Provocateur! Agitator! Instigator! To get noticed these days you need to break outside the walls of convention, do something different to stand out. However, be aware that it’s kind of a ’Goldilocks’ exercise - meaning that if you move too far from the norm, then your typical customer won’t be able to relate to you any more and you will likely miss your mark.
So you need to be different, stand out, yet maintain your essential relevance. And most consumers these days are just overly bored with most forms of advertising, and blinded to the impact of most promotional messages. Yet you still need to operate from within the same parameters as everyone else - it is almost entirely controlled by where your audience ’lives’ and how they can be accessed and engaged through their active / participative mediums / media.
We typically talk about key contact and touch points - places where your most likely customers gather in sufficient numbers and density - so that you can capture their attentions with suitably apt, contextual and timely communications. A great part of the Art of Disruption is visual and sensory - enhancing the engagement with subtle suggestive symbolism. The mainstay of this is display advertising and increasingly digital and social media.
Take the now ubiquitous ’Smiley’ which was first used to popular effect in the swinging 60’s, and came to symbolise ’The Summer of Love’ of 1967. For my generation it was adopted by the Ravers and Acid House Music Fans of 1988 - suitably ’The Second Summer of Love’ - symbolising the open, friendly and feel-good spirit of that era. Yet when symbols are over-used, they soon become absorbed by the mainstream and their meaning quickly distorts, dissolves and fades away - such that today’s generation have no reference or recall to either Summers of Love which triggered the popularity of this symbol in the first place.
Consumers are used to an enormous range of symbols - as button / command and task prompts on computers and electronic devices, signs in public places, and road signs used to enforce localised rules and regulations for drivers - who also have dashboard symbols to content with to gauge the working condition of their vehicles. So there already exists a vast vocabulary of symbolism, a great swathe of which has long become ubiquitous. You can hijack and harness some symbols still by subtly distorting them - adding accents and giving additional meaning in a similar way that Prince devised his own personal Love symbol - starting with a composite of the well-known male and female gender symbols.
Hence for optimal Disruption, we are looking for subtle, yet effective differentiation which appeals to enough of your core target audience and suitably delivers the call-to-action required. I am reminded of the way ’Secret Cinema’ works with its enigmatic and mysterious promos which encourage untold customers to sign up through mystique alone - without fully knowing what they are getting themselves into. Such is the cachet of Secret Cinema that a significant part of their loyal following is likely to sign up to a large majority of their events almost regardless.
One of the great enduring example of Disruption has been urban graffiti - where the artist’s ’tag’ is often as significant as the work itself, even occasionally it is the work itself. Out from fringe beginnings grow and evolve many a mainstream activities, yet for some audiences you need to maintain an edge to keep your currency and ongoing relevance. I’ve often talked about the analogy of ’A Punk at a traditional wedding’ - an obvious stand-out and as such at least a visually and behaviourally disruptive element. Yet you can hone this analogy and fine-tune and polish up your punk - so that their appearance and demeanour stands out without jarring overly with its visual surroundings. You can have a ’punky’ wedding outfit - picking up most of the visual cues from the genre, without overly clashing with the other paraphernalia and guest - so it can be different, but still complementary - for instance taking all the punk staples and rendering them in wedding white.
For a company like ours, we have often been the figurative ’Punk at a Wedding’ - a little too different for our own good, simply because we are continuously innovating and somewhat ahead of the curve of many consumers’ current understanding. We often need to tune back our message and reality to more pedestrian values, so that our context of innovation becomes more relatable and better understood by customers who could and would undoubtedly benefit from its adoption - but don’t fully understand the whole proposition.
Not all of our targeting is successful, as is the nature with Disruption - that you can quite easily overshoot your target. And your being clever can be just a little too clever for general acceptance - you are usually far better served when most are in on the same joke. Yet there is another niche strain to Disruption which thrives on being elitist and exclusive, and challenges the audience to find its own answers. In those circumstances appeal is likely to be quite limited, but very strong for those who get it.
So like every other marketing exercise, you need to decide exactly what your goals and targets are, and what mechanic are you trying to apply. Are you trying to appeal to the masses, or to the elite - and are you trying to be entirely exclusive, or are you hoping that the elite will influence others and bring them along?