerful than advertising, earned media, shopper marketing, or paid social.  It’s true that certain trends just seem to just “click” because their time has come, while others are bypassed for unknown reasons and relegated to the annals of marketing history.  And, yes, there is a certain amount of luck at play, but there’s no question that a strategic marketing that’s really smart and inventive—and that follows proven tactics for generating effective brand awareness—can help immeasurably to ripen the playing field.

There are several tangibles to watch that can and do offer tactically sound ways to boost your “echo”:  Influence, Associations, and Timing.

Influence involves creating thought leadership at the most granular levels.  This includes tapping brand ambassadors, pundits, and experts to help sell your product or story, and open doors of influence so that your target audience can become properly exposed to your brand.  This concept is, of course, important in life, as well as in business.  Visibility can truly be everything and the importance of a well-placed contributed article, breakthrough speech, endorsement or introduction should never be overlooked.

Similarly, associations with beneficial individuals or kindred organizations can offer a wealth of opportunity.  A shout out from a YouTube star or blogger with strong influence within your target audience base, a compelling research study jointly conducted with a marquee analyst group, or a strategic partnership with an admired “like” brand that holds sway in your same business category, can be critical game changers.

Third, timing is everything.  Good branders are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to interject their product or service into a timely broader dialog.  At our agency, we call this Amplifying the Conversation—and it can be a very effective technique for heightening attention to your organization.  Seasonal campaigns, cultural landmarks, and other juggernaut social “events” can present once-in-a-lifetime windows to connect with a broader audience in a truly dynamic fashion that completely alters the playing field—and these opportunities are often fleeting.

– – – – – – – –

Any company or organization with a really good product offering or story to tell, can create a brand echo of their own.  While there is no single magic bullet for achieving successful brand recognition, creating sustained awareness that resonates across multiple channels and with multiple consumer targets pays off, but it takes hard work and ingenuity.

The current field of marketing and branding is both dynamic and fascinating because it resides at the new intersection between business, human interaction, and the intricate social fabric of our modern society.  Savvy marketers understand these nuances and look at all communications challenges first and foremost through a brand building foundation.  Good brands are true gems that can become a bigger part of our cultural ethos—and stay in consumer hearts and minds for generations to come, with a well-planned strategy and good dose of creativity.  Companies and organizations that stay mindful of the experiential and tangible drivers that make for a really great brand story understand what creating an echo is all about—and seize every moment to place their brand into a far more powerful spotlight.