Consumers really don't buy disruption

Photo credit:  Scott Beale  via  Compfight   cc

Photo credit: Scott Beale via Compfight cc

The word "disrupt" is being used everywhere in the startup world. It's used in pitch decks to investors, in the press, in the "About us" section of websites, even in consumer-facing material. While the idea of disruption is not bad, it's that last application that is problematic.

When to say 'disrupt'

To "disrupt" is "to cause (something) to be unable to continue in the normal way: to interrupt the normal progress or activity of (something)." It's easy to see why using that in a pitch deck to investors can be powerful. If you're able to legitimately claim that you're "disrupting the $xx billion y industry" ears perk up. This clearly signals the potential return on investment.

While disruption can and should benefit consumers, it is not, in and of itself, a consumer benefit from a marketing language perspective.

When not to say 'disrupt'

Using the word disrupt in consumer marketing materials can frequently work against you. For example, say someone goes to a website to book a hotel because they heard about the booking site from a friend. They're still not completely ready to trust the service so they visit the "About us" page. There, they read all about how the company is "disrupting the $xx billion global hotel booking market". That tells the consumer that the company isn't focused on creating a great experience booking a hotel at the best price, with the best accommodations. It actually signals that the company was created to get as much money as possible. The assurance they were seeking is met with cold business-speak.

Not even brands like T-Mobile?

Even brands that adopt a counter-positioning strategy like T-mobile don't use the word disrupt. The un-carrier (though recent FTC action indicates they may be more like a carrier than they portray) could surely talk about disruption. But a closer look at T-Mobile's marketing materials reveals that while thematically they are representing disruption, they aren't using that word. Instead, they promote their consumer benefits (no contracts, upgrade, etc.).

Always lead with benefits

The bottom line is that consumers are looking to know what benefits they are getting from whatever they are buying. Sure, disruption often helps consumers but it’s not what convinces them to buy.

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