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  • Angela Dobbie

Shaking Things Up with Disruptive Marketing

When you first hear the term disruptive marketing you might think it sounds a bit dangerous. Or perhaps you're thinking, "I'm not sure what it is, but I'm tempted to look into it so I can shake things up for my business!" Whichever way you think of disruptive marketing - as something to be wary of or something to explore to create significant change - you're right.


Disruptive marketing is like a lightening strike in the market.
Disruptive marketing is like a lightening strike in the market.

So What is Disruptive Marketing?


Disruptive marketing is marketing that takes risks and does things differently than traditional methods; it may break societal rules and wade into waters others won't even dip their toes for fear of getting bitten by negative blowback.


Disruptive marketing is born from innovation and applies to any of the 4Ps of the marketing mix - product, price, place, or promotion. Whether it's introducing an innovative new product, establishing a new pricing model, offering the product in a

different distribution channel, or creating a risqué advertising campaign, any major change in the market that challenges the audience's perception could be considered disruptive marketing.


Starbucks was disruptive marketing in the coffee industry.

Consider Netflix's introduction of offering online movie rentals for a monthly subscription - this was disruptive in both the place (where the service was offered) and pricing model. Starbucks also disrupted the market when they made people think differently about a simple cup of coffee; no longer was it just something you drank at the breakfast diner, Starbucks made it the star of the show.


When it comes to promotion, disruptive marketing may hold the most risk while it offers the most direct results. A company may spend a considerable amount of money developing an advertising campaign that falls flat with customers, or potentially even alienates customers if the messaging doesn't hit the mark with the audience.


Alternatively a campaign may go viral and create enormous buzz for the company's brand, but the company can't be certain of this result prior to the ad's release and herein lies the gamble in using disruptive marketing tactics.


Example of a Disruptive Marketing Campaign


A great example of disruptive marketing is Applebee's use of a trending TikTok video starring a (then) relatively unknown country singer, Walker Hayes. Other than a line in the "Fancy Like" song referencing Applebee's by name, the song itself may not have aligned with Applebee's customers and could have potentially alienated them if they weren't fans of country music or the TikTok platform. Take a look at the video below and see what you think:



Applebee's took a risk to feature the TikTok videos of people dancing (in place of videos of their food or people dining in their restaurants) in a major national ad campaign. The risk paid off and the Applebee's ads have since gone viral and made Walker Hayes "the guy who wrote the Applebee's song".


The point to remember here is that there is never a guarantee that taking a risk with disruptive marketing will work in your favor, so careful consideration should be taken before entering the great unknown.


When Should You Use Disruptive Marketing?


Disruptive marketing is best used when you can claim the risk you're taking is an educated risk. In other words, if you've done extensive market research in your new pricing model, have done testing of your new product with your target customers, have knowledge of the distribution channel you intend to use, or you're extremely familiar with your ideal audience and can predict how they will react to your ad creative.


While a small test sample or interpretive market research isn't a guarantee of results, it can give you confidence to predict how your innovative product / price / place / promotion may "disrupt" the market.

Referring back to the "Fancy Like" Applebee's campaign, the company could have predicted its customers would agree that ordering "Bourbon Street steaks and Oreo shakes" on a Friday night is date night done right. Thus any campaign making its customers heroes for taking their dates out to Applebee's on a Friday night, or participating in the TikTok dance trend, wouldn't hurt the company and would likely be a relatively safe risk.


When Shouldn't You Use Disruptive Marketing?


There are a few situations where you might want to avoid use of disruptive marketing tactics, including (but not limited to) budget considerations, lack of intimacy with your target audience or industry, and/or your underlying objective.


Budget: if your advertising budget is largely consumed by creating a single disruptive ad campaign, and wouldn't withstand additional costs that may be required for secondary "damage control" ads (should your disruptive ad negatively impact your brand sentiment), it may not be worth the risk to be "innovative" with your ad creative.


New Coke fell flat with its target audience.

Target audience: if you haven't established a long-standing or intimate relationship with your target customers, or are in any way unsure of how they'll react to your new product, distribution channel, pricing model, or promotional efforts, you may want to reconsider disruptive marketing until you can better predict how your ideas will be received.


Industry knowledge: if your company is lacking intimate knowledge of the industry you intend to disrupt with your new product or pricing model, or you aren't familiar with the distribution channel you're thinking of selling your products or services in, you may be facing a situation where what you don't know can kill your business, particularly if there are regulatory considerations or barriers to entry.


Underlying objective: if the underlying objective for using disruptive marketing is just to illicit a viral reaction or receive publicity (whether it's good or bad), you may want to reconsider. The result of something "going viral" relies completely on the personal reactions of a broad audience, and trying to predict what the masses will engage with and share would be like throwing a handful of half-chewed bubblegum against a wall to see which individual piece will stick. Put simply, "going viral" can be a fortunate result of your disruptive marketing efforts, but trying to manipulate people into it as your main objective can often have the opposite effect as people don't like being manipulated and can sniff it out a mile away.


Disruptive marketing affects significant change.

So, even though disruptive marketing has a dangerous allure, and can yield amazing results if done well, careful consideration should be given for its use. As with your other marketing initiatives, the more strategic you can be to align your disruptive marketing objective with your selected channels and key messaging, the better your chances for having positive results.


At the end of the day, it all boils down to how your target audience will respond to your disruptive ideas, so the better you know what your audience wants, and what they will appreciate, the more effective your disruptive marketing efforts will be.


If you'd like help exploring disruptive marketing for your business, or need help with your overall marketing strategy, we'd be happy to lend a hand! Contact us today.

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