Disruption is an overused word. It can mean a lot of different things, but at the heart it’s a catch all for pushing the limits of something. In the case of disruptive marketing it can mean to push the limits so you can be where your customers or prospective customers are. Sometimes that means going to a competitor’s conference (or any conference).
The question is, how do you intercept an event without disrupting it? How do you embrace cordial competitiveness?
Intercepting a competitors conference is something all companies should at least consider. There are two ways to approach it; You can go in strong like Norm MacDonald did in Dirty Work but that is just an easy way to lose the respect of your customers and start a war that is never worth the attention. The reality is, you will often share partners, customers and even friends. So the the other way is to be polite and clever.
In my role as Chief Evangelist at Xero.com, I am tasked with getting as many people as possible to know about our company. I want them to try our cloud based accounting software and share their experience with friends who may need our solution.
This past week we politely disrupted Intuit’s Quickbooks Connect conference. Our efforts totalled two hours as the sun came up on the last day of a of a three day conference. In that short window we made a positive impact on the attendees while also making sure not to ruffle too many feathers. Here is how we did it and how you can do it too:
Think of it as Art: When you decide to take the step to disrupt an event it is very important to think of it as art. Are you creating a visual that anyone would take a picture of? Is your idea memorable? Will it inspire anyone to walk into the building and tell three people what they saw outside or even drag a friend back to look at it?
With this in mind we went with the most obvious choice and that of course was a levitating magician.
Our whole disruption on site was one person in a Xero shirt sitting on “a cloud” (levitating) and saying Hi to people. This works on many levels because it’s not in your face but it does meet all the criteria above of being memorable, something people would take pictures of and definitely tell a friend about.
As you can see this is hardly an event takeover. No signage, no pop up booths, no bull horns screaming at people, just a guy sitting on air.
Give something away: Along with our photo opportunity we also handed out cupcakes and t-shirts from the sidewalk closest to the building but not on the property or inside the building. Because the attendees were already familiar with our company and many use us as well it was fun for us and them to meet and get a treat first thing in the morning…and, yes, it was also cool to see people walking in to the building with a branded baked good and having people ask where they could get one.
Don’t sell, Add Value: When our magician spoke to people or any of the rest of the Xero team we were not there to sell. A bad word about Intuit was never said. There were no offers or promo codes handed out. This wasn’t about us vs them, we had a clear goal with this event and that was to show love for our Xero add on partners. A lot of our partners are also partners with Intuit and we love that so all our messaging was about “While you are inside please visit and learn more about our add on partners”. On top of verbally introducing people to our partners we also tweeted about our partners and directed people through social media to their booth numbers and showing them love. Our number one rule on social was to never take a shot at Intuit – no hijacking the hashtag with nonsense or offers and not being the one starting the social conversation about our disruption. We did, however, make sure to help spread the conversation once it started.
Be flexible and fearless: Don’t even think of doing these sort of things if you are the type who can’t think on your feet. I am half joking when I say there is a line in the budget labeled “bail money – tbd”. Disruption by its very nature makes people uncomfortable and sometimes people lash back. Police are called if it crosses the line of “polite”. At this event we were asked to leave by security and because the intent was never to start a war, we did leave – when we were ready – but that is a whole other story.
Keep your team small: Because dealing with Police or security is inevitable it is always good to keep your team small and have one clearly designated person as the one who speaks for everyone. Never put your staff in a situation where they are not comfortable. Thats just bad form, so all anyone should do is direct whoever is asking hard questions to the one person who is willing to get arrested – that is usually me.
Photograph the whole thing: If you are successful in creating something fun and memorable for the people witnessing, then chances are it would be fun for a wider audience and it should be shared with not only fans but the rest of the team back at the office as well. Maybe you could even write an post like this one with the content.
Have Thick Skin: You will get tweets and emails saying you are a bad person no matter how polite you have been. Thats cool. Like Taylor Swift says, Shake it off. If everyone is happy then what you did wasn’t disruptive to begin with. And if you are thinking that this write up wasn’t actually very polite, please note that there may be more branding in this piece for Intuit than for Xero. That is very polite.
Now that we have given up the blue print, I guess we should expect someone to do this to us. Thats ok, because if they aren’t polite about it we’ll ask them to leave. Chances are they are not as good at talking to Police as I am.