How ‘disruptive’ is disruptive marketing

By Tonnit Thomas, founder and creative director of Tonnit Design

Disruptive marketing has more to do with rethinking the brand as a whole, not just its advertising campaigns. Most organisations typically stick to tried-and-tested, conventional trade practices and promotions, coming up with brand propositions they feel consumers easily identify with. But consumers do easily identify with conventional offerings, which is why it’s not easy to disrupt them.

However, there are quite a few brands that have disrupted the entire category they operate in, right from product to packaging. Contrary to popular belief, disruptive marketing is not a new concept. Brands have been changing the way we look at and consume things for a long time now.

Rewind a few decades and you’ll see how Sony changed the way we were listening to music through the Sony Walk-man. In the years that followed, the method of music consumption changed almost entirely, courtesy of Sony’s bold move back then.

Apple is another classic example of successful disruptive marketing. Back in the 1990s, around the time of the technological boom, Apple’s products were considered out of date and overpriced. Today, Apple offers the most futuristic products, with people eagerly waiting for hours, sometimes days, to get their hands on them.

Also, disruptive marketing is not a high-end market concept. Amazon proved this with Kindle. When the Android tablet market was struggling to imitate the success of the iPad market, Amazon sneakily came up with Kindle. Targeting consumers who did not need all of the features of the iPad, Amazon Kindle could offer very different features and an interface at a very different price, thus paving the way for low-end market disruption.

It’s not always about disruptive products either. There are several newer brands that have thought of disrupting the distribution or the communication matrix. For example, Uber and Airbnb have disrupted the established business norms of taxi and hotel services, respectively.

Redbull, on the other hand, has taken its proposition to the next level through communication, content and events. Netflix is another example of disruptive content and distribution, completely changing the way consumers look at broadcast entertainment.

After interacting with experienced marketers and some fabulous communication experts, some of the trends that I can see coming are in the areas of customer interaction.

What can we expect?

Going forward, market disruption will bank heavily on technology, as technological innovation has become a significant part of the disruptive marketing thought process. For instance, mobiles are the most responsive and widely used devices today. Amazon understood this quite early on and brought their entire store onto mobile devices, which wasn’t easy back then.

In recent times, the Australian ‘share a Coke’ campaign is a great example of how a mass brand can became personal and emotional. Not to forget how amazingly it was integrated with Twitter, to spread the trend like wildfire. The disruption in this particular case was in strategy, communication and execution at every touchpoint.

Personalisation of content is the latest trend that is catching up now. Videos are doing much better than heavily worded content. These will soon start becoming 3D and 4D to give better virtual reality (VR) experiences (in some cases, they already have).

It is essential to understand how busy and lazy the modern consumer is. Brands must offer consumers everything in forms that are easy to consume, requiring minimal effort on the latter’s part. Also, I think consumers have the power to generate better content than brands. There are quite a few intelligent thinkers out there, with their ideas lying unutilised. The brands must create a platform for consumers to express themselves better.

So far, we have seen disruption mostly in the service industry, but now the touch-and-feel products have started offering innovative designs and performances as well.

We have already seen incredible innovations in automobiles, gaming consoles and what not, with Oculus, Nike Adapt shoes, new age phones and all kinds of gadgets. There will only be more such products with time, but if they are not communicated to the consumers in an equally disruptive manner, they will go unnoticed.

Disruptive change

This whole new game of disruption also puts pressure on communication professionals like us. We’ll have to think much more laterally. In fact, many agencies are creating some path-breaking ideas, but sometimes clients are not ready to take that risk yet and many great ideas are wasted just like that. As I said before, disruptive marketing should be the company’s core philosophy and not just an attempt at innovative advertising.

No rules – do something unexpected

There are no strict rules about disruptive ideas. It can happen in any of the 4 Ps of marketing. The whole idea is to attract attention to the product, service or a cause by doing something unexpected.

The most important step for disruption is to create experiences that are relevant to the customers and not just the brand. The customers should first realise that they need a particular product and the brand then meets that unmet need.

Understand the buying journey of your customer

Another important criterion is to define the consumer better and understand his buying journey. It is necessary to know ‘who is important to me’. The universe of consumers could be wide, but disruption must touch the ones who are absolutely important for a brand. Otherwise, non-consumers could well be overawed by the idea, but they won’t buy the brand.

In most cases, marketers tend to define customers demographically, but very little attention is paid to understand their psychographic profile. I also want to stress here that marketers should not be afraid of using guerilla tactics for disrupting routine buying behaviour. Sometimes, these work beautifully. Brand custodians sometimes tend to make a mistake about judging the intelligence of their target group. They think their target audience may not understand a particular idea or creative. The emphasis is thus on creating straightforward creative ideas, which by default will not attract any attention.

If you remember, when the iPhone 2 was launched, nobody explained how to use iTunes for downloads. But people figured that out very quickly. And do you think the same people won’t figure out which brand is best for them today?

In today’s world, I again say that disruption works very well if it is integrated with technology and social platforms. The brands therefore need to check whether they have achieved digital transformation first.

The most important thing for me is implementation. The idea should be simple but effective. A complicated idea can create fudgy implementation and a loss of creative thinking.

 

An expanded version of this article appeared in the May 2017 issue of Gulf Marketing Review.

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