Go Rogue: Join the Disruptive Rebellion

Taking a disruptive thinking approach to marketing is an innovative way to help your product stand out—even if it takes you out of your comfort zone.


It can be hard to break out of your comfort zone.

After all, I suppose that’s why it’s called a “comfort” zone.

And when it comes to marketing—specifically launching a new product—the thought of doing something different, something disruptive, can be downright scary.

But sometimes the risk is worth the reward, especially when you’re looking to stand out in a crowded or commoditized market. There are products in the consumer goods and services industry that we can point to as examples and even in the world of entertainment/film—since that’s exactly what Disney achieved with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (also, because most of my blog posts need to involve Star Wars in some way!)

But first, let’s define what this approach is to better understand the challenges it can overcome.

The idea of disruptive thinking and how this innovation can apply to marketing was created by Luke Williams, Clinical Associate Professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business and author of Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business. Professor Williams explains, “All of us have well-ingrained orthodoxies and patterns of perception, almost at a subconscious level, that are reinforced by all our education and experiences. And it’s great because it enables you to get through your job, and life, efficiently. But it’s a problem when it comes to thinking differently.”

The disruptive thinking method takes the expectation consumers have about the product or category and inverts it, creating an expectation gap. It may initially seem counterintuitive to address expectations your customers may not have (or may not know they have), but here are a few examples of how thinking differently disrupted entire industries.

Zipcar revolutionized the rental car industry by introducing a “car sharing” model. Instead of only being allowed to rent cars by the day or week, Zipcar members can pay for car usage by the hour. The reservation process is done solely online, so there’s no paperwork or salespeople to deal with. Zipcar also opened its services to people under 21—traditional rental car companies prohibit this and even have fees for renters under 25. The result was a hip and convenient car service that experienced tremendous growth in large cities and a membership base primarily made up of people under 35. Today, Zipcar has more than 1 million members across 500 cities and 9 countries.

LittleMissMatched started an apparel company that disrupted the notion that socks should match and only be sold in pairs. And since dryers tend to regularly eat socks, leaving us with pair-less foot cozies, they were on to something! But more so, this “mismatch” idea proved to be a hit with 8- to 12-year-old girls who loved the socks’ bright colors and fun designs and the fact that they were sold in threes. “A pair and a spare so you can wear them any way you want,” touts the company’s website. The brand’s sense of creativity and self-expression became so popular among its target audience that LittleMissMatched soon expanded beyond socks to other clothing items, bedding, backpacks, dolls, handbags, and slippers. What started out as an ecommerce site now has store locations in New York and Florida.

Which brings us back to Star Wars.

While fans are excited for a new Star Wars movie every year through 2020, there was some apprehension regarding how Rogue One, the latest film, would perform. Amid (confirmed) rumors of massive reshoots that altered the last half of the story, Rogue One broke the Star Wars mold in several significant ways:

  • It was the first non-episodic spin-off movie
  • It abandoned the classic “text crawl” to start the film
  • The story did not revolve around a Skywalker family member
  • There were no Jedi or lightsaber battles
  • It was the first Star Wars movie to create computer-generated human characters
  • It used text on screen to introduce planets (minor, but still)

In the end, removing familiar Star Wars elements enhanced an already engaging story, giving fans a unique and memorable Star Wars experience. Rogue One is the highest grossing domestic film of 2016 ($525MM+) and the second highest grossing in the franchise.

It’s certainly not the norm, but disruptive thinking has a place in marketing strategy and product positioning. At its core, the approach gives you a more holistic view of the market, while asking you to develop ideas that at one time may have seemed far-fetched.

But who knows—perhaps we’ll reach a point where doing something disruptive will become our new comfort zone.


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