The Problem with Disruption

Today’s marketing landscape is more complex and crowded than ever. Combined with the fact consumers are busy, distracted, and have enormous demands placed on their time – how do brands achieve that much longed-for ‘cut through’?

Is it enough to show up, regularly, in the right place with a message and product that’s relevant for whoever it’s intended for? Or do you need to be more disruptive to get someone’s attention?   

Well, let’s talk about disruption. What does it actually mean? It means challenging category conventions and industry norms. Strong brands take it a step further and do it in a way that supports their brand’s positioning. Disruption shouldn’t just be a Marketing team’s whim. 

Clients (and agencies) love to talk about ‘being disruptive’. But it can be problematic for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the client has a misplaced belief that their brand is genuinely unique and offers something that no other does. So, here’s our chance to “disrupt the category”. But is it, really? The reality is most brands have nothing that significantly differentiates them from a positioning point of view (in the mind of their consumer) from competitors. It’s just another bottle of booze claiming something “unique” about their process. Or another pair of trainers talking about some ground-breaking new technology that’ll make you run faster. 

Unless you’re Apple (put a computer in your pocket), or Dell (a direct sales and built-to-order business model), or Netflix (stream movies and tv on your own devices) – you’re probably onto plums when it comes to meaningful differentiation and claiming something genuinely unique.

The second thing we see is less about taking a disruptive position and instead comes from a desire to shake things up with a new creative direction. And it’s usually because the client or agency is bored. 

But before you throw out your old brand identity or creative in favour of something shiny and new, we’d suggest exercising caution unless you’re very clear about what elements of your brand are assets and which are not. Where have you got room to play?

Byron Sharp talks about the importance and effectiveness of distinctive brand assets. The elements of your brand (colour, strapline, music, graphic style, logo, characters, shapes etc.) that are famous (people connect it with your brand) and unique (they only associate it with your brand). So the Nike Swoosh, the Amazon Arrow, the McDonalds Golden Arches. 

Because when it comes to brands – the most important thing is, do people know you and do they know what they know you for? It’s called mental availability. When a customer has a problem that your brand can solve – is it you that comes to mind?

And that’s why strong brand assets, consistently applied – that help makes your brand easily identifiable and memorable – shouldn’t be forgotten about for the sake of being disruptive. 

So, the summary to all that? Focus on identifying the people with the problem your brand helps solve, figure out how your brand solves it better than others and bake that into your messaging and comms – then invest in making it distinct and memorable. 

And if you’re really going to ‘be disruptive’ – do it in a way that supports your brand’s positioning and ultimately delivers a benefit for your consumer.