Published: 20/08/2018

Disruption is happening all around us, from the TV that we watch, to the taxis we take or the way we make payments. By definition, something that “interrupts an event, activity, or process”, disruption has become a code word for products, services or marketing that redefine sectors.

There is proven business sense behind the sometimes-frantic push for disruption. Kantar Millward Brown’s BrandZ 2018 analysed brand value growth over a three-year period and found that brands perceived to be highly disruptive increased 30 percent in brand value, while brands perceived to be low in disruption actually saw their value decline slightly.

In this climate, it’s no wonder that marketers are feeling the pressure. Relying on the same things you’ve done in the past may now render your brand obselete, and there are countless examples of former leaders squeezed out of the market by tech-enabled disruptors. 

Successful disruption from authenticity

The good news is that disruption is not only for unicorn brands. Not everyone can push the boundaries as far as Alibaba or Airbnb, but that doesn’t mean established brands can’t challenge norms and perceived wisdoms about their own brand or category. Tweet thisDisruption can be achieved at any point in the marketing mix, but in the rush to stand out, brands can risk over-reaching by doing this in an inauthentic way. Failures such as the embarrassing PepsiCo/Kendall Jenner campaign or the more recent Lush UK #SpyCops act as ‘case in point’.  

Our research shows that a key component to successful disruption is, in fact, authenticity. While forced, token or poorly thought out attempts at disruption can undermine your brand, effective disruption can flow quite naturally from a clearly understood brand positioning. Success can be found by understanding how people perceive your brand and how it makes them feel, and then using that understanding to disrupt in a way that stays true to your brand values.

Three possible routes to authentic disruption.

Just how can marketers stand out and disrupt in an authentic way? Start by identifying the most appropriate route to disruption for your brand.

Zig when everyone else zags: a mistake brands often make is to jump on the latest trend, regardless of their positioning and heritage. In fact, starting with what you’re loved for to define your own place in the market can lead you to remarkable and unique places that play to your strengths. Think of disruption as an outcome, rather than an intention. Focus on what you do really well, and consistently challenge yourself to meet people’s needs better.

Paper Boat is an Indian snack and beverage brand that has defined its own path. In categories where many have jumped on the ‘health’ trend, Paper Boat is instead famed for updating products from yesteryear. Traditional snacks and beverages are given a 21st century makeover, appealing to nostalgia, whilst being sophisticated enough for Indian consumers.

Pick your moment: Tweet thisauthentic disruption does not have to mean re-engineering your whole offer. Brand perceptions can be shifted through a strategy of creating surprising experiences that capture your brand essence, and yet challenge preconceived norms. Big or small, by executing a clear strategy over time, these unexpected moments can add up to genuine disruption.

How do you disrupt with an established brand? For example, one which makes air fresheners, not a product typically front of mind when you’re in-store. Glade captured the sensory nature of their offer and took it to the extreme with a pop-up gallery installation: the ‘Museum of Feelings.’ The exterior of the Museum lit up with biometric colour reflecting the mood of the city using weather and stock exchange data. Each room captured emotion, from calm to exhilaration and joy, with a link to the brand’s fragrance range. A hands-on experience which linked Glade’s offer to a memory, this beautiful and impressive disruption became a must-see experiential attraction, visited by 56,000 people during three weeks of New York City’s busy holiday season.

Take a stand: Kantar Consulting’s Global MONITOR found that over 60 percent of people under 30 prefer brands that “have a point of view and stand for something”: the perfect opportunity to differentiate yourself through the way you make the world a better place.

Tweet thisChoosing the right cause to support is essential: your brand must be able to authentically talk about it, you should be taking action already, and it should solve a problem for the wider world. Be humble and honest about where you are on your journey, use your influence to draw attention to a surprising insight and be clear about how people can act. Taking a stand can be a striking route to disruption for even the most established brands, when done right.

German supermarket Edeka removed all non-German products from its shelves in Hamburg for a day to highlight the importance of diversity in daily life as part of the #Vielfalt (diversity, variety) campaign. The store chose to hero their commitment at a time when immigration was big news in the country. The stunt worked because it was based on a brand truth: Edeka sources products globally, and values variety and diversity highly. Not only that, but the store sacrificed sales for one day to make their statement, and underline their commitment. A bold move.

Tweet thisBrands must disrupt to grow, but shaking things up for the sake of it won’t deliver. Successful disruption is authentically unique to your brand – and therefore difficult for others to mimic. It starts with a deep understanding of the emotion and values behind your brand positioning. Truly disruptive activity should then flow naturally.