In an age where traditional forms of promotion and publicity are failing to get digital audiences excited, marketers must be prepared to take risks. Handled with care, disruptive marketing is a total winner – for startups and established brands alike.
Over the course of digital marketing history, the disruptive approach has allowed companies like Uber, Airbnb, Brewdog and even Google to become dominant forces in their respective industries. But – it goes without saying – getting it right is really, really, really hard.
The foundations of disruption – e.g. audacity and impulsiveness are difficult to sustain in the long term. This alone is enough to make most of us want to play it safe or at least have some sort of contingency plan in place. But you want your brand to be the next Google, right? Of course you do. Here’s how …
Consumer first, all the way
We’re all quite used to the convenience now, but the ‘sharing economy’ business models of Airbnb and Uber were extremely disruptive when they first showed up. In addition to developing technology platforms that allow users to share their goods or services for a cheaper rate than established enterprises, both relied on word-of-mouth and promotional codes to grow their businesses in their early days.
The shared appetite for disruption doesn’t stop there. Both brands have strengthened their offerings over time to meet the needs of different markets in different locations.
Ride request choices at Uber range from luxury cars to wheelchair-accessible vehicles, but Uber has also branched out into business travel and food delivery. Meanwhile, Airbnb has given users the ability to advertise travel experiences alongside accommodation options, which now includes business travel as well.
All the while, both have had to contend with their fair share of criticism and controversies – some deserved, some circumstantial. In spite of this, Uber and Airbnb continue to thrive because customers are drawn towards their cheaper, more convenient products and the fact that both brands are continuously striving to offer something new while always putting the real needs of the consumer first.
After making the initial splash, it’s all about broadening your appeal to a wider audience while retaining the same disruptive attitude that brought traction in the first place. Brewdog has done a phenomenal job of this.
After initial PR stunts like driving a tank through London, going up against the Advertising Standards Authority with a foulmouthed (and totally contrived) rant regarding the banning of its 18.2% Tokyo imperial stout and serving beer in the bodies of dead squirrels, this alternative beer behemoth is now valued at £1bn.
Despite the fact that 22 per cent of the brewery is now owned by a major private equity firm, Brewdog is keeping it punk. Co-founder James Watt believes that PR decisions like the DIY Dog initiative, where beer recipes are published online for free, reinforces the brand’s original outlook.
“We were founded on the punk mentality. Being anarchic and disruptive is in our blood,” he says. “DIY Dog was not only a celebration of everything craft beer, it was another advance on the on-going war with global mega beer corporations.”
Don’t lower your voice
Even when emerging startups become established brands, the need for disruption remains and allows brands not only to keep on progressing but also to ward off any future competition.
Take global roost ruler Google. Its dominant position was only achieved through innovative thinking and calculated risks. Some decisions like halting sales of Google Glass have been questioned; others such as its acquisition of YouTube proved hugely successful.
“You can be disruptive when you are a startup or a mature global business; the key is to have great people and a great culture,” notes Yonca Brunini, vice-president of marketing at Google EMEA. “Our original mission – to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful – remains as true today as it was 17 years ago.
“It keeps us focused but also restless and always looking to explore and innovate. It keeps us on our toes. Remember, we could easily be disrupted too.”