Is revolution always in the offing?

Sometimes it seems that way, especially in any era of highly polarized public discourse.

This essay from 2014 written in honor of Bastille Day still applies, especially to those thinking about the volatility of marketing, as geopolitical issues and economic conflicts roil everyday life and business.

Dateline: July 14, 2019 (originally published July 14, 2014)

Talkin’ ‘bout a Revolution: Marketing Disruption

What does marketing have to do with revolution? A natural question to ask on Bastille Day, as I meditate on Tracy Chapman’s song “Talkin’ ‘bout a Revolution.”

We often hear the term “market disruption,” which sounds pretty revolutionary. It’s lauded as innovative pressure on stagnant markets or stagnant technology. High risk, high reward ventures that change the way people live by enticing them with something they didn’t know they wanted. The model T versus the horse… iTunes versus CDs. Netflix versus TV sets. The Internet versus brick-and-mortar business, newspapers, books, privacy… you name it.

Bleu, Blanc & Rouge

Bastille Day, as we call it in the states, is actually known as “La Fête Nationale”. The chance to waved the “Bleu, Blanc & Rouge” French flag commemorates more than just the start of the revolution with the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789.

July 14th became an official national holiday in 1880, chosen by the Assembly over August 4th, which would have honored the end of the feudal system in 1789.

It officially aggregated several holidays of the period to acknowledge the sprit of unity among the French people colorfully highlighted by the “Journée des brouettes” or Wheelbarrow Day in 1790. This event included both a voluntary cleanup and 4-day feast on the Champs de Mars, with fireworks, wine, and some naked running through the streets.

In an era when so many holidays have appeal far beyond their roots, Bastille Day is notable for being celebrated in many countries and dozens of major cities in the U.S.

Boston, staking its preeminent claim as a hotbed of revolutionary spirit, owes a permanent debt to France for its timing funding of our founding war here in the colonies. Boston always has lots of Bastille Day events planned. Perhaps this year they’ll top the 2009 celebration which took place at The Liberty Hotel, itself a former jail. The celebration will be more about the partying and wine, as Boston reserves its own American Revolution battle re-enactments for Patriots Day on April 19th. In hindsight, “No taxation without representation!” was a pretty commercial sounding rallying cry, don’t you think?

Worth noting: Thomas Paine, the pamphleteer who roused the rabble in the American Colonies with his wildly popular pro-independence “Common Sense”, was in France in 1793 to support the French Revolution. Yet he was imprisoned and narrowly escaped the guillotine as alliances and power shifts whirled… disruptively, trapping even a card-carrying revolutionary. (See this and other summaries at the U.S. Department of Sate Office of the Historian.)

The Market Revolution

As the Age of Enlightenment marched onward, what’s become known as the Market Revolution of 1793-1909 was indeed disrupting life, as heralded by the end of Feudalism in France a few years earlier, and furthered by the impact of the Industrial Revolution on everything from agriculture to production, commerce, and even military might, with the advent of mechanization and the redistribution of labor.

The U.S. shift from an import to an export economy was anything but smooth, seeding our own later Civil War. More immediately, the U.S. transformed from an agrarian to a commercial and market-driven economy. (See John Lauritz Larson, The Market Revolution in America: Liberty, Ambition, and the Eclipse of the Common Good.)

Modern Day Pamphleteers in Song

The revolution will not be right back after a message
about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat…

— Gil Scott-Heron, 1970

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself-Well…How did I get here?

— David Byrne et al, Talking Heads, 1981

Market Disruption: Good or Bad?

Disruption without innovation is simply destruction.

Andy Rachleff does a fine job exploring market disruption in his Forbes article What “Disrupt” Really Means, identifying factors like context, timing and scale as critical elements in being able to truly disrupt a marketplace, like Google has done with advertising, and Tesla is poised to do with its dramatic move to give away patents. “Low-end disruption’ comes off much like a revolutionary without an army, in his estimation.

Let’s consider what comes first in marketplace shifts: innovation or disruption?

In the examples I mentioned of the Model T, iTunes and Netflix, there was either genius at work, or a collective and inspired team, mixing genius with other capacities, not the least of which is… persistence.

What made these innovative companies so successful that they could disrupt, even revolutionize, a marketplace? What did they have?

1. Vision
Astute strategy may start with a genius insight,
yet it must always enter and encompass the real world

2. Evangelism
A willingness to make converts, to grow an audience from zero

3. Authentic Ease
A message that can fulfill its promise in a way buyers can trust

4. Iconic Appeal
Intriguing dazzle supported by intrinsic value

5. Boots on the Ground
Proactive visibility with consistent marketing and PR to generate buzz & biz
Stick-to-It-iveness requires a team: build a team if you want them to come,
as you build sufficient scale to see the venture through

6. Hard Times & Great Expectations
Instead of A Tale of Two Cities, with its tragic end, the successful venture requires roll-up-your-sleeves grit and attention to both the challenge of Hard Times and traps of success with Great Expectations, as well as a commitment to establish a lasting presence beyond even your own.

Neither marketing nor success is inherently sequential, with Step 1 occurring neatly before Step 2, and so forth.

The impatience of the marketing revolutionary often makes her leap into the middle of the fray, responding to the flash of opportunity.

What lets that flash of inspiration defy the probabilities of failure?

It’s the willingness to use all 6 Steps in concert. Marketing is not for the faint of heart, as I’ve learned over the years.

Marketing revolutionaries are those ready to step up and disrupt even themselves on the way to marketing success.

And… Lennon-McCartney in 1968 noted that revolutions that succeed need… a plan!

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world…

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan…

Don’t you know know it’s gonna be alright
Alright, alright…

A plan?  It’s what’s needed to bring the vision forth into the real world and give it what it need to take root and grow.

Happy Bastille Day!

• • •

— Diane A. Curran, CEO of The Marketing Deal > Marketing . Branding . Messaging . Design

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