Disruption has become quite a buzzword in marketing these days — every new product or service is touted as “disruptive”. Whereas, in reality, many are only incremental improvements over existing products.

If a few years ago marketing was all about “follow best practices”, today’s adage seems to be “disrupt or die”. So, what really is disruption in marketing?

A disruptive company typically aims to achieve one of two goals: design its product or service to meet the demands of an emerging market, or reshape an existing product or service to meet the demand of customers dissatisfied with the current offering.

Some examples of disruption are iTunes, which allowed customers to purchase singles online rather than buying complete albums; or Airbnb, which created a new business model by connecting people having spare rooms at home with customers looking for reasonably priced accommodation. So, what do companies that are trying to be disruptive within their industry need to look out for?

Basically, they need to consider how to best address one or more of the 4Cs of modern marketing, in a way that their competitors are not:

* Consumer — The starting point has to be understanding a key consumer need or want. Apple understood the frustration of consumers who were forced to buy expensive CDs, while all they really wanted to listen to only one or two songs in an album. Unlocking this need led to the development of iTunes, which was the first Apple offering to really take off.

* Cost — Companies need to consider not only the price that customers are paying, but the total cost of ownership, which could include time cost of acquiring the product, cost of replacement or upgrades, and the emotional cost of product usage. Disruptive companies can meet a consumer need at lower cost than existing products. The Dollar Shave Club in the US has been a success because they were able to offer decent quality shaving products at a fraction of the price that market leaders like Gillette and Schick were charging.

* Convenience — Today’s time starved consumers are more likely to buy products that enable them to go about their lives more efficiently. This also encompasses the total customer experience while buying and using the product. The move from analog to digital photography is a classic example of disruption centred around convenience — and companies like Kodak that were slow to understand the shift in consumer preference lost their pre-eminence within their industry to other players like Sony, Casio and Nikon.

* Communication — Even with products that are not necessarily unique, using a creative communication strategy can be a way of positioning the brand as disruptive. A recent example was the Volvo creative strategy during the Super Bowl. Leveraging a Twitter hashtag of #VolvoContest, they encouraged fans to nominate others to win a Volvo X60 every time an auto ad came on air. Over four hours, this campaign created close to 50,000 tweets, the most for any automotive brand, and effectively hijacked the competition’s advertising.

Within the MENA region as well, we have seen many examples of disruption — Souq.com was among the first to create disruption in the retail space, The Meem bank in Saudi Arabia was the first totally digital bank in the region, and even governments and municipalities are offering disruptive services using IoT, Virtual Reality and other technology-based solutions. With increased focus on digital, the pace of disruption in the region will only get higher.