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 Falling back on outdated modes of marketing can quickly cause a would-be category leader to fall behind, while the wrong knee-jerk “bold” moves can also derail good strategy and come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 Club, Everlane 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.