​5 Of The Most Disruptive Strategy Innovations Of The Last 20 Years

An examination of some of the most successful and disruptive company strategies


Suffice it to say, we are all a bit obsessed with innovation these days.

It’s not hard to understand why. One of the few defining characteristics of the last 20 years has been innovation, both for the individual and for enterprise. The result has been a tendency to associate new with innovation and innovation with ‘good’.

This explains why the Wall Street Journal recently reported that, in the space of 3 months, 255 books were released with the word ‘innovation’ in the title. It’s the universal trait which seems to connect every successful company right now, from Amazon to Netflix.

Disruptive strategy innovation is when a company plans to disrupt an industry through its embrace of an innovative culture. However, this is a hard target to strive for. Even one of the most influential disrupters of our generation, Steve Jobs, in an interview with Fortune said: ‘When we created the iTunes Music Store, we did that because we thought it would be great to be able to buy music electronically, not because we had plans to redefine the music industry.’

And that’s the rub when it comes to disruptive innovation strategy; there are no guides or how-to manuals on how to do it. You can, however, plan on being innovative and adopt a culture that continuously pushes your company to be the best version of itself. Then maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll find yourself completely rewriting the rules of the industry you inhabit.


Like all great disruptive strategies, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the two founders of Google, had a simple, yet incredibly ambitious goal. With an internet that was rapidly growing larger and a general public with largely no idea how to navigate, the two set out to 'to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.'

Now Google is practically a verb and is synonymous with information, a powerful position to find yourself in the 'Information Age'. This dominance over the internet has allowed them to completely re-imagine advertising with Google AdWords. Advertisers bid specifically for pertinent keywords in order to get their clickable ads to feature at the top of Google searches which feature them.

This has paved the way for a new phase in online advertising, one that is both personalized and relevant, and it has proven to be incredibly effective. Through other services like Google Analytics, advertisers can also see how well a specific ad is doing and how many clicks it has received, thereby taking some of the mystery out of advertising and allowing for much more data-driven and targeted advertising campaigns.


GoPro recently shifted its marketing strategy to be a bit more mainstream, even releasing their first TV advert in 2017. This is a significant shift from GoPro much more guerrilla start in 2002.

GoPro are masters of the art of content marketing. For years they had advertised solely through videos generated by surfers, skydivers, snowboarders, and a host of other adrenaline junkies. By using content created by these people, they managed to turn every single one of their adverts into a viral video, without sacrificing their marketing edge. This is because every excellently filmed, amazing video they uploaded also advertised the quality and durability of their product.

This led to a domino effect of people wanting to essentially advertise for GoPro - for free. These people wanted to be part of a movement and GoPro slowly became associated with internet videos of people doing awesome stuff. Harnessing social media early on helped intensify this effect due to the ever-increasing number of videos we all began to watch daily.

This is why they now have to go mainstream; the brand has simply matured out of its guerrilla marketing phase. And while their incredible growth has leveled out, they have helped transform the world enough that the average person is not only acutely aware of GoPro, but can justify buying one for themselves. Even if they don't plan on jumping out of a plane anytime soon.

Red Bull

Red Bull has some superficial similarities with GoPro in their desire to associate themselves with adrenaline junkies. However, there are significant differences between their two strategies.

Red Bull essentially created their own market, which makes their achievements doubly impressive. They had a brand new product with no real precedent for them to base their marketing campaign on and no set demographic to advertise too.

The company's success is largely due to their immensely talented marketing team who perfected 'buzz-marketing'. Their strategy involved signing up dozens of professional extreme sports athletes and a series of highly esoteric and downright weird TV adverts (we will all remember what gives us wings until the day we die).

Its founder, Austrian toothpaste salesman, Dietrich Mateschitz and his amazing team proved marketing can trump value. They sold a product with no patent, with all its ingredients clearly written on the can and has been copied hundreds of times by other companies much larger than it. Despite this, even as recently as 2017, 30 years after it was founded, it has managed to maintain its dominance, with a 26.5% market share. This is because Mateshitz has always understood the overwhelming impact marketing can have. Like he once said 'We don’t bring the product to the consumer, we bring consumers to the product.'


Known to some as the 'bus of the sky', Ryanair's marketing strategy has been very simple on the surface, but has been fuelled by technological innovation and a willingness to upend to the industry as a whole.

Historically, commercial air travel has always been a luxurious affair. In its Pan Am days, it was meant solely for the rich and powerful. As it became more mainstream over the years, it never fully lost that luxury moniker. It has long been the most expensive way to travel and no one really questioned it.

Ryanair approached the industry from a purely economic point of view, making 2 significant changes to this paradigm. First, they took out all the luxurious additions like baggage, or food and drink or any semblance of leg room. The second thing they did was embrace digital before other airlines; they both use it to ensure that each flight is at capacity and were one of the first airlines to develop a mobile app. This allowed them to cross-sell a host of other options like car rental and accommodation.

This drastically lowered their ticket prices and in doing so, moved them out of just the airline industry into the general transport market. When a flight costs $30, you aren't only competing with other airlines, but you're competing with bus services, trains, even people personal cars. So while they might not be the most loved brand in Europe, it hasn't stopped them cracking one of the most notoriously hard markets.


Apple's iPod was an extremely well-timed product that shows the incredible impact a forward-thinking strategy can have. The Walkman had already changed the way people consumed music, transforming it from a group activity into a very personal one. When the iPod launched, music industry sales were in decline following Sean Parker's massive wrench in the system - Napster. Instead of avoiding the industry in favor of a safer one, Apple understood that despite the declining figures, people were listening to more music than ever before.

So they released the incredibly sleek, futuristic and, intuitive iPod in 2001. With its larger-than-ever-before capacity to hold music (a whole 5GB!), it was a game changer and they dominated the digital music market until they rendered it obsolete - with the iPhone.

They also predicted that consumers attachment to downloading music was more an issue of convenience and they generally wouldn't mind spending some money to acquire it safely and legally. So they later released iTunes, a legal way for consumers to cheaply download music.

Microsoft's Zune never stood a chance... 

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