Disruptors vs. Innovators

September 28, 2018 Daniel Hilbert

Disruptors vs. Innovators

Event marketing is an ever-changing industry. We are continually striving for better ways to make an impact. Sometimes we shake things up and change the model, and sometimes we make better models. Ask yourself – is your company a disruptor or an innovator? Disruptors are innovators, but not all innovators are disruptors. Often the terms are used interchangeably, but in reality, they are different.


A disruptor is a company that is building new business models catalyzed by a complacent category, unmet needs, and unserved segments. They have the courage and the resources to challenge the status quo. Innovators take new technology or cultural trends and change their offerings, which requires a constant awareness of what is happening in their industry and how that is having an impact or change on culture.

Innovation is iterative, while disruption is invention. Disruption creates an entirely new category. For example, the iPod was a disruptor. As a result of streaming music, Apple created a new product by merging the method of how people received music, the software that gathered that music and the hardware that housed the music to craft a new device. Likewise, the iPhone was a disruptor, combining the iPod with a phone. However, every new iteration of the iPhone is an innovation.

As marketers, we must stay on the pulse of what is happening culturally, politically and socially, as that will ultimately affect the decisions that our constituents make. Is your business an old business or a new business? Is it staying where it is or becoming contemporary? Do you have the courage or the resources to improve what you are already doing? How do you get them? Where do you start? The implication for us as marketers is to understand our constituents enough to know if what we are doing for them is disruption or innovation.


Here are some interesting figures to show the difference:

  • 2/5’s of business leaders of top-ranked companies believes their industries won’t exist in the next five years, making innovation a matter of survival

  • 60% of Chief Executives say their sectors have already been changed or reshaped

  • 75% anticipate they would see their market disrupted by 2022.


What if…

We stop selling real estate…and start selling EXPERIENCES?


There are three tenets to creating engagement and activation for your visitors.

  1. Space to place
    Take a look at your execution, at your partnership packages, at your pricing, at the way your floor is laid out. Have you made a place out of the space?

    Space to Place

  2. Message to movement
    Are people are going to take your message and be advocates after the event?

  3. Event to community
    Do you have people networking and working with each other before and after the event?

If you are doing all three of these things, then you will be in a pretty good place.


Here are a few current trends that help deliver this:

  1. Gamification
    Humans are playful creatures. Everyone likes to play. So, let’s use that by including fun, high-touch centers. Attendees will naturally gravitate toward playful games that interest them.  Playing and learning happen two ways: analog (places to hang out that are high touch) and digital (online community). How do you bring 5000 people at a keynote together? Do you use a digital tool to create a community? Something like this can be activated, sponsored and delivered by gamification. You can add sponsors, your partners, and potential constituents.

  2. Vignettes
    Humans are also designed to learn. So let’s add areas of learning, play, demonstrations, networking, rest and more. They are distinctively made to be separate, self-paced activities that increase connection, learning, and bonding.

VignettesWhat happens if we sold experiences by vignette? When you walk into a museum, it is essentially a consolidation and aggregate of vignettes. You are drawn to what you want to learn. If there is something flashy that you weren’t expecting, you might learn something new.

The trade show floor is an organism that is made of up of all of these vignettes where activation occurs. It starts with community, where you encourage participation, and dwell time, where you deliver something fun that's a break or a treat. Then there’s a networking area. What if we sold it this way? To create these particular spots, to disrupt the event industry?

Sell Content Vignettes

Can you separate vignettes by what people get from it emotionally – networking, demos – not necessarily by the category or products or services?

  • Focus on high-touch emotional connection points with attendees
  • Take more risks to change floor layouts, venue selection, and event activations
  • Start planning sooner to ensure strategy and design first
  • Tie the redesigns back to your business objectives.
  • Develop sponsorship packages that support and encourage experiences.

If you stop selling real estate and start selling experiences, your event transforms. Attendees linger. They connect. They network. They bond. All of that not only equals dwell time on the floor with your exhibitors but also a great attendee experience.

So, is your business a disruptor or an innovator? Maybe you are both things but if you aren’t thinking like one, now’s the time to start. The future of event marketing is counting on you.

About the Author

Daniel Hilbert

Dan Hilbert is EVP GES Events. With more than 30 years’ experience in the event, agency and entertainment business, Dan has a deep understanding of true experiential marketing and what it takes to make clients successful. Having also worked on the client side managing brands for Fortune 50 companies, he knows the power of face-to-face activation as a strategic growth imperative within the entire marketing mix. As EVP of GES Events, Dan and his team bring brands to life by creating and producing some of the world’s most impactful and immersive brand experiences.

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