Marketing Strategies to Deal with a Disruptive Event

disruptive_event_microscopeIn my last post, I presented a real-life disruptive event that manufacturers of microscopes are now facing – the emergence of a new competitor selling a product that apparently is unbreakable, can be transported to literally anywhere in the world, and, could retail for $.50 each.

I chose this example not only because it is a current, but because of the severity of the disruption. Professional microscopes used by research facilities or drug manufacturers likely cost thousands of dollars, so the price difference is significant, to say the least! Here are some observations and tips I would suggest, if I were the one responsible for realigning the strategic direction of an existing Microscope manufacturer.

Why are you in Business?

I don’t mean to imply you should just recite your mission statement, or to try and present the merits of preparing one. I am simply suggesting you look to your roots and decide why you are in business in the first place? What is the reason you started your company, or in the case of large, publicly traded companies, what difference are you trying to make in the world? Assuming it is more than just collecting a paycheck, a careful reflection on this point will help guide next steps.

For example, if your mission was to provide under-developed countries with medical assistance through the production of affordable microscopes, then I would propose you now have two choices: (1) Join forces, or (2) Exit the industry. Manu Prakash and his students at Stanford have built a better “mousetrap” as the expression goes, so you really can’t expect to disrupt his breakthrough – it is unlikely.

Alternatively, if your mission is to provide the highest quality instruments so researchers can gain insights into the deepest depths of molecules, atoms or whatever else these individuals do to help find cures to diseases, then your response might be different. The paper microscope was created to serve markets where the primary purchase decision is based on cost, ease of use and transportability. The research market, however, has money to spend and is typically is located in a developed nation where breakage issues are not a driving factor of a purchase. So, this market might see value in features that better serve its needs.

Product or Market Differentiation

Marketers like to call this strategy product or market segmentation. Ideally, it is best to “own” a particular market segment. Narrow the focus on what you think you can “own” so as to provide the best possible product to serve the specific needs of that particular group of buyers.

For example, it may be that a larger model is better suited for research purposes. In this hypothetical scenario, it might make sense to “go big” and introduce a much larger version with specific features that a researcher might highly value. This way your product gets positioned as serving a different need, so will less likely be compared to the paper product. A great way to execute upon this concept is to come up with a new name for the market you seek to dominate – it will help to make the buyer feel more comfortable, and that they are not overpaying for a product that could be purchased for under a buck!

Service Differentiation

Another business strategy to make your offering different than the rest is to include or associate a type of service with the physical product. In the software world, some clients have highly sensitive data, processes or actions that are being performed by their software at all times of the day or night. These clients will happily pay for 24/7 service to be available at a moment’s notice to fix an issue if it comes up, so as to avoid lengthy downtime. In the same way, some of the microscope manufactures might decide to come out with a highly sensitive, highly accurate model that might be the Ferrari of models – both in terms of performance and nurturing necessary to maintain that performance. Clients interested in this type of product might be willing to pay extra for the support or maintenance services associated with such a high end machine, making the focus being more on providing the valuable expertise to keep the equipment running at all times. This is certainly a different business model than that of providing the “buck” model.

To conclude, when faced with a disruptive event, it is often helpful to first think about your business purpose. This insight is more than just to include in the writing of a business plan – it can genuinely be a life saver to help you get over the shock of a disruptive event that might happen in your industry. With this insight well thought through, the choice of a responsive action might be easier to see, identify and put into place.

Do you have a disruptive event that occurred in your industry? I would be curious to hear what you did and how it played out. It will be interesting to read about the microscope manufacturing market in about 2 years to see how these industry players decided to respond.


Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+


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