If so, here's a thought for you: Disruption happens.
It happens much like another word that happens.
And that word is one which we will not state here in the weekly screed.
That is because, unlike many other mediocre harangues available on the internet, we here at the Slow Burn Mountaintop Marketing Fortress wish to project the illusion that our mediocre harangue doesn't merely fire for effect by using scatological BS language.
But boy, does anything have quite as much stink of BS as the faddish notion of being disruptive?
The whole idea of disruption is merely a repackaging of a quality that can indeed make you fabulously wealthy.
And we know the secret. We will teach you.
But first, some cautionary reflection.
Because at some point, someone is going to say to you...
"OOOH, IT'S THE 21ST CENTURY! WE NEED TO BE DISRUPTIVE!"
No you don't.
What you need to do is merely follow the ostensible tenets of being disruptive, which means doing things that the Fabulous Honey Parker and I have been doing in our respective careers in radio and in big ad agencies for decades.
First, let's recap the disruption BS.
If you missed our last harangue about this problem, which happened some months ago, we looked at the Wikipedia page about disruption and distilled it into a single top-line thought.
We walked away with this: "Being disruptive is about not being mediocre."
WHILE DISRUPTION HAPPENS, IT SEEMS THAT AMBITION DOES NOT
Whatever happened to the notion of being successful by being excellent?
I was recently reading an article about one huge, disruptive company that, in 2015, had been valued at over a quarter billion dollars.
A quarter billion dollars! More than that! By about 50% more!
I'd never actually heard of this company, but this disruptive beast was all the rage on college campuses.
Can you guess what happened two years after that quarter-billion-dollar valuation?
This hugely disruptive company was sold to another hugely disruptive company.
The sale price: a paltry 12-million bucks.
What the hell happened?
FOLLOW THE MONEY--WHICH FOLLOWED THE BUZZWORDS
It was all about social media!
Changing the world!
Apparently, one of the failed disrupter's employees is on record, saying that the company's mission is to "Empower the collective creation of the world."
Collective creation of the world?
What does that even mean?
Are we basing a quarter-billion-dollar-plus vision on bringing the entire world together in one big Color Me Mine finger-painting party?
If you look back at the postmortem of this company (whose name we will not state but whom we'll just call Fail), it sounds like a high-tech PT Barnum was leading a flock of pretentious and frivolous youngsters who were more interested in the company's internal culture of beer pong and hot-tub parties than in doing anything that really matters.
DOES THAT SOUND HARSH?
But a lot of allegedly smart people lost a whole lot of big money backing the blustering and fiery vision of Fail.
Unfortunately, it turned out that instead of having a man behind the curtain, there was little more at Fail besides more smoke and mirrors.
Recently, I stumbled across an article about the things that disrupter brands are doing and why their disruptive models work to make disruptive amounts of lucre.
The article had a lot of words about a lot of stuff that made a lot of money, but you can look at it all and boil it down to the F-word.
No, not Fail.
Yes, I'm sorry, but disruption is about little more than Focus.
AS THE FAITHFUL FAN OF HOT SHOTS KNOWS, WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT FOCUS
And we have never once been about disruption.
Because focusing on disruption is stupid.
It propagates the notion that by somehow being troublesome and disturbing and distracting, you can rule the world.
In fact, one of the business ideas that the disruptive model rails against is old-fashioned, interruptive advertising.
"TV commercials and radio commercials are dinosaurs! Interruption advertising is dead!"
You know what the word "interruption" is?
It's a synonym for "disruption."
GET OFF YOUR HIGH, DISRUPTIVE HORSE, ZEITGEIST!
Come on back to the party and practice good, old-fashioned focus.
At Slow Burn Marketing, we have long preached focus to our clients.
One client wanted to just "run some ads" for a particular segment of their business.
We told them you could do that.
But then you'd be just another also-ran.
But if you focus, if you come up with a new brand that specializes in that segment of your business, and run ads for that new brand, you can then compete against the category leader.
And while you're going up against the category leader, your new marketing can focuses on your customer, and tell stories about the thrill that customer gets from doing business with you because your experience is better.
Can you guess what they did?
CAN YOU GUESS WHO STARTED MAKING A MILLION BUCKS A YEAR?
We had another client, a solopreneur, who had two brands in the same category.
One brand was business-to-consumer, and the other brand was business-to-business.
She was tied up in knots about having to re-brand and market both brands.
We said, "Why?"
Why do you need two?
They're in the same category.
Combine them into one brand. They both provide the same thing. You just have a pro version for B2B and a lite version for B2C.
She looked like a millstone had been removed from her neck.
Suddenly, with one sweep of her hand, she had one business she could focus on. It simplified her life and her marketing.
"OH, COME ON, IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE! DISRUPTIVE BRANDS ARE CHANGING THE WORLD!"
No they're not.
Smart, focused people are changing the world.
"No! Disrupters rule!"
OK, let's look at the rules of disruption.
Focus, simplification, a business model delivering a desirable customer experience, and being what the staid and established competition isn't.
Those are key qualities.
By that measure, who was the first disruptive brand?
The Ford Motor Company.
DO YOU DISAGREE?
Well, Henry Ford disrupted the automotive industry.
He flew in the face of a business model that sold high-priced cars to people who had money to burn.
He did it by looking at the model for the meat packing industry, and reversed it.
A meat packing plant has a whole cow go in one end. It comes out the other end as packaged parts.
Henry Ford sent packaged parts in one end. A whole cow--er, car come out the other end.
Henry Ford also strived to make the automobile affordable to the common man.
Henry Ford also improved the customer experience by giving the common man the first-ever car with safety glass in the windshield.
HENRY FORD WAS A KING DISRUPTER
And he did it without ever having pretentious and pointless mission statements or throwing beer pong hot tub parties for his workers.
He also did it without ever being called "disruptive."
Today, one of the anointed kings of the alleged disrupter businesses is Dollar Shave Club.
How did it happen?
Two guys got to talking about their frustration with the high price of razor blades.
They started a focused, customer-centric business model: inexpensive, high-quality razor blades and razors by mail order.
They used their own money, and some startup funding from a business incubator.
They developed a fun, entertaining, engaging brand that connects with men.
They created an experience that let the customer in on the joke.
THEY MADE THEIR CORE CUSTOMER FEEL ONE THING
They gave a guy frustrated with the high price of razor blades a better alternative. They did it with personality and a sense of humor that is completely lacking in the razor-blade market dominated by Gillette and Shick.
They made getting blades in the mail an enjoyable experience.
And just by the way, their first YouTube video was hilarious. It stands up to repeated watching.
They also used old-fashioned, deader-then-dead interruptive TV commercials.
These two guys sick of the high price of razor blades launched their epic disruption in January 2011.
They did it using what amounts to pocket change.
In July 2016, a mere five and a half years later, Dollar Shave Club was sold to Unilever for $1 billion in cash.
WHY ON EARTH?
Why does a multi-national company with over $60 billion in annual revenue need to buy a feisty little company that sells a limited line of razors, blades and male grooming products?
To compete, apparently.
They want to take a slice of the pie owned by Gillette and Shick.
It seems that's the official story.
And Unilever already owns "disrupter" Axe, the men's body wash and (ick) body spray.
But there's another, less popular take on this purchase.
Some folks think Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club before someone else did it.
None of this is the point.
The point is that disruption is BS.
What wins in the marketplace is the F-word.
Focus is your friend.
When you focus your business model and your brand, great things happen.
When you focus on a single, well-defined core customer, you know to whom you are speaking.
Then, you can focus your marketing message in a way that makes your core customer feel one way about your brand.
Your brand becomes magnetic.
And your brand makes friends.
AND IT WORKS FOR ANY SIZE BUSINESS
It works for solopreneurs.
By focusing, Slow Burn helped one solopreneur double his revenue in a year.
Focus works for an established and thriving operation. That's how Slow Burn helped the business mentioned earlier launch a new brand and go from zero to a million.
And focus works for guys like Dollar Shave Club, who started a business based on a conversation at a party, tapped into the zeitgeist, and sold their business for a billion.
But disruption is not the goal.
Nor is pretentious and pointless mission statements or beer pong hot tub parties.
Focus is king. When you understand how to focus, you're on the way to being a brand that matters.
Even if someone else decides that have to call you names like "disruptive."
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
They together stand as a shining example of why, if you focus group your marketing work, you will hate life.
OK, so what does this actually mean?
If you've been paying attention to the news over the last week, you know that Boaty McBoatface is about to make its first ocean voyage.
I was not paying attention to the news. I learned this tidbit while listening to Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me! Which is a much more distinguished source of news than The Daily Show, lemme tell ya.
Anyway, the wisdom of sourcing world news from comedians aside, Boaty McBoatface first surfaced in the news about a year ago.
It all started at Great Britain's NERC.
"NERC" IS THE KIND OF NAME YOU GET WHEN BUREAUCRATS ARE IN CHARGE
It's not catchy. Doesn't have a good beat. Can't dance to it.
It stands for Natural Environment Research Council.
NERC ran a contest to name its new ship, a 410-foot research vessel that cost close to $300 million.
Intended to replace the RRS James Clark Ross and RRS Ernest Shackleton, my first question is: If it's replacing two ships, will it have the ability to defy time and space and be in two places at once?
NERC does not appear to have considered this question.
Anyway, NERC announced an online contest to name their new vessel, their presumed pride and joy.
THE INTERNET, PREDICTABLY, WENT NUTS
Everyone is a comedian.
People were floating names like, Clifford The Big Red Ship.
One of my personal favorites is RRS Usain Boat.
And a PR guy named James Hand (who certainly has endured his share of name jokes over the years) saw it all, laughed, and threw his hat into the ring with Boaty McBoatface.
The internet lost its mind.
THOUSANDS OF VOTES LATER...
RRS Boaty McBoatface was leading the pack as the internet's favorite name.
Was NERC really going to give a stupid name to its $300 million research vessel?
After all, the wisdom of crowds is a verifiable phenomenon. There's even a book about it.
And look at all the other hugely successful crowdsourced names over the last few years.
The nation of Slovakia crowdsourced the name for a new cycling and pedestrian bridge.
By a landslide, the internet's winning name was Chuck Norris.
There is no Chuck Norris Bridge in Slovakia.
It is called the Freedom Cycling-Bridge. Again, the kind of clunky name you get when bureaucrats are left in control. The "Freedom" part is very poignant, honoring the memories of people who tried to cross to freedom, but gets upstaged by "cycling bridge."
But I digress.
THEN THERE'S THE CITY OF AUSTIN
In a brilliant hybrid move of political correctness and keeping weirdness, the city's Solid Waste Services Department asked the internet for a new name.
I might've suggested the name Barry.
But they didn't ask me.
The internet suggested all kinds of interesting acronyms. Like The Department of Filth, Litter, Outreach, Abatement, Trimmings, Education and Recycling--which would be known as FLOATER.
One guy got his 15 seconds of fame by suggesting the waste management department be named after the front man for rap-rock band Limp Bizkit.
By a landslide, it was a favorite.
About 30,000 people voted to change the department's name from Solid Waste Services to the Fred Durst Society of the Humanities and Arts.
BUT THE INTERNET'S OPINION IS NEITHER BINDING NOR FINAL
If you live in the Lone Star State's capital city, your trash is now picked up by Austin Resource Recovery.
That's the kind of name you get when imaginative, politically correct bureaucrats are left in charge.
And the kind of name you get for your $300-million research vessel is not Boaty McBoatface, but RRS Sir David Attenborough.
A respectable name for a deep-ocean research vessel to succeed a proud ship like the RRS Ernest Shackleton.
Yes, Boaty McBoatface is going to sea. That's the name of the lead submersible aboard the Attenborough.
And PR guy James hand publicly apologized for creating internet mayhem by suggesting the name.
Interestingly, if you research Mr. Hand, in his Twitter bio he calls himself "The reason we can't have nice things."
EVERYBODY'S A COMEDIAN
Or everyone's earnest.
Or everyone's a clown.
Or everyone's sincere.
Or everyone's the wrong people to be doing this with.
Asking anyone else their opinion on the creative work you're trying to do is a bad, bad idea.
Unless you are certain the person you're reaching out to is in the right demographic, has the right sensibility, and you ask the absolute right questions, you get mayhem.
WE NEVER CROWDSOURCE ANYTHING
We also don't do focus groups until we are at an impasse and we need to know something specific.
Recently, The Fabulous Honey Parker and I were at an impasse.
She had designed a logo that I thought was too distinctly reminiscent of a certain portion of the female reproductive anatomy.
So finally, I said, "Focus group it."
Which meant sending it out to a handful of individuals we know who happen to be representative of the client's core customer.
And there was no, "Hey we're arguing about this. Help us decide."
We just looked for reactions.
AND IT WAS JUST AS I HAD SAID
It was evocative of human female biology.
And it was just as Honey had said: the women who is the core customer loves it.
Because a middle-aged woman of a certain income level I am not--and that is who we need to reach.
When you start just throwing your branding or your advertising or anything else out to people who aren't the right people, you set yourself up for a soul-crushing experience.
YOU'RE ASKING, "WHADDAYA THINK?"
They're hearing something else.
If they're a bunch of comedians, you'll get Boaty-McBoatface suggestions.
If they're a bunch of friends, they're hearing, "I need to solve this."
There will be comments and suggestions and opinions and (yes) mayhem.
If you're ever going to solicit input from anyone, you need to pick your critics wisely.
Recently here in the screed, we talked about a radio guru who asked listener opinions about radio commercials.
The top criticism of commercials? They're too long.
But if you scratch just below the surface, it looks like they're too long because they're loud, annoying and boring.
BUT SOMEBODY WITHOUT ANY IMAGINATION WHO'S LOOKING FOR A QUICK FIX?
They're going to stop at "Too long."
"We need to make these spots shorter!"
And if they continue to be loud, annoying and boring, listening to the crowd hasn't solved the problem.
We once had a client who went from thrilled to mortified over 72 hours. The exciting brand options we'd presented on Friday afternoon were so much horrifying oatmeal by Monday morning.
We're convinced the client did an ad hoc focus group. And all these people who lacked any sense of context but wanted earnestly to help explained what all the problems were.
That's why we now make every client sign an agreement that includes a promise to not focus group their material with "friends, family, neighbors or pets."
WE ALSO PROMISE TO TALK PANICKED CLIENTS IN OFF THE LEDGE
We explicitly state that we will administer adult beverages and/or dark chocolate as necessary.
You don't want people who aren't creative problem solvers trying to solve your problems for you.
But you do want to know what the person who fits your core customer avatar feels about something.
That can be really useful.
It's how a logo I thought was inappropriate went on to be the client's favorite and makes her feel really enthusiastic about her business.
The wisdom of crowds is a powerful thing.
Beware the wisdom of crowds.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.