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How to be disruptive and make money


Most marketing activity interrupts. It interrupts evenings in front of the TV, reading the newspaper, walking down the street. However, the interruptions get less effective as the consumer becomes immune to the endless messages.

Advertisers have to shock or surprise the consumer in a bid to have their full attention – but this is just a “louder” form of interruption: louder TV ads; brighter colours; larger typefaces. Just because the consumer can’t avoid seeing or hearing a promotion, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it engages the consumer’s attention.

The guerrilla-marketing school of thought looks for devious ways of going under the radar, of reaching the consumer in ways that the competition has not thought of. This is relatively disruptive – it seeks to bend the rules to do things differently, to get noticed. It messes with the rules of engagement.

To be disruptive, you have to shake up the market. Let’s look at some examples.

Starbucks was a disruptive business. It changed the habits of a generation (as did Facebook, Google and so on). But what is new today becomes old tomorrow. Today’s revolutionaries are tomorrow’s old guard.

Whole Foods Market: All wholefood stores were small, local affairs – then along comes the real deal (in the same vein as Virgin Megastores).

A great disruptor doesn’t just do more than interrupt; it can change the face of the landscape.

The small record shops were pretty much destroyed by the arrival of the Virgin-type megastores, while Starbucks changed how and where we socialise. I think that we can all disrupt, if only on a smaller stage.

Take Dans Le Noir restaurant, where you’re served by blind waiting staff in a pitch black room. The concept is wonderfully disruptive. It disrupts every part of the standard process we call going to a restaurant. You don’t know where you are or what you are eating. You are lost. A truly memorable experience, which changes how guests see food forever.

What I refer to as “disruptive marketing” is when we disrupt how things are done in the marketing world. Think Apple or Innocent Drinks.

Hobbs House Bakery sells very expensive (and wonderfully delicious) bread on the internet – no-one else did it before and why not?

You can zig when they zag. Go against the traffic. Challenge the notion of “that’s how we do it around here”, a myth perpetuated by the majority who have lost the passion and excitement to try to create newer and better ways of doing things. Get innovative in every possible part of the process.

Looking at your industry, what could be improved to give the client a significantly better deal” You could deliver quicker or higher quality or cheaper – but what would be disruptive

Depending on your marketplace, think what would happen if you:

  • Charged by results only
  • Let customers decide what to pay
  • Only work online or by phone
  • Charged per fve-minute slots…

Being disruptive creates attention. In business this is a good thing. You get noticed. But a gimmick will be seen for what it is. To disrupt effectively, change how people buy and give them the service they really deserve. No easy task.

Picture source

Robert Craven spent five years running training and consultancy programmes for entrepreneurial businesses at Warwick Business School. He is the author of business best-sellers Kick-Start Your Business (foreword by Sir Richard Branson) and Bright Marketing. He now runs The Directors’ Centre and is described by the Financial Times as “the entrepreneurship guru”. For further information, contact Robert Craven on 01225 851044, [email protected]


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