Five Essentials of Disruption


I once worked for a firm in the professional services sector whose entire marketing function was tasked with introducing disruptive marketing elements into their marketing activity. A great idea – disruption can after all, bring heightened awareness, drive differentiation and indicate a special kind of boldness and savvy – but let me tell you, it was tough.

We’ve seen many examples of disruption working well in recent times and marketers are getting better at it all the time.  A couple of my personal favourites, for example:

–       Marmite’s “I hate Marmite” campaign: Accepting and even celebrating the fact that your product is genuinely hated by some people is not the conventional way to market. But, by highlighting divided opinion, Marmite managed to make the love Marmite brigade all the more staunch, and in the process be seen as iconic and ironic.

The Evening Standard’s “Sorry” campaign: In 2009, London’s Evening Standard mounted a huge campaign across the capital which saw buses, billboards and ads proclaim “Sorry” for a host of supposed failings, including being negative, predictable, complacent and out of touch. Honestly, the marketer (and cynic) in me adored this.  By heaping self-criticism and recrimination, they saved anyone else from doing it and suggested that of course, their standards should be – and would be – so much higher.  And more than that, it grabbed attention.  To complete the masterstroke, this was all a precursor to the launch of a new-look Standard shortly after.

I’ve thought a lot about why these examples were successful and yet, we in the corporate world found it such a struggle.  Well, for a start, the above campaigns were part of an overall brand strategy and were pivotal to some powerful positioning work.  We, on the other hand, were working within a pre-defined brand strategy and simply trying to wrap a layer of disruptive marketing across our tactical activity in many cases.  A lot of the time I feared we were simply ‘doing disruption for disruption’s sake’.

It’s not easy to achieve marketing disruption in the corporate world, but it’s certainly not impossible.  So here are Wisdom London’s essential pointers:

1. Make it smart – do your groundwork

Rather than disruption for the sake of it, consider what you can realistically change within your means and the value it could bring.  Disruption in marketing is all about making your audience behave differently by interrupting their routine, expectations or habits. So make sure first of all that you have a good idea of how your audience operates – otherwise how will you know what to disrupt?

2. Bold is beautiful…

There’s little I admire more than having courage in one’s convictions, and that’s exactly what you need to make a bold disruption plan work.  If you’re going to be bold, do it – but be conscious that it takes courage and belief to turn things on their heads and confront or challenge assumptions. You’ll need buy-in, you’ll need internal awareness, and a good storyline to back it all up.

3. Small is beautiful too

We tend to hold up the more dramatic examples of marketing disruption as the successful ones, but small steps are good too.  In the corporate world, business is more transactional and less personal, yet we’re still dealing with humans.  I’m a big believer in ‘humanising’ a corporate brand to achieve disruption (where this is not the norm).  For example, being more transparent about who your people really are (beyond their job title), what makes them tick, and empowering them to overturn convention by venturing opinions alongside regular thought leaders or corporate commentators. Small steps.

4. Disrupt how you communicate

The way in which you communicate your brand and proposition is an obvious area for disruptive marketing. Defy your market’s expectations with a bespoke video instead of a proposal document, develop beautiful infographics instead of a PowerPoint presentation or brochure, harness social media if you have not already, and let this open up a whole ream of new opportunities with which to surprise and overturn expectations.

5. Make sure that Disruption = Added Value

Think about how you can add value to your client through disruption – that’s how industry giants like Apple have achieved it, changing the way we behave for the better and adding services we didn’t know we needed.  Can your service or product do that, even on a micro-level?  What about adding value personally in the way you deliver that product or manage your client relationships?  I often send a client or contact an article or URL that I’ve stumbled across and thought they would find interesting or useful.  It may be nothing to do with marketing, but it adds to the value of our relationship.  (btw: this is not intentional disruption, but just good business practice!) Can you add an invaluable layer of service or tweak what exists, to deliver even more value?

Tell us your disruption essentials and best industry examples…we really want to know what you think!

Kate Spiers is CEO of Wisdom London, a creative marketing communications consultancy. Follow Kate on Twitter for more like this.

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