Last Updated: November 17, 2020

In the traditional approach to marketing, companies develop products or services and then implement strategies to help attract new customers to their business. (See also Traditional Marketing)

But times have changed. Today’s consumers drive a market, not just a business. Therefore, companies must tap into a market’s mood and provide what consumers want. This is where disruptive marketing takes its cue.

What is disruptive marketing?

In truth, disruption is more a business model than a marketing approach. Most companies still tend to market through traditional means, which provide plenty of opportunities for rival companies to disrupt current messages. However, consumers have become stubbornly resilient to shifting messages, thanks to an increasingly crowded market. To combat this, a company’s product or service must innovate and and pay attention to consumers, delivering exactly what the market wants.

Two Types of Market Disruption

  • New-Market Disruption— targets customers who have needs that have been unserved by existing companies. Apple’s iTunes application is one such example.
  • Low-End Disruption— targets consumers who don’t need all the features valued by customers at the high end of the market. For example, the personal computer disrupted the mainframe market and took over the computer market; this, in turn, is now becoming the case with laptop computers. Initially, laptops didn’t have the computing power of a PC, but appealed to consumers who wanted minimal computing “on the go.” Over time, innovations have made laptops more powerful; and thus, they’ve taken an even large market share from PCs.

A disruptive company has one of two goals: design its product or service to match the demand of an emerging market, or re-shape an existing product or service to meet the demand of customers unsatisfied by the current offering. From this starting point, a marketing team designs an advertising campaign with disruptive messages that either challenge the conventional thinking in an existing market or speak to a new one. (See also Non-Traditional Marketing)

Apple created a prime example of the latter approach when it introduced a truly innovative product through its online music store. When iTunes first launched, average music consumers wanted to purchase the songs they were hearing on the radio without necessarily buying an entire album from those artists. Singles were no longer available on compact disc, and the government was regulating online file-sharing sites such as Napster. By introducing a brand-new approach, iTunes delivered on the consumers’ desire to purchase one song by an artist, as well as their desire to avoid owning hours of music they weren’t going to listen to.

Companies attempting to employ disruptive marketing need to be prepared to change their business model, their outbound product or service, and the message they send to consumers. Depending on the size of the company, this can be a risky venture. However, maintaining the same business model over time can be even riskier. Just ask Kodak, which in less than 20 years went from the fourth most valuable brand worldwide to bankruptcy. Why? Because they weren’t prepared for customers to stop buying film and switch to digital photography. The market had been disrupted, and Kodak failed to adjust.

Who implements disruptive marketing?

Given the rapidly changing face of business—and the technology supporting it—every company should at least prepare to use disruptive marketing. The most prominent industry currently employing market disruption is the technology industry. Computers, phones, the web, or any electronic device or service can be shipped as a minimally viable product, and then be updated regularly while already in the possession of its customers.

A broader target for disruption marketers, however, is any product or service that historically had only been accessible to consumers with either a lot of money or a lot of skill. One such example is Turbo Tax. The company was able to mediate a service that usually required the expertise of a highly qualified individual—the accountant or “tax guy.” Turbo Tax offered a comparable degree of service at home, with the option of segmenting a customer’s time, and it was cheaper.

The key in finding a company likely to use disruptive marketing is to see who is targeting emerging markets and/or making a product or service more accessible to customers in an existing market. (See also Targeted Marketing)

A Case of Market Disruption

When Apple introduced the iPad to the world, tech companies scrambled to catch up. Many manufacturers entering the tablet market used the Android operating system to run software on their devices. However, since they were trying to deliver a product similar to the iPad, with similar features and with a similar price, the Android tablet market couldn’t match the success of the iPad.

Meanwhile, Amazon was quietly developing the Kindle Fire. It didn’t have the same features, interface, or capabilities as an iPad—but it also didn’t have the same price. In a prime example of low-end market disruption, Amazon found consumers who didn’t want all the great features of the iPad, but wanted the basic features at a baseline price. Prior to the fourth quarter of 2011, the Kindle Fire wasn’t even available. By the end of the first quarter of 2012, it had grabbed more than half of the Android tablet market.

How is a disruptive marketing plan developed?

Any business that’s serious about causing market disruption must be willing to shift or even completely change its infrastructure. Successful disruptive marketing requires a long-term commitment, and likely a fundamental shift in a company’s business model.

The first step in launching a disruptive marketing campaign is obtaining internal buy-in from top to bottom. Whether a company is simply trying to change the message about its brand or is completely redesigning the product, everyone must commit themselves to the change in brand perception.

Next, the marketing team will need to collect all the current data about the target or emerging market. Determining spending patterns and the profiles of existing customers is important, but the disruptive marketing team must discover more—such as why a customer purchased a particular product or service. In order to do this, the team will need to use qualitative research methods, such as physical observation, interviews, and surveys. All this data mining is used to unearth the parameters of a market, profile it, determine its mood, then speak to it.

Once the market has been determined, it’s time for the marketing and design teams to develop a strategy that will use effective media channels in the market. This will almost inevitably include developing an online presence. The design team must develop content, create a social-media presence with a unique sales position, and write a substantial amount of copy (often via blogging).

Before launching the campaign, executives must set consistent brand guidelines and marketing messages (See also Integrated Marketing). Once these are established, it’s time to execute the plan. And as the plan unfolds, the marketing team will continue to collect and interpret data revealing the effectiveness of the strategy, and adjust the approach as needed.

What career titles work with disruptive marketing strategies?

Brand Manager

What do they do?

What type of salary should I expect?

  • Brand Managers
    Median Pay: $43,500
    Top Earners: $76,910
  • Market Research Analysts
    Median Pay: $60,570
    Top Earners: $111,440
  • Advertising Directors
    Median Pay: $80,630
    Top Earners: $163,430

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012

Think of this position as the brain of the disruptive marketing strategy. Brand managers handle all internal and external messages, guidelines, and developments in a disruptive strategy. In this crucial role, brand managers:

  • help organize and interpret data collected by market researchers, to determine either new markets or messages and improvements that will disrupt current targeted markets.
  • lead the marketing team in designing creative and highly interactive content for consumers, and push it directly to customers through social media so it beats out other market messages.
  • ensure that marketing team’s brand message is representative of the company’s mission.
  • manage each marketing project from start to finish, reporting progress of a campaign back to the company’s executives, and then help determine the company’s next steps.
  • facilitate a company’s public contact with its executives through interviews, networking events, and speechwriting.
Education and Skills

A bachelor’s degree in public relations, marketing or communications is required for consideration as a brand manager. Courses in business administration, public speaking, and creative and technical writing will also be helpful. Although it’s beneficial to have a master’s degree in a marketing-related field, experience and a proven track record are more important.

Future brand managers can enter the field in a variety of positions: public relations specialists, advertising agents, sales managers, etc. Anywhere from five to 10 years of experience is needed. Another item that helps a resume stand out is the certification offered by the Public Relations Society of America. This can be earned based on years of experience and passing an exam.

Market Research Analyst

What do they do?

In the realm of disruptive marketing, a research analyst must have a perceptive eye, able to notice trends in data that competing market researchers miss. Often in a disruptive marketing campaign, there is useful information about a particular market in plain sight that no one has noticed. With their creative approach, these market researchers can make that crucial “catch.”

Instead of a numbers-only approach, analysts in this field need hands-on market interaction. Market research analysts involved with disruptive marketing:

  • research current market trends, consumer spending habits, and consumer perception of a brand’s delivery, mining the data for undiscovered patterns.
  • host face-to-face interviews or focus groups to determine what customers want when buying a product or service.
  • use research to create a profile and recognize the boundaries of a target market for an employer or client through determining what the customer in this market wants from a product or service.
  • generate and visualize reports on all relevant data before, during and after disruptive marketing campaigns and publish them in an executive’s desired format.
Education and Skills

The disruptive market research analyst will need at least a bachelor’s degree in market research or a related field, such as statistics, math, or computer science. However, since these researchers will be interacting directly with customers, courses in communication and public speaking are a must. Other degrees or classes to consider include business administration, behavioral science, or public relations. An advanced degree in one of the above areas is often a requirement for management, or for positions that perform more specialized research.

Entering this field through a sales position proves an excellent starting point. In a sales position one gets the experience of interacting directly with customers, discovering what makes them say yes to one product while turning down another. Also, any position requiring analysis, report writing, or data collection will give an applicant useful experience.

Advertising Director

What do they do?

These are the people who present the first images and impressions of a brand to the market. In a disruptive marketing campaign the game is changed even further, requiring directors to make real-time decisions, rapidly scaling winning ideas up and abandoning ideas that don’t work. Directors collect data at a rapid pace, enabling advertisers to change their message or approach while a campaign unfolds, instead of waiting for batch results. More specifically, directors:

  • lead and oversee the team that develops an advertising campaign.
  • work hand-in-hand with the finance department to prepare a manageable budget and cost estimates for an advertising campaign—which usually is noticeably larger for a disruptive marketing campaign.
  • lead a team in web development, generating interactive content, overseeing SEO copy writing and working closely with social media that aims to connect directly with customers.
  • develop a product road map that communicates the company’s unique assets, and create an image or message with a disruptive feature that attracts new and existing customers.
  • define, measure, and disseminate metrics for the product or service, and adjust accordingly.
Education and Skills

As with the positions above, the only baseline requirement educationally is a bachelor’s degree, preferably in advertising, marketing or journalism. Other relevant areas of course study may include consumer behavior, market research, sales, communication methods and visual arts (specifically, graphic arts). Marketing students will need experience before attaining the role of director. A job as an advertising sales agent is a good place to start. After at least five years of experience at this level, agents may be eligible for the lead role of director.

How can a marketing school help you succeed?

Our Recommended Schools

  1. Grand Canyon University (GCU)

    GCU's Colangelo College of Business offers leading edge degrees that address the demands of contemporary business environments.

  2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

    Explore the bond between business and consumer behavior with a degree in marketing.

Since disruptive marketing is a more specialized field of study, there will be few, if any, schools that offer lower level courses for this concept. Instead, schools offering a bachelor’s degree in marketing or business administration will maintain a broad view of the field of marketing. Undergraduate schools offer the widest understanding of marketing and business administration, and thus lay a foundation to fully grasp the concept of disruptive marketing. (See also Bachelor’s Degrees in Marketing)

The skills needed to be successful in this field have a lot in common with all marketing degrees. Excellent communication skills, for report writing and making presentations involving a marketing plan, are integral in disruptive marketing. Classes that develop these abilities don’t simply lecture about communication, but give students real-world models and routine practice in engaging these skills.

Student will become familiar with both quantitative and qualitative research procedures, and draw accurate conclusions about the results to develop a viable disruptive marketing plan. Most schools with marketing programs offer courses that survey broad applications of research and analysis, as well as more focused applications for those students interested in a career in marketing analytics.

For the student who intends on working with disruptive marketing, certain ancillary courses are recommended. Behavioral science courses are beneficial for the disruptive marketer. It’s also wise to take one or more courses in graphic design, in order to learn how to visualize a brand.

If you’re simply fascinated by the concept of disruptive marketing and all its qualities, then perhaps the best option for you is an advanced degree in marketing. Moving on to a master’s degree allows students to focus their area of study; students can work toward a master’s thesis on the subject of disruptive marketing techniques and their effectiveness. And if you’re looking to become an expert in the field, there’s always the option of continuing to a Ph.D.

There are many ways to positively disrupt your career path. So start looking into the marketing schools that can help you to do that.