The Disruptive Idea: that’s what it’s all about

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Doug Kessler

24. 03. 2009 | 3 min read

The Disruptive Idea: that’s what it’s all about

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There is so much written about the black art of marketing and even more written about digital marketing (or internet marketing).  Zillions of blog posts. Millions of white papers, books, eBooks, videos, courses, 5-part DVD series, twitter tweets, LinkedIn groups…

It reminds me of the health, fitness & diet markets — trillion dollar industries that exist solely to peddle sophisticated alternatives to a simple, obvious truth: eat less, exercise more.

The simple, obvious truth in marketing is this: the Disruptive Idea takes all before it.  If you’ve got one, you’re half way to the gold ring.  If you don’t have one, you’re probably wasting your time.

A Disruptive Idea is just that. It’s a new idea that threatens the status quo.  It tells people that they’re looking at things all wrong, then suggests a much better way.  The Disruptive Idea has to have these qualities:

It has to be true – Loud, lame or lyrical bullshit just isn’t sustainable.  The more you can prove the validity of your idea, the stronger it is.

It has to be different – Big ideas incite riots. ‘Me-too’ ideas incite yawns.

It has to be controversial –  If everyone who hears it simply agrees, it’s not disruptive.

It has to generate value –Spiritual ideas are wonderful, but in B2B marketing, a disruptive idea has to make someone money or save them money.

A few Disruptive Ideas from tech marketing history: “no software”.  They didn’t even push the (fairly generic) benefits of CRM — they just hammered home the big idea that you don’t need software to run it.

Google: “pay per click”.  A completely new ad model that had big advantages: it worked; it was completely transparent; and it didn’t commit the advertiser to anything up front.

Betfair: “the betting exchange”A new way to gamble, pairing buyers and sellers of risk. The value: better prices.

Skype: “Free calls over the Internet”.

Disruptive ideas are not the only way to build a successful business.  Sometimes just doing lots of little things better than the other guys is enough. But a disruptive idea is probably the single most powerful weapon in the marketing arsenal.  And most marketers spend far too little time generating them.

Marketing machine work is easy. Anyone can do all those things that can be measured in an analytics package or poured into an ROI model. But take half the time you spend on campaigns or programs and put it into generating a Disruptive Idea and you just might hit pay dirt.

A lot of marketers don’t shoot for the big, disruptive idea because they don’t think they have the power to do it. They feel that they have to take the product as it is and sell it on its merits.  So they plough the usual furrows and nothing great ever happens.

We think it’s the marketer’s job to have big ideas and shake up markets.  If you’re products are boring, come up with something exciting.   If the company doesn’t let you make it happen — find another company.

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  1. John

    March 24th, 2009

    We’re exploring this from another angle – taking (good ol’) Geoff Moore’s latest thinking around provoking your customers (recently published in HBT:

    Same principles, different wrapper.


  2. Doug Kessler

    March 24th, 2009

    Thanks John
    That’s an excellent article on Provocation Selling — really good stuff, especially for tough times.

  3. Brian Courtney

    March 24th, 2009

    Well done, Doug. The core of your post, IMHO, is the first point. It has to be true. A good counselor, in my experience, should spend as much time preaching this as developing disruptive ideas. Getting creativity accepted is half the battle; keeping it honest is the other half.


  4. Doug Kessler

    March 24th, 2009

    Good point, Brian. Luckily most companies that have earned any kind of market share ought to have something compelling (and truthful) to share. But we’ve all seen campaigns based on hogwash!

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