What does it take to be a ‘disruptive’ brand?

Ben Osbourne
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It’s impossible to write a piece about business transformation without considering disruptors. These emerging brands defy the playbook, deploying new technologies to deliver memorable, meaningful and useful brand experiences that surpass pre-existing expectations. Yet, while the first wave of disruptors establish themselves as leaders in their field and more traditional companies embrace disruptive practices to transform and survive, we should ask whether the label ‘disruptor’ has lost some of its weight.

Let’s consider Netflix, the Californian upstart that’s shaken up the entertainment industry and changed the way we access, view and discover content. The Netflix platform has over 137 million subscribers worldwide and the company’s programming budget and market capitalisation is close to that of Disney (Disney $171bn vs Netflix $165bn at the time of writing). The brand remains a champion of consumer needs, but its approach and technology ‘sets the bar’ rather than merely disrupting a status quo.

Furthermore, it doesn’t always take a maverick entering a category to change the game. Savvy established brands also have a responsibility to maintain relevance by thinking and acting differently. Take Disney and their $52bn acquisition of 21st Century Fox. They’re responding by adopting a digital transformation program to reinvent how consumers engage with their content that will definitely feel disruptive, especially to Netflix.

Take the time to truly understand your customers, their needs and how they interact with your brand

It’s clear that the definition of a ‘disruptor’ – and ultimately the formula for success in a world of uncertainty, change and transformation – isn’t black and white. So, what is the secret to success in this continuously changing world?


Disruption and transformation without purpose are of no value to consumers. By positioning itself as the ‘Uber of gourmet meal delivery’, SpoonRocket is an example of one of the many companies that followed an over-used model. Despite raising $13.5m from keen investors in 2013, the brand failed to articulate what it stood for and how it was going to be different, leading to its inevitable collapse in 2016.


Take the time to truly understand your customers, their needs and how they interact with your brand. Amazon’s mission statement is ‘to be earth’s most customer-centric company’, with a clear focus on what matters. Compare yourself to best-in-class experiences from all facets of your customers’ life, learning from the different relationships companies like Amazon, Alibaba and Apple have built with them.


Successful transformation comes from focusing on fewer things and doing them well. Aldi isn’t recognised as a traditional disruptor, yet it’s a great example of a brand that keeps things simple – high-quality products, low prices and excellent customer service. It consequently delivers value and control to its consumers. Simply put by one shopper: “It saves me time and I’ve never been disappointed”. Aldi remains the fastest-growing retailer in the UK and is consistently ranked among the World’s Simplest Brands in our annual study.

Will the word ‘disruptor’ have meaning to the marketer or consumer of tomorrow? It’s impossible to say. But it is clear that all brands have permission to disrupt by following the formula for staying relevant to consumers and better responding to their needs and wants. The immediate opportunity is how to utilise research and data to gain insight on your consumers, your brands and the relationships between them.