Are we deluding ourselves about disruption?

By September 27, 2021 No Comments

Originally published by Mediatel News.

Are we deluding ourselves about disruption when change is usually driven by incrementalism?

In the early 90s, the defining book on advertising and brand strategy was Jean-Marie Dru’s book on disruption in advertising. It still defines how his agency, TBWA, market themselves today.

His theory is that change in consumer behaviour is driven by disrupting consumer expectations and challenging previously accepted wisdom to leap forward.

But is this theory still relevant to disruption in advertising today?

Disruption theory

One of the key examples that proves disruption theory was the Fosbury Flop, the American high jumper Dick Fosbury completely changed the high jump world by jumping backwards rather sideways and won gold at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. This piece of disruption changed the high jump forever.

Dick Fosbury won the Olympics by jumping 2.24m. He beat the Russian Valery Brumel who was jumping conventionally into third space at 2.20m. Therefore, he was a successful disruptor.

However, not mentioned by Dru was that Brumel was the existing world-record holder, having jumped 2.28m in 1963, so he’d jumped four centimetres higher than Fosbury five years earlier. Fosbury never held the world record, although he certainly changed the sport.

If Brumel wasn’t recovering from a horrific motorbike accident, Fosbury may not have won gold.

It was a collusion of events that allowed Fosbury to jump in this way. For example, the recent introduction of foam rubber, rather than sand, as a landing material had a major impact on Fosbury’s ability to land on his back safely.

The best way to approach change

Disruption and change are usually far more prosaic than great leaps forward. Change is usually the chance coalition of several events.

In terms of brands, it’s usually creating something that has a disproportionate appeal to a specific group of people. In many cases, the pioneer launch brand fails and latecomers to the market are the real successors.

Usually, a planned approach that evolves over time is more successful, rather than a great ‘light bulb’ moment. The consequence of disruptive brand theory is that if a brand creates something innovative, it will attract consumers.

Therefore, talk to as many people as possible and eventually you will find consumers who want your product.

The Disproportionate Value Approach

Significant change occurs when specific consumer needs are changing. Successful brands either launch or evolve to meet their consumers new needs.

We’ve seen this recently through the pandemic, our lives have been revolutionised by working from home, meeting on Zoom, flight from the city, or the rapid growth of home shopping. None of these defined by a light bulb moment or could have been predicted but are a significant shift in how consumers behave.

The key to successful marketing is consumer insight. We consistently find that the top 20% of any brands customers are disproportionately more valuable than the rest and will account for greater growth potential and profit.

Therefore, brands who can identify and target the 20% highest potential customers will be able to derive the greatest opportunity.

The best growth strategy is to focus on the highest potential quintile of proven consumers. This is called the Disproportionate Value Approach.

Does this work?

Let’s go back to the Olympics. In 1996, Team GB had an awful time in Atlanta: the team had by far the worst performance this country has ever recorded. Great Britain took only one gold and dropped to 36th in the medal table, winning only 15 medals in total.

The identified cause was under-investment and lack of funding for athletes, preventing them from concentrating on their performance.

John Major, the then Prime Minister, responded by setting up the National Sport Academy, with funding of £100m from the National Lottery (which itself had only launched a couple of years earlier). So Olympic sports would be properly funded and athletes could train effectively.

However, investment was focussed following a DVA model and  it wasn’t applied across every sport. It was targeted based on opportunity and highly effective.

By contrast, 2012 was the most successful Olympics to date for Team GB. It won 65 medals and were ranked third in the nations’ medal table. There were 27 sports in the London Olympics, which received £264.1m of funding in total, but seven of these sports received 61% of all funding.

These same seven sports delivered 35 medals in total, again 61%.

Disproportionate investment was focussed into sports away from the athletics stadium to drive the medal tally. Athletics funding was third after rowing and cycling, where we won 21% of available medals, compared to winning 4% of athletics medals available.

Which approach is more successful?

While the Disproportionate Value Approach is probably not as exciting as Dru’s disruption theory about Dick Fosbury, it’s arguably more successful. It is a long term, focussed, data-driven strategy based on delivering specific results and focused on marginal performance gains.

Sir Dave Brailsford, former performance director of British Cycling, revolutionised the sport using the theory of marginal gains. Brailsford believed that if you make a 1% improvement in a host of tiny areas, the cumulative benefits would be extraordinary.

Brailsford had the floors of the team truck painted pristine white to spot dust on the floor because even the slightest amount of dust could potentially impair bike maintenance.

This isn’t disruptive, but focussed on continual, data driven improvement.

How is all this applied to marketing?

The Disproportionate Value Approach is based on forensic analysis of customers and finding the right channels that accurately reach core prospects.

Marketers who use forensic insight to find out who the most valuable customers are for their business, how they behave, what motivates them and – most importantly – what media influences them, will be able to drive performance in an increasingly competitive commercial world.