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Disruptive Marketing

Mrs. Costello, my 7th grade English teacher’s favorite line (at least what she frequently repeated to me) was “don’t disrupt the class.” I generally implore my clients to do the opposite: “stand out and get noticed!” In business, as in trade shows, blending in diminishes impact, memorability and potential ‘buzz’ about your product or brand. Besides, it is hard to be seen as being outstanding if you don’t first “stand out.”

Disruptive Marketing is a term that can apply to a brand, a product or service, to advertising and/or to other forms of prospect engagement. Timely examples of ‘disruptive marketing’ are found throughout our daily news and/or pop-culture. For instance:

Sporting Events

The Superbowl (with its incredibly unfortunate outcome says this Carolina Panthers season ticket holder) was won by Peyton Manning’s team. Arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks in the games’ history. But what won the Superbowl? Defense. Defense wins championships and defense is a disruptive tactic that keeps your competition from achieving their goal.


Presidential Politics circa 2016 features Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders currently riding high off of New Hampshire wins. One is the diametric opposite of political correctness and the other outwardly calls for a revolution! Others say ‘vote for me cause I believe in God’ (instead of having particular economic, domestic or global policies) and even a former First Lady, Secretary of State and US Senator is touting herself as the ultimate “outsider.” Another candidate viewed as a New Hampshire winner was John Kasich. Amidst an atmosphere of poisonous attacks, he killed them with kindness. Whether or not any of the five candidates referenced here ultimately wins the presidency, they all are disrupting the traditional candidates’ goals.

Company Growth

Brands and companies grow through innovation. Innovation is supplying something new to a market. The “new” often replaces the tried and true. When the world’s leading Hamburger chain needed to grow, McDonalds introduced breakfast service. When the world’s leading Soda company needed to grow, Coca-Cola turned to juice, sports drinks and most recently coffee to propel revenue. Product line extensions are internal disruptions to how a company has previously done things. This past Christmas Holiday season saw “on-line” purchases surge into double digits disrupting how people shop. Amazon, Zappos, E-Bay and others offer alternatives to Main Street or ‘the mall’. Successful alternatives, by definition, are market disrupters.


On television, despite huge production and special effects budgets, it is the rare Car commercial that really stands out. Automobiles, and certainly most ads for pharmaceuticals, generally try to use lifestyle imagery. It all becomes a blur and do you really remember which product is which? In other “marketing” every week lately I receive at least a dozen
e-mails from companies claiming to be experts at lead generation. Most don’t even get skimmed. The ones that do are sharing something (in the subject line) that is disrupting my natural tendency to delete junk correspondence that makes it through our servers’ filter.

How Can You Disrupt?

In the world of tradeshow marketing “disruption” can and should take many forms. Perhaps starting before a show, can your “pre-show” contact be something other than a bland e-mail invite or forgettable postcard? At a trade show, can your Exhibit Environment visually jump out thus disrupting the ‘sameness’ of the exhibition floor? Can your booth staffers engage attendees in a manner that is meaningful, memorable and changes the way they think of your firm or its products and services? Can your prospect’s experience in your booth space be something other than ‘let me scan your badge?’ Could your post-show follow up benefit from disrupting the way you’ve done it in the past (think timeliness, sincerity, lead specificity and tying the at show information obtained to the post event discussion)?

Now go out and be disruptive! (Sorry Mrs. Costello).

About the Author

Steve Hoffman, President of Skyline Exhibits & Design, Inc. has spent almost 30 years in the selling and marketing of marketing products. Following a successful career in the TV Program Syndication business, he joined The Holt Group/Skyline Displays as a Marketing Consultant, then moved into management, ultimately purchasing a portion of that company. He is the author of "The Reality of B.S. (Big Sales...That Is)." Steve is dedicated to helping his South Carolina trade show displays clients achieve their worldwide exhibit marketing goals while improving their efficiencies, too.

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