How to Amp Up Your Event with Disruptive Marketing

The buzzword of the moment? Disruptive marketing. One of the most popular new business terms in leadership circles right now, it’s an innovative and unpredictable approach to customer outreach. Disruptive marketing is a disturbance. Done correctly, it’s a good thing. “It’s not an irksome interruption,” says Abigail Walker, senior vice president and head of strategy at Jack Morton Worldwide, a global branding agency. “It literally disrupts your attention by blowing up traditional marketing conventions,” she explains.

In practice, disruptive marketing includes on-the-ground, large-scale, unexpected tactics or events in public locations that draw attention. “The king and queen of disruption are Red Bull and DOVE,” says Walker. Red Bull’s Stratos campaign, which sent skydiver Felix Baumgartner spiraling to Earth in a record-breaking free fall from 128,000 feet in space, garnered Red Bull copious media attention. Dove’s ongoing Campaign for Real Beauty, which features everyday women talking about their bodies and self-esteem, has set a new standard for product marketing. “It’s such a refreshing change from all that other beauty claptrap out there,” Walker adds.

To go beyond traditional marketing strategies, consider disruptive marketing a new option in your arsenal. But before you plan a record-breaking stunt to get people talking about your event, consider these action items:

1. Know your target market. “Insight into your target is key,” says Clarke COLON, event marketing director for Fuse, a marketing agency specializing in youth outreach. “Find your audience and engage them in an authentic way that isn’t trying too hard or pushy.” For example, faith-based planners organizing conferences for young adults would be smart to focus on college campuses. Fuse created a Dorm Storm as part of its New Balance Love/Hate campaign, which sent 150 brand ambassadors to 33 college campuses in one night as part of the athletic-wear brand relaunch. “Students awoke in the morning to find their campuses blanketed with product messaging and giveaways with high-perceived value including hats and socks,” he says. Posters, chalk stencils, door hangers and PIZZA boxes plastered campuses, with 1 million pieces of distributed collateral. “Create a plan that will draw people to your activities because they think what you’re doing is interesting,” Colon recommends.    

2. Be mobile. Planning an ambush or PR stunt in the middle of a crowded train station or at a sporting event can create a whole slew of problems, so be ready to move. “Generally, marketers would not seek out approval or permission to be at a certain location because broadcasting where and when you’ll be could ruin the surprise element of the program,” Colon says. The downside to this is the potential to get shut down by property owners or local government authorities. Having a plan B that allows for easy mobility to a second location eliminates this issue. 

3. Follow through. If you’re using disruptive marketing prior to an event, it’s a good idea to integrate a few surprising elements on-site as well. “The place to take chances is inside the event,” says Saul Colt, chief evangelist at upstart Xero. “Make experiences a priority.” He recommends having surprise speakers and themed parties, and creating elements that add wonder. “If you are getting disruption right, it means you are making people feel uncomfortable—at least a little bit,” he says. Maybe your guests weren’t expecting an impromptu session or prayer meeting at that moment, so now they are thrown off.

You can use disruption to garner attention prior to an event, and you can use it on-site to keep the conversation alive. “Disruption has a tail end,” reminds Walker. “After experiencing the disruption, you should walk away with a new perspective on the subject matter. It should change the way you think.”

Libby Hoppe is a Chicago-based editorial manager and digital content director who works with clients to improve their digital marketing and content strategies. Find her on Twitter, @libbyhoppe.