Disruption works both ways

The advent of the ‘conversation economy’ has seen the rise of clutter in media, products, channels etc. Unfortunately, such clutter can drown away efforts by companies and customers to connect with each other. Finding a way to cut through this clutter is therefore becoming important for both companies and customers alike. Disruptive techniques provide one such way – and it works both ways!!

Companies can disrupt markets in many ways such as altering the core product, product form, delivery, distribution, communication, marketing etc. This is particularly relevant in commoditised markets where differentiation can mean the difference between winners and the also-rans. But the desire of avoiding their ‘New Coke’ moment has ensured that brand executives pay lip service to disruptive strategies. Commodity marketers are therefore forced to battle for decimal gains of market share with razor thin margins rather than force a step change. However, rather than alter their core products, companies can also use disruption to improving the experience, accessibility or convenience of a product through distribution or delivery.

In recent weeks, England has enjoyed a bit of an Indian summer. At a barbeque, I made a chance discovery of the Heineken Draughtkeg. The Draughtkeg is a mini beer keg designed for personal use, and packs in a lot of high tech engineering inside its belly – a bit of German engineering meets Dutch brewing. Since its launch, the Draughtkeg has received mixed reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. Nevertheless, the disruption ability of the Draughtkeg cannot be underestimated. Without wanting to tamper a 140 year old recipe, Heineken has created a delivery platform which expands their core market while helping beer aficionados and Heineken loyalist to show off their perfect pour and enjoy the unique pleasure of pouring their fresh draught beer. Heineken has augmented this by transforming their website and adding a dedicated ‘Party website’. While they have a signature presence on Facebook, more can be done. Similarly, availability of the Draughtkeg (in the UK) is still sketchy. But if the proof of acceptability lies in how customers use it, then this Draughtkeg guitar amplifier is ample proof that Heineken has got this disruption right.

Similarly, the shoe can be on the other foot with equal ease. Customers drowning in the sea of canned IVR, emails, impersonal messages etc sometime choose to disrupt status quo by going on the offensive. A couple of years ago, Dell learnt a lesson or two from Jeff Jarvis. Jeff’s fight with Dell resulting in a new phrase: Dell Hell, and a new verb for consumer dissatisfaction: you got Dell’d. The increased penetration of microblogging and social networking sites provide a great disruption tool for dissatisfied customers. When Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie suffered a 39% single-day drop after it was panned on Twitter, Hollywood sat up and took notice. However the award for the best disruptive customer action in recent memory should go to Canadian musician Dave Carroll for taking on United Airlines who broke his guitar but refused to own up. His “United Breaks Guitars” has scored an instant hit on YouTube.com with over 3 million views and counting. United has since owned up and according to their spokespersonhis video is excellent, and we plan to use it internally as a unique learning and training opportunity to ensure that all our customers receive better service….This should have been fixed much sooner.

(This blog appeared in Capgemini’s Customer Experience Blog in July 2009)


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