Disruptive brands – a new phenomena?


Bev Cook of Simple Marketing in Nottingham debates whether a disruptive brand is a new phenomena.

I was reading an article recently in Marketing Magazine and noticed that there appears to be a new phenomena in the world of marketing which is being described as the “disruptive brand”.

Having read the interpretation which explained what a disruptive brand is supposed to be, it got me thinking about whether a disruptive brand really was new idea or perhaps a modern updated term for innovation and having what it takes to be ahead of your competitors by being tune with market demands.

A disruptive brand is being described as any company that recognises a gap in the market, a company that has redefined how consumers access new products or services. Millharbour Marketing strategic consultant director Sophie Morris explains that these new business models base their strategy on intuitive customer insight and have identified a gap in the marketplace.

“They have thought differently about customer needs, rather than just replicating a previous business model and doing it a little better or more quickly. They have completely redesigned the market based on that customer insight and have not been afraid to step out of the mould of their industry.”

In recent years, new business models have erupted onto the marketplace to challenge established brands and transform the lifestyle of consumers. When you think of such brands, there are many that spring to mind that have revolutionised the way we access the product or service that we are looking for.

A perfect example for this would be Spotify. In the past, in order to listen to the music of our preferred choice we have had to buy the album or buy the song whether that be in the form of the CD or more recently iTunes, which once upon a time may have been defined as a disruptive brand. However times have changed and now the emphasis is on being able to access the content rather than owning the content and Spotify enables this. Spotify offers a commercial streaming service that provides content from record labels including Sony, EMI, Warner Music Group and Universal.

The argument is that these new eruptive models have challenged business models that we didn’t think needed to be challenged. Amazon being a prime example. Often described as the pioneer of disruptive business models, it created a wave of disquiet in the traditional publishing industry when it launched its online bookstore 20 years ago. It also kick-started the eBook revolution with the Kindle. When Amazon came to the fore, nobody thought there was anything wrong with the existing model, yet it showed consumers they didn’t need to physically go to the book retailer or library, with the knock on affects on brands like WH Smith, Waterstones and our public library services.

So is a disruptive brand a new phenomena or is it modern updated take on past models?

Personally I feel there is nothing new about a “disruptive brand”. I see revolutionizing the way we view and access products as an essential component of success and growth for a brand in any era. Those that keep their finger on the pulse survive. Those that keep their head down in a silo don’t. Step forward Mr yellow pages, who took great pride in saying his beloved Yellow Pages directory would forever remain the must have book in every household. He was subsequently far too late with yell.com and has been overtaken by google search!

Throughout history we have seen many brands do evolve from Kelloggs to Cadbury. Some have survived, some haven’t.

So to conclude, no I do not view this as a modern phenomena, I very much view this a modern uptake on past models.

Just as Hoover and Dyson replaced the dustpan and brush, David Brown and Massey Ferguson replaced the horse and  plough, or airlines pushed out cruise liners, or the internet and no-frills airlines squeezed out travel agents operating European holiday packages – disruptive marketing is simply the management process that we as marketers are responsible for ensuring……that our brand doesn’t become the laggard and become extinct in the face of changing trends, technologies or any other threat – currently known or not known!


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