Disruptive Innovation refers to taking a complex product or service meant for a highly skilled consumer and making it more accessible to a broader population. The disruption occurs by displacing established competitors.(1) Companies like Uber and Airbnb are great examples of disruptive innovators. However, businesses that upend their respective industries’ long-standing rules to the benefit of consumers often erect barriers to their success. They may have the potential to furnish real solutions for their audiences but fail to appreciate that to make real, lasting change, a great deal of communication and education is required. “What I see most in companies pushing innovation is naivety on the biggest barrier—adoption. [innovation] entails more convincing and education than they anticipated,” says Karla Jo Helms, Chief Evangelist and CEO of JoTo PR Disruptors.

What I see most in companies pushing innovation is naivety on the biggest barrier—adoption. [Innovation] entails more convincing and education than they anticipated.

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Disruption many times comes with unexpected liabilities—competitors, whose own established place in the market are now threatened, have often responded with aggressive tactics to discredit the innovator, often resorting to litigation and even slander. Some have even made it their business model to run smaller innovators out of business via exorbitant lawsuits and then buying their assets for pennies on the dollar. Other companies will file patent lawsuits. These companies are, referred to derogatorily as “patent trolls.” Frivolous lawsuits, known as Patent Assertion Entity, are not illegal, but they are costly and time-consuming. In the first four months of 2020 alone, there was a 20 percent increase in abusive litigation(2).

“If a business is going to topple over the established rules of an industry, one needs to be prepared for the onslaught. The competition will try everything it can to keep your eye off the ball. A common tactic is to spread whisper and false rumor campaigns to dismantle your efforts,” says Helms.

Disruption, if done right, can lead to a major expansion. Helms, having worked with hundreds of disruptors, explains how business leaders have been effective at mitigating these challenges.

5 Ways Disruptors Get It Right
1. Doing market research into the key target audiences to find their actual acceptance/ defiance to adoption. NOTE: key target audiences INCLUDE one’s competition. Knowing their insight beforehand has given many disruptors the advantage of prediction.
2. Doing Key Opinion Leader market research that find the INFLUENCERS of the key target audiences. Adopting the new media approach today—of communicating through influencers and key opinion leaders—allows adoption to occur 10X faster.
3. Taking the two instruments and data above to mathematically calculate the size, and potential hindrance to adoption, of the target audiences, to come up with the estimation of effort (time, money, marketing) it will take to convince a segment of the population to change their minds or to think in a new manner.
4. Preparing early for legal suits (from competitors and anyone in those economic networks that will get cut out due to the innovation)—and include crisis communication strategy plans in that preparation.
5. Utilizing the news media as a broad-stroke education tool to drown out ill-intended naysayers before they speak up.

5 Ways Disruptors Get It Wrong
1. Developing a model or product first without considering what their supposed target audience will see/perceive as their own barriers to adoption.
2. Not considering who will be the key players to INFLUENCE the early adopters.
3. Misestimating the rate of adoption; in other words, being naïve as to the resistance to change.
4. Never assuming they will need legal help as early as they do.
5. Thinking that PR & publicity should happen AFTER they become successful.

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The issue is to not come across as an overt industry innovator but rather, how to be seen “as a goodwill equalizer” in the eyes of that industry’s audiences and influencers. Even with the aid of well-researched data, a product or service has the potential to upend the very state of the industry—this creates negative human emotions, despite an altruistic purpose. People dislike change—but change is the very essence of innovation. In the 25 years since the Harvard Business Review coined the term disruptive innovation(3), one common denominator has been abundantly clear: Research. It goes without saying that lack of preparation is a sure path to failure.

“When you become a disruptor, you are putting a target on your back, so you must be prepared. Know your tools. Research, education via PR & publicity and preparation for crises will help companies leverage the court of public opinion for the fastest adoption,” says Helms. “That enables disruptors gain positive exposure, which in turn will lead to bigger influence—and in many cases retard the liability of being attacked.”

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