Disruptive Marketing

What is disruptive marketing?

Disruptive marketing is the name given to the emerging customer centric marketing strategy wherein brands focus more on the customers and their perception of the brand, rather than selling. It differs from traditional marketing in the sense that traditional marketing focusses on talking about their product and how it is better than the competition. Whereas, disruptive marketing is all about building the brand in a way that is somehow relatable for the customers.


Why it is important

In the dynamic and fast paced era that we live in, the customer is not only spoilt for choice because of the dearth less options available, but is also exhausted from choosing. In an environment like this, it is particularly important for brands to be unique. In fact, according to a new Wunderman study, 88% of consumers in the U.S. and 90% in the U.K. want to engage with brands that are setting new standards, are going beyond the expected and pushing the boundaries. Also, we have moved on to a world where conversations and personalization are a lot more effective than hard selling. Customers prefer buying products that speak to them, instead of products loaded with features. It is important for any product or brand to have a back story that the customer can connect with. This is where the importance of disruptive marketing comes into picture. Disruptive marketing is not just a strategy. It is a business model. Disruptive marketing encourages companies to redefine their whole brand instead of just changing their marketing or advertising campaigns. It focusses on constantly innovating the brand so as to stay relevant in the market. It believes in making the customer a part of the brand, by communicating and connecting with them on a human level.


Relation with disruptive innovation

Disruptive marketing is actually a part of a bigger system – disruptive innovation. It is defined in the Harvard Business Review as “a process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses.” It includes making accessible to the majority of people, things that were accessible to only a certain section. Disruptive innovation aims at redefining the way a company functions, to make it more inclusive of its customers. It aims at understanding the market, their needs and behaviour and making use of that information to provide the customer exactly what they want. After a disruptive product has been developed, disruptive marketing comes into play. The marketing team has to develop a campaign that either connects with the existing customers on a level that was non-existent before, or speaks to an altogether new section of customers.

An outstanding example of disruptive innovation is the launch of Kindle Fire by Amazon. Tech companies were launching Android Tabs, making the maximum efforts to incorporate the features of the iPad and selling them at similar prices. But they were unable to capture the market as well as Apple. All this while Amazon was developing the Kindle Fire, which did not have all the features of the iPad. The launch of Kindle Fire was a huge success, with it capturing more than half the market size of Android tabs. What set it apart was the fact that Amazon took into account the section of the customers that did not want all the features of the iPad, just a few basic ones at a price lesser than the iPad.

Source: www.marketing-schools.org


Who employs it?

Given the fast pace of the world and business, very soon the traditional marketing means will not stay relevant to the customer. Hence, every company should be prepared to employ disruptive marketing. However, currently the companies employing it the most are technology companies. A great example is the mobile applications we all use. The creators of these applications keep rolling out update versions in order to stay relevant. They study the market with a keen focus on the changing needs of the customers. They gain insights and stay updated through customer ratings and reviews and use them to constantly come up with a better version of their application.


Detailed description with examples of application

The crux of disruptive marketing lies in transforming a brand so that it has a unique perception among customers. It encourages marketers to think outside the box and use their intuition instead of following the traditional set approach to marketing. The result is an approach that connects with the customers and lets them view the brand on a human level.

An example of this approach is the ‘Better for it’ ad campaign by Nike featuring two sisters, Margot and Lily, one of who is a fitness enthusiast and loves working out and the other loves partying and hanging out with friends. Through this ad, Nike stresses on the fact that its products are not only focussed on intense athletes but also regular people who struggle to find the motivation to work out. Nike was able to connect with a lot of women, since most women fit into either of the two characters. This campaign does not aim at pushing Nike products onto customers, but very realistically portrays the type of people that exist. People watch this, relate to one of the characters and form an emotional bond with Nike, which helps it gain customers.

Another brand that made use of this aspect of disruptive marketing is Paper Boat. With a name that instantly reminds one of their childhood and flavours like Aamras, Aampanna, Jaljeera etc, Paper Boat has beautifully orchestrated its campaign around nostalgia from the very onset of the company. With its tagline as ‘drinks and memories’, it manages to create a feeling of reminiscence amongst the consumers, which in turn fosters a feeling of trust towards the company. This strategy is evident even in the ad campaigns, one of which features a man reminiscing his first train journey. The ad beautifully captures the bliss of childhood, very realistically portraying the train journey that almost every person can relate to. The ad focusses on nostalgia and the concept way more than the product, mentioning the product only at the very end. Even so it manages to create an impact on the minds of the viewers because the concept that it is built on is very close to the hearts of the customers.


Disruptive marketing is based on the belief that ‘content is the new currency’. Educational and entertaining content is at the base of this whole concept. The most important kind of content is user generated, in the form of reviews, social media posts and blogging. The concept of content co-creation along with the user is something that disruptive marketing aims to explore. This can happen through online communities wherein the users post their feedback and ideas about the brand and its products.

An example of this is LEGO, which co-creates its products along with the customers. LEGO has an interactive online community LEGO Ideas, where the customers post their ideas and designs and receive feedbacks from other users. LEGO picks a winner from amongst the ones that have the highest votes, creates and sells the product.


Disruptive marketing also encourages taking risks and using humour in the campaigns. It follows the belief ‘No risks, no rewards’. Also, humour is something that everyone enjoys. And with the changing mindset of people, customers tend to have higher regard for a brand that is perceived to be funny and entertaining. An example of this Toyota’s ‘fuelled by bullshit’ campaign to announce the arrival of its hydrogen fuelled electric car. This ad tackles the doubts around hydrogen fuel technology, while adding an element of humour to it to make it more relatable for the viewers. The usage of a cuss word is a risk that Toyota took, but it worked pretty well.


Disruptive marketing also makes people warm up to companies by talking about causes that people feel for, even if not directly relate to. The ‘A wedding to remember’ ad by Tanishq shows the second wedding of a dusky woman, who has a daughter. This ad shows a groom who is very accepting of the woman as well as her child. This throws light on issues that still plague the Indian society. Indians are still obsessed with fair brides and remarriages of women are still looked down upon. This ad was very well received since it connected quite well to people who have either faced this issue or worked towards fighting it.


How to employ

Disruptive marketing is not just aimed at changing marketing campaigns but also the brand perception. Hence it often requires a company to change its business models, products and marketing strategies to synchronise well with the customers. This can be a huge transformation and requires humungous efforts. The logical order that can be followed has been mentioned and explained below.

Fig. 3 Steps to employ disruptive marketing


In order for a company to apply disruptive marketing, it has to make sure that everyone in the organisation is entirely committed to bringing about the change. This is followed by a clear analysis and understanding of the company’s aspirational mission. The company needs to analyse which aspect of the customers’ lives it adds value to. The makers of the brand should brainstorm to define the essential purpose of the brand and what it is striving to become. This is the most important part, as the entire campaign would be centred around it. Post this, the most important long-term goals need to be set. Then the benefits and features of the business need to be defined. These benefits should be more of emotional rather than physical nature. It is also important to have an idea of the current public perception of the brand, in order to benchmark the progress and know which direction to move in.

After the brand purpose and long-term objectives have been defined, it is essential to have an in-depth knowledge about the industry that the company wants to disrupt. This is vital in order to identify and tap the market gaps.

After having identified the unmet needs of the market, it is important to know the customer. The company needs to carefully define a target market. The target market should be fairly specific as the idea is to reap the benefits of personalization. After this, the needs and wants of the customers need to be identified. According to a survey, 72% of the customers expect companies to understand their unique needs. Detailed studies need to be done on customer expectations and behaviour. It is of utmost importance to understand why customers buy a particular product and what their perceptions are. This can be done using qualitative research methods, such as surveys, feedback and blogging. It is important to make the customer a big part of this process, since the whole concept of disruptive marketing is being customer inclusive.

After the needs and expectations of the customer have been understood, it is important to develop an effective strategy to reach the customers. An impactful campaign needs to be designed and delivered to the customers through the right means. The campaign should draw from the brand purpose and should be centred around it, for the brand to be perceived as consistent. It should have the potential to create a buzz for it to be noticed in a market that is never short of options. It should also be emotionally relevant to the target market identified. Adding an element of humour or using something unusual works well since it provides something new and refreshing to the customer. It is important to define the boundaries of the industry and then challenge them through the campaign. An example of this is the ad campaign by Dollar Shave Club, that differentiated its product using humour and unique value proposition.

It is important to identify the right channel for the campaign to reach the target audience. In this era of the internet, it is vital to have an online presence. In addition to that, other effective media channels can be identified and used. The channels can be determined by closely studying customer behaviour. Personalised SMSs, blogging, online communities, in-store marketing are a few options that can be explored.

The final step is to launch the campaign, monitor the reactions and responses of the customers and to adjust the campaign according to it. The makers of the campaign need to have an open mind and should be ready to make changes to the campaign if it is not well received by the audience.



Even though disruptive marketing is much talked about and we have examples of brands that have applied it, a vast majority of companies still go with the traditional form of marketing. This works for now, as the trend is yet to catch on completely, but in coming times, the need for disruptive marketing will be enormous. Brands that focus on the post millennial generation will have a clear advantage. The upcoming generation Z will be more demanding than the millennials, and it would want the companies to carry on a business for objectives other than just profit. The measures of success will be redefined, and revenue will not be the only way to gauge it. We are moving towards a world where brands will be their own multimedia. A good percentage of the marketing would be done through the customers, which will make brand loyalty and hence brand advocacy a very important factor. Companies would want to move to relationship-oriented, data driven marketing, instead of old school push messaging. Personalized service around valuable products is what will be appreciated by the coming generation of customers. Since all of this would revolve around data mining, tracking metrics will be improved upon. The analytical methods that are in practice right now, like measuring the likeability of something by monitoring Facebook likes, shares, engagements etc will be obsolete. Instead, new analytical tools will be developed for more effective and accurate data mining. Data analytics being such a hot topic for exploration further points to the huge scope of disruptive marketing.



We live in a fast-paced dynamic society that is moving more and more towards sensitivity to sentiments and emotions. In this world where there is no dearth of options and the physical features provided by many brands are similar, it is important to create a unique brand identity that bonds with the customers emotionally. It is crucial to think out of the box, have a clear idea of the emotional value that the brand adds and to put it across to the customer in a way that connects with them on a human level.



Disruptive Marketing, Geoffrey Colon

Disruptive Marketing Strategy, G. Tomas M. Hult, David J. Ketchen Jr., Journal of Product Innovation Management

3 changes retailers need to make to survive, Nick Harrison, Deborah O’Neill, Harvard Business Review

Team Name:- Erudites(Saurav Shikha, Deepesh Malukani)


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