Disruption isn’t Better for Everyone

If I was to dig out old school reports, I am certain they would be peppered with the word ‘disruptive’, because I was. What sweet irony that I’ve made a living from being disruptive all these years later.

Bower and Christensen first coined the phrase ‘Disruptive Technologies’ in the Harvard Business Review back in 1995 but today, their theory has been somewhat corrupted to represent innovators (usually high tech) that fundamentally changed an industry’s dynamic and subsequent behaviour. Examples in the current parlance would include the likes of Ryanair, Uber, Airbnb and web2.0 in general.

I have nearly always worked in disruptors from one of Ireland’s first webdev companies to vertical exchanges, behaviour changing e-learning apps to asynchronous video interviewing and much more in between.

Marketing Disruption is Tricky

While onlookers might think that disruptive technology is cool, I can tell you as a marketer, it’s hard. Hard good though, a good challenge. If you think about it, what is involved is pitching something:

  • So new that the market does not yet exist (think iPad)
  • So new that potential customers do not know what you’re offering
  • So new that nobody is looking so regular marketing such as SEO and SEM are irrelevant

However, there is nothing I like more than starting with the blank page with zero awareness and getting the word out and I simply cannot imagine marketing products that people already know about.

Disruption actually disrupts (and upsets)

The commander in Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale‘ said “Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”  There are certain parallels with this dystopian novel and disruptive marketing. If something is so radical that it shakes up an industry then not all players are going to get out of it lightly. Of course, for those whose pain point is actually being solved, disruption is great but there is never just one side to a story or one player in a business context.  It’s not that long ago that we saw an abundance of online reverse auctions where suppliers compete to offer the lowest price to win the business – the race to the bottom but if you’re not in, you definitely won’t win. Sometimes, the disruption isn’t even a financial upheaval but maybe a mindset piece – a change of approach that is outside the comfort zone.

Presenting the Disruptive MVP

In product development, we talk about MVP (minimum viable product). In many ways, we disruptive marketers have our own MVP (minimum vile proposition) and the trick is to appreciate this change in circumstance for the underdog. You can’t overcome objections with ‘No, this is better, full stop’.  You have to really listen to find the upsides, there won’t be many but there will be some, and you have to play to them.

Disruptive Marketing 101

  • Build with Your Customers (Beta)
    Too often, people assume marketing is something you slot in just before launch but as I outlined in my last post, marketing involves design thinking and user research too. If you build alone, they may not come. If you build with them and adapt accordingly, then they are already there.
  • Keep Your Customers (TLC)
    Yes, we all know about the importance of retention versus attraction but put the theory into practice and do everything you can to keep your customers sweet.
  • Parade your Customers (testimonials that provide the proof)
    Happy customers can be your best ambassadors so invite them to share their story – nicely packaged as marketing collateral, public speaking and PR narratives.

For me, the only way to normalize disruption is with knowledge (research) and education (quality marketing). So go forth and disrupt an industry but don’t forget to sweeten the blow for the underdog. PS, if your child is disruptive in school, perhaps it’s the educational system that needs a shakeup.



Photo by it’s me neosiam from Pexels

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