There’s some new marketing jargon in town: the term is “Disruptive,” and, although applied to other disciplines since 1995, today marketers and entrepreneurs are using it in phrases like:

“Create Disruptive Advertising!”

“Disrupt your market before you are disrupted!”

“I want our next website to be Disruptive to the market.”

When my prospects and clients started wanting to be “disruptive” in their industry, I realized that this marketing and/or branding term is being over exaggerated. The term is being tossed around and overemphasized so much that it’s losing its impact. Also, I suspect those who are using this “disruptive” term don’t fully understand what they are asking for, or what it will mean for their organization. It is a rare company that is truly capable of doing “disruptive” anything.

Here are three approaches I see for applying disruption in almost any industry:

  1. Disruptive Advertising takes an existing product or service and creates an innovative new message and slant for it; it’s then formatted for multiple advertising platforms for the most possible views. For this to be successful, we have to dig deeply into the usage or meaning of your product or service, and work to connect people to it in an odd way – lateral thinking kind of stuff.
    For example, IFC’s expansive “always on, slightly off” rebranding campaign permeates various social media with a vast repertoire of graphics, memes and videos, communicating their quirky brand message in a unique way. Oakley’s Disruptive by Design campaign utilizes (literally disruptive) visual content to communicate a lofty concept that not only moves people to buy a product, but moves them emotionally.We’ll need to accept that lots of people will like it, and even more possibly will not. The expense comes in with the high degree of ideation, testing, implementation and advertising costs. It takes the form of a campaign that exists only for a limited time.
  2. Cheaper Disruption takes an existing product or service and does something off-the-wall – like Ling’s Cars, which parodies local car advertisements for a different look and big laughs. It is still planned and strategic, but different from campaign advertising in that it doesn’t require extra marketing dollars to push it out to the public. This becomes part of your every day brand.

  3. Innovative Disruption
    is the core of the disruption message; it has nothing to do with external marketing or advertising. In this case, your company creates a product or service that fundamentally changes the way people who use it act, think, and behave, a “paradigm shift”. It’s a real game changer, and this kind of disruption can only come from YOU. Take rideshare services, for example: Uber, Lyft, and others disrupted the tradition of calling taxi companies for transportation, and convinced the masses that its ok to get a ride from “strangers.”
    This is how the term “disruptive” should be used, but most companies don’t have what it takes to make it happen. Innovative Disruption means working to create something very different that doesn’t exist in the market yet, or affects a large change in the industry. Believe it or not, your marketing team should be heavily involved in creating this disruptive product or service if the end goal is to really rock the industry.

I’m all for being disruptive before we are disrupted as long as there is a solid business goal behind it, and a solid plan to capitalize on the disruption.