Everything You Need To Know About Disruptive Marketing

Christy Walters


June 5, 2023

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When you hear the word “disruptive,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Maybe you think of words like “startling” or “intrusive.” Maybe you think of someone cutting you off midsentence in the middle of a conversation. Disruptions may not sound like good things, but in marketing, they’re effective tools if you use the right tactics. Today, we’re looking at what disruptive marketing is all about with topics like:

What Is Disruptive Marketing?

Disruptive marketing uses experimental tactics to change how brands reach and market to their target audiences. Rather than following the “status quo” or sticking to what brands know already works, they try new methods that people haven’t seen before.

Disruptive marketing is a risky trial and error process. Some of the tactics work and become great successes. Some even turn into mainstream or traditional marketing practices over time. But others fail, which is the nature of innovation. Disruptive marketing strategies usually come as a direct result of technology innovation. As we get new forms of communication, like social media or direct response channels, new avenues open up for marketing tactics nobody has ever used before.

Related reading: Guide to Online Marketing: Types of Online Marketing and Examples

Where Does Disruptive Marketing Come From?

Disruptive marketing has its roots in a concept called “disruptive innovation.” Harvard professor Clayton Christensen coined the term in 1997, though the practice was around for many years before. According to Christensen, disruptive innovation is “a process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses.”

Think of this concept like a movie. In the film You’ve Got Mail, the Shop Around the Corner puts up a fight against the bigger and more established Fox Books. The only difference is that in truly disruptive innovation, the little guy wins. We also see disruptive innovation with technology and electronics, like cell phones overtaking landlines.

These concepts lend themselves to disruptive marketing as proof that non-traditional advertising and sales pitch concepts have the potential to outperform traditional standards.

Advantages of a Disruptive Marketing Strategy

If you already have some great marketing strategies in place, you may wonder why you’d want to move your team to something new—and potentially risky. There are a lot of advantages to disruptive marketing, including:

Keeping Up With New Technology

Any type of innovation usually has close ties to technological advancement. When you engage in disruptive marketing, you have the best chance of keeping up with that new technology your audience is adopting and using. Your brand doesn’t have to exist in a highly technical industry to use technology in your marketing. Take social media and direct mobile marketing as examples. Brands in every niche use these tools today to connect with their audience. But both were once disruptive marketing techniques that paid off.

Meeting Customer Expectations

The majority of the time and effort you put into marketing campaigns is to meet the needs and expectations of your audience. Each audience segment has its own list of expectations for how it likes to view and receive information. Each one also has a trend of buying behaviors that make or break whether they’re willing to purchase from your company.

As technology and society shift, your brand has to keep up with the changes to these expectations and behaviors to continue to thrive. Disruptive marketing allows you to do that. When there isn’t a pre-set plan for how to market or advertise to new audience expectations, this method allows you to create your own.

Staying Competitive

Your brand isn’t the only one that has the chance to take advantage of disruptive marketing. Any competitors in your industry could do the same. The more innovative any brand gets, the more it pushes others in the same niche to get creative and come up with new ways to wow the audience. As some of these disruptive marketing techniques pay off for your brand or the competition, the culture around what it means to do marketing in your industry begins to change. That process leads to even more innovations and outside-the-box thinking, which always keeps your niche competitive.

Read more: 22 Types of Marketing Strategies for B2B Companies

Is Disruptive Marketing Better Than Traditional Marketing?

Just because something is new doesn’t always make it better than the old. We already said that disruptive marketing is a hit-or-miss game. Some strategies take off and others flop. Some disruptive marketing tactics are better than what worked in the past. As certain methods of communication fade out of fashion, and the way people receive information changes, ways that worked before won’t anymore.

But if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Artificial intelligence content creation and marketing is a good example of disruptive marketing that isn’t going to, and shouldn’t, overtake traditional human content creation. AI programs and robots can’t feel human emotion. They can’t connect with real people on a deeper level. While AI content creation may be innovative, and it is giving “traditional” content creation a run for its money, the bots can’t stand up to humans.

Even Google agrees. It’s trying to weed out this kind of aggregated, mass-produced content with its latest Helpful Content update. You can learn more about the changes and how different isn’t always better in an episode of The Content Marketing Podcast dedicated to the subject called “About Google’s Helpful Content Update.”

Related reading: Traditional Marketing and Digital Marketing: What’s the Difference?

Incorporating a Disruptive Marketing Strategy

The question is, how do you incorporate a disruptive marketing strategy and align it to your content marketing goals? Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Study Technology

Since most disruptive marketing comes from technological innovation, it’s important to stay on top of changes and advances in hardware, software, and communication tools. The more you know about what’s upcoming in technology, and how your audience uses those tools, you have a better chance to learn where there’s an option for a disruptive marketing technique.

Remember, just because a technological advancement exists, that doesn’t mean it’s right for your marketing plan. Look closely at your audience to learn how they feel about the new technology. It’s also important to see how the new method affects their communication and purchasing decisions before you take the risk of starting a brand new campaign.

Run A/B Tests

Disruptive marketing is all about trial and error. Make it easier for your team to find where those successes and setbacks exist by engaging in A/B testing for different campaign elements. A/B testing your approaches allow you to compare two similar but slightly different images, text, or layouts when visitors come to your website or receive your communications.

Some people see one version of the campaign, and others see another. The data helps you discover which option works best and gets the audience to respond or interact the most. You can use that information and data to influence your disruptive marketing campaigns and develop ones that have a better chance of being successful with your target audience.

Use Constructive Criticism

New and different things don’t always receive the warmest welcome when you try to bring them into the world. Trying a new marketing strategy that nobody’s ever used before could yield the same results. Whether it’s criticism from your competitors or your audience, look for constructive feedback that helps make your campaigns even better.

Receiving constructive criticism doesn’t mean your disruptive marketing strategy is a failure. But feedback does highlight areas that could benefit from tweaking or other improvements. Listen to the opinions of those who matter, such as your longtime clients or customers, or rival marketing teams you admire. Those are the comments that help make your campaigns the best they can be.

Don’t take to heart any negative feedback that’s an opinion and not based on fact. Most of that type of criticism comes from rivals who are jealous of your success, or audience members who are afraid of change.

Track Campaign Metrics

It’s important to track metrics for every campaign, especially when working with disruptive marketing techniques. Campaign data like page views, conversion rates, and sales help you understand how successful your campaign performs. The data also helps validate whether your disruptive marketing technique is worth repeating or could work better after some adjustments.

Read more about it: Marketing KPIs: What You Need to Know and How They Can Help Your Marketing Campaign

Learn From Failures

Not every disruptive marketing technique is a big hit. Some of them don’t even work at all. If you have the time, budget, and other resources to take risks with your campaigns, don’t let the fear of failure hold you back. When creating the lightbulb, and asked about his many failures before finding a solution that worked, Thomas Edison put a unique spin on things. He said that he didn’t fail, he just found plenty of ways not to make a lightbulb.

Even when your team “fails” at creating or using a disruptive marketing technique, you learn many things about your audience’s expectations and your team’s capabilities. All that information is data you can use to make your next campaign better and more aligned with audience expectations.

Real-World Examples of Disruptive Marketing

Here are some great examples of disruptive marketing in the real world that resulted in major benefits for each brand:


Though logging into your streaming services from anywhere is commonplace now, taking TV on the go was a new concept back in the mid-2010s. HBO developed a disruptive marketing campaign around that idea that featured its HBO Go platform. The ad series featured a family that watched TV together, which led to awkward situations because of the content shown on screen. It mirrored real-life situations where families may not want to watch graphic or risqué content together in the same room.

Instead of going the traditional route of advertising everything great about watching HBO on your phone, in the car, or on your laptop while staying overnight at a hotel, the company took the opposite approach. It showed just why the on-the-go product was necessary even in your own home: to avoid awkward family viewing.

Garden of Life Probiotics

Companies also engage in disruptive marketing by introducing a shock and awe element to their campaigns. Take Garden of Life Probiotics, for example. This company created a series of ads that are sure to get people to look up from their phones while watching TV thanks to the language used.

Garden of Life gets real about the digestive issues people—especially women—face. While most digestive health product brands skirt around the truth to paint a picture of how much better users feel after buying their products, this company goes right for the throat. It features women sitting on the toilet, simulating bathroom actions, and even uses the word “poop” multiple times throughout the ad. Hey, it might sound icky, but the tone is real!

This is an example of a disruptive marketing campaign that could go viral or fail. Some audiences might find it funny, while others may find it uncomfortable to watch content about bodily functions on TV. In the summer of 2021, the ad got rejected by several mainstream television networks claiming that women on TV couldn’t use the “p-word,” although it’s commonplace for networks to allow mild-to-moderate swearing on TV in other formats. To get the ad onto these networks, the company had to create an edited version that cut off the sound right before the actor uttered the word.

Air Wick

Air Wick is another company that thinks outside the norm when it comes to connecting with its audience. The company developed the Scent Decorator, an interactive quiz that curates air freshener scenes and decor to set the right mood for any room in your house.

Image via Air Wick

Not only does the quiz tell you what your mood is, but it also gives product suggestions to make your home embody that mood. Then, the company takes the concept further by providing expert decorating tips on how to bring that mood into the decor, along with a DIY project to get things started.

This campaign tactic is disruptive because it goes beyond the idea of pushing products. It sets Air Wick up as not just an air freshener, but something that has the potential to influence the audience’s entire lifestyle. Positioning a seemingly frivolous product as one that can become so integral in the audience’s life that it becomes part of their identity is the pinnacle of out-of-the-box marketing.

Get a Competitive Edge on Your Disruptive Marketing Strategy

Wondering where to start? With an in-depth content marketing analysis, you’ll get the data you need to understand how your current strategy is performing. Using this insight, you can develop a better action plan for making waves in the market. By uncovering high-value keywords and identifying potential content promotion opportunities, you’ll have the tools you need to create a disruptive marketing strategy that outpaces the competition. Find out how to leverage this data when you request your free report.

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Christy Walters

CopyPress writer

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