5 Ways to Think Like a Disruptive Force
AirBNB, Uber, Zappos and all the other market-disrupting companies out there are already dinosaurs. They just don’t know it yet. The technological breakthroughs that will make them obsolete have already been developed, or are being born in the minds of brilliant graduate students somewhere. While we can’t all be game-changing revolutionaries, you can use some of their methods. Each of these ground-breaking ideas resulted from a specific kind of thinking that you can apply every day.
Here are five questions that may not lead to classic market disruption at a stroke, but by applying them, you can train your brain to be more dissatisfied with the same old ways of thinking and start finding new ones.
1. Does this idea give consumers more control?
If there’s a common thread among the major market disruptors of the past decade, from online insurance marketplaces to immediate delivery of groceries, it’s increased control for the consumer. When we can provide a greater and more convenient access to information, products, stuff in general, we are pushing into the realm of the disruptor.
The danger here is letting the great be the enemy of the good. Think of the wireless communications behemoths out there. For them, large, systemic change is difficult, costly and risky. But their marketing teams have come up with ways to disrupt the consumer experience in smaller ways.
A simple slider widget, for instance, allowed wireless customers to see the actual effects of changing their plans without having to actually change their service. This simple joint effort between billing and customer relationship management teams helped customers feel more in control of their accounts and more involved with the brand.
2. Are we connecting the dots better and breaking down internal barriers?
Disruptors are focused on increasing coordination between corporate functions. Always consider who’s not talking to each other, but should be. One of the central tenets of agile management is “people over process.” And it works. When the people doing the actual work have more visibility into other silos, innovation increases measurably. Always try opening new doors.
A good example of a simple internal innovation leading to better thinking is the rise of the dashboard. It seems like everyone wants a dashboard. Why? Because it allows each team-member to view and analyze critical information quickly from their unique point of expertise.
One insurance company I worked with created a set of marketing dashboards in which each team member could view the week’s or day’s sales and recommend course changes and improvements in real time. The result was dramatic. They went from a defensive market position to a record for lead generation in just two enrollment seasons. I’m not saying this was all due to the greater collaboration facilitated by these dashboards, but the level of cross-function communication was certainly a contributing factor.
3. Do we offer what the consumer needs everywhere along the journey?
The economy of marketing has changed. The typical consumer interaction is not a harangue. It’s a value exchange. The contents of your communication must add value to the consumer’s experience or it fails.
Every consumer path to purchase is different. That means you need to be playing a constant match-game. “What does the consumer want to hear about Yarn Club when their booking ski vacation hotels? At what level are they likely to engage?” You could find that a short demo video in a banner will tease them in. Or if you know they’ve been on your scarf patterns page, you might find simple advice on scarf length when hitting the slopes works, or a funny video of a scarf mishap.
Make sure your creative does more than get into the mind of the consumer. It needs to be in the mind of the consumer at that specific moment along the path to buy.
4. How can we engage at a deeper level?
A CEO has the power to revolutionize the direction of the company—to remake it. An art director or marketing manager may find that difficult. But there are things within your circle of influence that you can push.
The marketing manager may have control over media-focus and where the money is spent. Can you create visibility and appetite for addressable TV? Is Wi-Fi identifier a better tech to use when driving to a retail location? Does it scale to your needs? Can an art director present ideas for geo-fenced mobile video? Of course!
These are not major disruptions, but they push the boundaries of what anyone can do to give the consumer more control and relevance. The cumulative effect: You’re more likely to discern the next leap forward before others do.
5. Do we question everything (and stay open to dangerous answers)
Get “we’ve always done it that way” out of your vocabulary. If you find yourself choosing a strategy by rote, or because you “know” it’s the best way to go, stop. It probably isn’t the best.
Think it through from the consumer’s point of view. Don’t just ask, “Does it make sense?” Look for problems. Remember, we are not our customers, and our pain points are almost never theirs. So much marketing just doesn’t make sense anymore given new audience expectations. Consumers know the possibilities. The question is, are we living up to them?
None of these are the instant path to becoming the next Uber, but when more people in an organization are thinking like disruptors, the level of achievement rises. Eventually, when you reach a critical mass, bit things start to happen. The only way to initiate disruptive market change is to start with yourself.
Working with everything from Fortune 500 companies to nonprofits, Paul Ford has been producing creative content for over two decades on both the agency and the client-side. He’s worked in just about every industry imaginable. Whether it’s telecom, insurance, or energy, his focus is always giving consumers something more than they expect from their marketing value exchange.