Of all the industries thriving under the tech revolution, marketing seems to be the most prone to embracing new buzzwords. This wouldn’t be such a problem but marketers seem predisposed to overusing and oversimplifying these words to suit their own ends. Of all the buzzwords currently floating around the martech atmosphere right now, none are as trite and tired as ‘disruption marketing’.
Although technically a business model, not a marketing approach, disruption marketing has been held up as the secret ingredient to rapid business success. Startups everywhere are proudly proclaiming themselves as the next big disruption to the status quo, despite not really understanding the criteria for something to be ‘disruptive’. In fact, any company can be disruptive. Being truly disruptive requires more than just an innovative idea. It involves applying the same fundamentals of business used by others, in a more dynamic way.
What is disruptive marketing?
In the interest of clarification, let’s lay out exactly what disruptive marketing is. The standard definition can be traced back to ‘disruptive innovation’, a term put forward by Clay Christensen, the author of ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma.’ In it, Christensen explains ‘disruptive innovation’ is the process by which large, established companies are caught out by small, agile startups.
Often these startups will be described as “operating on a different wavelength” because they have eschewed traditional working practices in favour of a more unorthodox approach. The problem today is, too many startups equate the unconventional with successful market disruption. So instead, we’ve compiled a list of five things your startup should aim to do that will, in turn, give you a disruptive edge over the competition.
Understand your customer
This sounds like an obvious requirement, and it is. Companies far and wide, however, are failing to respond to this most pressing need. It doesn’t matter if you’re a large tech startup based in Silicon Valley or a small delivery startup in Sydney, you have to have a clear image of your client and their needs. Ask yourself, what could you offer that would tempt them away from your competitors?
Communicate with your customers regularly. If you don’t maintain contact with your customer, you can’t truly understand them, making it harder to evolve your model around their needs.
Every technology is disruptive in some way, and to produce anything other than an exact replica is to disrupt in some sense. By endeavouring to understand your client-base better, you can begin to spot the pitfalls of others and act on them. Uber was based on the age-old idea that people need hired-transport, but it eschewed the unpredictability of hailing a cab, allowed drivers to use their own cars and side-stepped the decreasing relevance of physical currency. In doing so, they disrupted the market while building on the same principals of previous public transport models.
Refine your process
Disruptive marketing is misleading for a number of reasons, not least because it leads CEO’s to think they have to create a new technology, model or approach from scratch. Companies like Uber and AirBnB were based on age-old concepts. The only real ‘disruptive element’ was in the way they took an established concept and simplified it. They didn’t reinvent the wheel, they refined it for a new generation.
Ensuring the UI for your software is accessible and clean will keep clients coming back for more, while a simple sign up and implementation process will streamline the sales funnel between lead and customer. No company starts out with the perfect process. Business models have to be optimised according to the consumer, the cultural environment and other, ever-changing factors.
That’s why it’s essential to keep your model fluid. Trial different marketing approaches, technologies and channels to see which work best for your brand. Experiment with measurable goals, incorporating data-harvesting tools to gain quantifiable results – measuring success rates is always easier when you quantify them. You may never find the perfect formula, but that shouldn’t stop you from striving to improve your model.
Adapt your model
As Jill Lepore explained in an article for the New Yorker “Disruption…despite its futurism, is atavistic. It’s a theory of history founded on a profound anxiety about financial collapse, an apocalyptic fear of global devastation, and shaky evidence.” Disruption is an inevitable part of business, and, on a grander scale, society, and to try to wilfully harness it is to ignore the obvious – you can’t own evolution. You can only hope to spot the surge and ride the wave.
Our mobile phones, the internet and, before that, TV and cinema, were all disrupters. They changed the way we eat, sleep, socialise and entertain ourselves, but they were the result of thousands, even millions of minds coming together to advance existing technologies.
As W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne pointed out in their 2005 book Blue Ocean Strategy, existing firms already have an advantage in disruption. Because they have already gained a foothold in the market, they are better seated to identify and exploit ‘blue oceans’ – markets new to both customers and competitors.
Find your niche
What do you offer that nobody else can? Identifying your USP is the closest you’ll get to consciously developing a disruptive marketing strategy, but it’s nothing new. Every business strives to stand out and convey why it’s the optimum choice for consumers.
To really make a mark on an industry you must identify your USP and justify its presence in the market by tackling the shortcomings of your competitors. Responding to market demand and anticipating market demand are very different. If your marketing processes are largely reactionary, responding to client needs when they arise, how can you expect to get ahead of the competition?
Tools like Google AdWords’ Keyword Planner provide insights into industry hot topics, but they can also point to upcoming market trends. Track keywords that you feel are most relevant to your company and try to spot recurring themes. Keywords like ‘inbound marketing’, ‘eCommerce’ and ‘custom marketing platform’ have only recently become popular searchable terms, but they could point to the next big thing. Use these as a means of guiding where you position your startup in the market, and how you reach out to new leads.
Maintain a strong social presence
Use the right channels, make sure your content is relevant for your audience. Your social content has to give clients valuable information whilst cultivating a consistent brand message. Of course, disruptive marketing stems from the unexpected. Be willing to step outside of the boundaries and apply a unique approach, but first, you must understand the boundaries.
Draw up a profile of your customer base and build your content around what you know appeals to them. This refers not just to the subject of the content, but the language with which it’s written, the images you use and the times you choose to communicate your message. Your social presence is the first port of call for many prospective leads, so it’s vital you establish your corporate character here, and ensure it’s consistent across all channels.
By all means, study the business behaviours of other startups – after all, marketing and business are ever-changing concepts that could always do with being further refined. But trying to emulate the success of other companies by replicating their process will never result in the same triumph. As Abby Ross said in a recent Forbes article, “we need to empower, not disrupt.” To be truly innovative, you must first understand the tried and tested methods of operating and improve upon them. Quirky business practices might disrupt an industry, but it takes real business acumen to change an industry forever.