Grasping Disruption

No one will argue that it takes courage to be disruptive.  You’re fighting a tide of engrained behavior, expectation and often, regulation.  But most of us believe there’s a better way to buy a car, get a ride home, receive a communication, find accommodations, shop without leaving your home.  The only people who believe otherwise are those industry leaders who have used their power and position to maintain the status quo. 

As much as customers gravitate to disruptive brands, not all agencies do.  To represent a disruptive company, you must be disruptive in your own business, philosophically and culturally.  Otherwise, throwing caution to the wind, when the strategy or ideation calls for it, will feel awkward and stressful. 

Launching what founders believe is a disruptive brand doesn’t make it disruptive though.  But placating the passion and impatience of entrepreneurs in those early weeks and months as they attempt to establish a disruptive position, is not the solution.  You need to believe as they do.  Equally important, you need to outline a strategy that begins with positioning the brand.  Establishing a painfully simple message so the target audience gets it and adopts it is often the biggest challenge.  There are cemeteries of brands that have had disruptive ideas, but they couldn’t sell it.  Often, the difference between thriving or dying is nailing the positioning.  

Once you land it, though, the public relations and marketing become the catalyst to success.  Rarely does a disruptive brand thrive and survive from a viral strategy.  If you believe nailing a viral video or executing a wild stunt will secure your disruptive momentum, that’s a little like going all in at the black jack table holding a 9 and a 3. 

Get beyond the viral foolhardiness and recognize that breaking down the norms of an industry must happen on multiple levels, starting with early adopters.  It’s a market by market, measurable media relations, executive visibility, organic and paid social, demand generation effort until you have reached enough critical success at the market level that you can begin to speak nationally.  Pursuing a national voice prematurely though, particularly among media, could result in the kind of rejection that breaks your momentum and requires even greater adoption before you can go back to the media well. 

Listening to your agency about national timing is important as you enter the early phase of the “Disruptive Tipping Point.” National wins like a Wall Street Journal piece or an MSNBC appearance, particularly in light of a media-genic “perceived” competitor, establishes credibility but not disruption.  However, you have third-party attribution to leverage, market and scale.  Ultimately, users and financials tip the brand from aspiration to potential.  And when you discover that your brand is actually changing behavior, that’s the point when you have a solid grasp on disrupting an industry. 

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