It’s not what you might think.
A new website. Open a twitter account. Get on Facebook. Connect to everyone on LinkedIn…but keep putting up billboards to generate “buzz”. Disguises, nothing short of a facade. These do not define the execution of disruption marketing.
In 1995, a Harvard Management Professor named Clayton Christensen coined the term in an article about disruptive technologies. In the article the authors discussed the development of technologies that,
…offered less of what customers wanted in established markets…they offered a different package of attributes valued only in emerging markets remote from and, and unimportant to, the mainstream.
How is this applied to marketing? First, I don’t believe that disruptive marketing is radical marketing. I don’t believe that disruptive marketing can be defined as simply anything that is the opposite of a firm’s existing marketing strategy nor do I believe that disruptive marketing is defined as a new website, a twitter account, et al, labeled as disruptive.
Disruption marketing refers to a strategic shift that is disruptive to established marketing organizational structure and process based on a focus on new or emerging definitions of the market.
To be more specific, disruption marketing is based on a redefinition of markets and then refocusing both the marketing organizational structure and strategy to individually engage them. It begins by segmenting the firm’s market as a set of almost infinite niche markets instead of one homogenous market and once defined, applying strategies that includes tactics (attributes) precisely targeting each of those independent markets. The strategy is based upon aligning tactics closely to the emerging markets that are remote from or underserved by the competitive environment. Who wouldn’t want to be in a market with no competitors?
Yes, but effective?
Examples are all around you: Amazon. iTunes. Your iPhone 4s. These brands redefined the markets from their competitive environments, segmented those markets almost on an individual level then built marketing strategies to convey the attributes that were relevant.
No. And the probability for failure when attempting a disruptive approach lies in the status quo. Christensen found that failure for disruptive technological innovation was a function of the organization and the process. If the organization attempted to employ a disruptive approach internally, using existing organization and process, the strategy would nearly always fail. What is required is not only a commitment to a disruptive approach but the creation of a semi-autonomous entity to do it. In other words, the team that is running your present marketing strategy cannot be called upon to design and execute a disruptive strategy concurrently with the existing strategy. It is also illogical to assume that a firm has the luxury of suspending current marketing while implementing a new approach. In fact such suicidal marketing would be a very bad choice. Perhaps now you see the basis for this point, it doesn’t work. Organizational structures, culture and processes are the status quo model sustaining current sales. So firms must sustain current efforts while trying to implement a different approach. It will not work to simply task them with implementing a new model while managing the old and hence, the need for an autonomous or semi-autonomous model becomes not only obvious but presents the least risky decision path for the firm.
Is a disruptive marketing approach the right one? In most cases, I’d say the answer is no. Many firms lack the real courage to embrace the type of organizational and process change required. It goes against their conventional wisdom and in fact will be contrary to the marketing that has brought them to today. A very difficult change indeed. Yet for those visionary leaders that recognize that innovation and brand life cycles are highly correlated, it can be the catalyst for a new and sustainable growth phase.
excerpts from Bower, Joseph L. & Christensen, Clayton M. (1995). “Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave” Harvard Business Review, January–February 1995