Under the rules of traditional marketing, the key is to find customers that will listen to your message and (hopefully) buy from you. Traditional marketers focus on fine-tuning their message to a specific set of customers (i.e. busy moms who want to pick up an inexpensive cooked meal on their way home) that are most likely to buy from them. While there is nothing wrong with this kind of marketing (it has worked for companies like McDonald’s and Walmart for years), it can be very competitive and offer very little room for newcomers.

For those businesses that want a chance of competing in the global market, disruptive marketing might provide a budget-friendly alternative that packs an incredibly powerful punch. Under the rules of disruptive marketing, the key is to create your own customers. Disruptive marketing does this by focusing on the profitable customers that businesses tend to leave behind.

How is Disruptive Marketing Different Than Traditional Marketing?

Disruptive marketing works in two ways:

(1) Novelty-Fulfill a customer’s needs/wants in a new way using a product or service they have never seen before (Examples: iPhone, MP3, CRM software etc.)

(2) Adaption-Change a current product or service to help customers achieve what they need or want faster, better, cheaper, or at a potential profit for customers (Examples: Google, Amazon, and Pinterest)

You might be asking yourself right now, how is that any different from regular marketing?

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The difference lies in how disruptive marketing reaches its customers. Disruptive marketing is a much harder sell than traditional marketing. A traditional marketer doesn’t have to convince potential customers to buy laundry detergent. They only have to convince customers to buy their brand of laundry detergent.

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Disruptive marketing is different. You have to convince potential customers about why they should even consider your product or service because they don’t have a need for it yet.

This means that disruptive marketing has to focus on challenging the thoughts and habits of their customers instead of getting them to just prefer your brand of a product or service.

Why Disruptive Marketing?

So, why go through all of the trouble to be disruptive? One concept: First-mover advantage.

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“First-mover advantage” is a competitive advantage that a business can achieve quite simply because they are the first to enter a market. First-mover-advantage, when done right, helps a business establish brand dominance and market control. Most importantly, businesses remain “top of mind” with customers meaning customers will tend to think of your business as “the solution”. Think about it…How many times did you “Google” something? What immediately comes to mind when you say iPhone?

Other benefits of disruptive marketing:

  • It’s cheap The focus of disruptive marketing isn’t a big price tag, though you can spend as much as you would like. Disruptive marketing can be as simple as creating a Tweet and as elaborate as an Apple event. The key is to create something that challenges people’s thinking about your product in comparison to others.
  • It invites curiosity Attention is the first barrier in marketing. Because disruptive marketing is unique, it automatically attracts the kind of people that are most interested. If you are a tech-savvy person who saw the first iPhone ad ever, you might be a little intrigued about it and start digging around for more information.
  • It creates copycats.  As the saying goes, “Imitation is the best form of flattery.” No matter what kind of product or service you have in this economy, it will eventually be duplicated or imitated. Imitation comes with risk, though. One one hand, it means that you’re on to something. On the other hand, being first doesn’t always mean you’ll remain the key player, as this Harvard Business Review article points out.
  • It can evolve.  Traditional marketing tends to place you in a “category”. With that category comes expectations about how your business should operate. With disruptive marketing, this goes out of the window. Companies, like Google and Apple, don’t stick to the rules. They use first-mover advantage, experiments, and a learning ecosystem to move into new industries, which builds on their competitive advantage. This makes it harder for copycats to follow because they literally don’t know what’s coming next.

How Can Your Small Business Get Started in Disruptive Marketing?

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OK, so let’s assume that you want to give disruptive marketing a try. It doesn’t matter if you’re the owner of cupcake business that makes thousands or a million-dollar startup, everyone has access to the same tools required for disruptive marketing: a brain, technology, and the right environment that can find and leverage the opportunity. Here are some steps to get you started.

  1. Look for the right opportunities. The first step to disruptive marketing is figuring out what you want to disrupt. This takes a deep knowledge of the industry, product, or service. What you want to look for are areas that your business can do better, faster, or more efficiently. This includes areas like:
    • Gaps in service
    • Unsatisfied customers
    • Potential customers who left out of business’ target market because of price, location, or another characteristic
  2. Decide how you want to leverage your competitive advantage. The second step is to determine how you will disrupt this industry, product, or service. To disrupt an industry, you need to target a weakness and leverage it for your gain. Disruptive marketers have two choices: Create something new or create something better. Creating something new gives you a huge advantage, but it also comes with more risk. (Need examples) Creating something better also comes with a slight first-mover advantage but there is more competition.
  3. Take small, bold and steps forward. Besides the high price tag, the other misconception about disruptive marketing is that you need to do something big (like a press conference or over-the-top graphics) to get started in disruptive marketing. The truth is, you don’t. Disruptive marketing isn’t an “all-or-nothing” marketing approach. It starts when you take one bold action and then follow it with another. This is a recipe for burnout Instead, you want to consistently challenge the status quo in order to maintain your competitive advantage. As your confidence grows, those tiny steps can lead you to more opportunities.
  4. Keep asking “What if…” The competitive advantage in disruptive marketing comes in asking “What if..”. Despite all of the rhetoric about companies being innovative, the truth is most aren’t. Most businesses are happy to keep using the same type of marketing as everyone else. While there is nothing wrong with that, it leaves your business vulnerable to “the success trap”, a situation where a business’ success becomes its liability (Blockbuster, Kodak, etc.). To avoid that problem, keep a lookout for opportunities to grow and evolve your business and find new partners.To avoid that problem, keep a lookout for opportunities to grow and evolve your business and find new partners. Companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google have been able to survive a globally competitive world because they didn’t rest on their laurels.
  5. Invest in a learning system. Disruptive marketing cannot succeed if you don’t turn data (both quantitive and qualitative data) into action and insight. As mentioned above, most businesses are content with the status quo. They measure the same metrics, create the same kind of surveys, and make the same kinds of assumptions. Disruptive marketers know not to fall for this kind of complacency. Instead, disruptive marketers build an environment where they use quantitive data (web clicks, sales numbers, demographics, social media metrics, etc.) and qualitative data (social media comments, comments on customer service lines, observations from frontline employees, etc.) and more to optimize their marketing to reach the overall goal.

Now that you’ve got the basic gist, go forth and start disrupting something today….

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Almost-graduated turned freelance marketing/tech writer, future web developer, social justice advocate, and Millennial on a mission but still confused about the path
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Almost-graduated turned freelance marketing/tech writer, future web developer, social justice advocate, and Millennial on a mission but still confused about the path

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