Disruptive innovation isn’t a new concept. In fact, brand disruption is such a modern-day mainstay that, in many ways, it has become our singular goal. But as more and more companies compete to create the most revolutionary product, other opportunities for brand disruption have gone virtually unnoticed.
There are many ways to be brand disruptive that don’t revolve around your product.
It’s important to remember that your product and your brand are not the same thing. You can have the most innovative product, but still have a brand that falls flat. So what makes a brand disruptive? Well, that’s a meaty question with endless answers, but the long and short of it is this: stop emulating and start innovating.
It can be tempting to try to keep pace with your competitors and base decisions off of what you see others around you doing. But in the world of brand design, being a copycat can be the kiss of death.
There’s no greater example of this than the recent trend of brand “authenticity.” Authenticity started as a disruptive move—baring personal thoughts and ideas instead of always presenting a polished sales campaign was nothing short of revolutionary. Until, suddenly, it wasn’t.
Rather than actually being authentic to their brand, companies were approaching authenticity as if it were a formula. Companies started copying (sometimes blatantly) the authentic efforts of others. A strategy that, by the very nature of authenticity, was doomed before it even got off the ground. Now, sharp consumers can spot false authenticity from a mile away.
If you want to be a disruptive brand, stop replicating what others are doing. Focus on creating an interesting narrative and unique aesthetic. Do the work upfront to design a brand that is truly innovative and then really embrace it.
Your Customer Experience
Today’s customers are more savvy than ever. Their expectations are high and patience is low. Yet, many brands (and even entire industries) still fail to deliver a positive customer experience.
This is good news for brands. There is almost endless room for improvement when it comes to customer experience. And you can tap into this opportunity no matter what industry you’re in. All it takes is an awareness of your customers’ frustrations and a bit of creative problem solving.
Enter Levi’s customization and tailoring shop. Launched last year, the shop is designed to take the frustration out of the notoriously difficult denim buying process. Customers can take advantage of everything from on-site tailoring and repairs to custom distressing, monogramming, and painting. If that still doesn’t cut it, you can commission a completely custom pair of denim, made from scratch by the shop’s custom tailors. The result is a truly customer-first experience.
Of course, it requires some pretty hefty infrastructure to provide this level of customization, but what’s interesting about this approach isn’t necessarily the list of offerings—it’s the principle behind them. Levi’s took one of the most common customer complaints in the industry and found a way to solve it. That’s customer experience at it’s finest.
Listen to your audience. I mean really listen. Don’t assume you know what your customers want. Ask them. Seriously. Seek feedback from your actual users. Learn about their frustrations, both with your industry in general and your company specifically. What you hear might not be what you expected. At times, it might even be hard to swallow. But it’s the most valuable feedback you’ll ever get.
Your Company Culture
We often think of the consumer side when we talk about brand disruption. But changing the way you manage your business internally can be just as disruptive.
Take Basecamp, for example. In recent years, Basecamp has become widely recognized for their innovative business practices. In summer 2018, Basecamp announced a hiring freeze. Unconventionally, the freeze had nothing to do with budget shortages or other business woes. In fact, their business was doing better than ever. So, why the freeze? Where most businesses might see increased demand and profit growth as the impetus for expansion, Basecamp saw it as an opportunity to maintain their size and invest more in their employees.
And they have the benefits to prove it. Employees are encouraged to work remotely, but all salaries are based on San Francisco (read: the highest of the high) market rates. When profits grow year-to-year, 25% of that growth is distributed among employees. Add to that 30-hour workweeks every summer, a one-month sabbatical every three years, all-expenses-paid family vacations, 16 weeks of parental leave, community supported agriculture memberships, and $100 a month for both fitness and massages—the list is dizzying.
Of course, Basecamp isn’t the only company out there making waves with their company culture. As the business landscape continues to evolve, employers are getting more and more experimental, trying everything from company-wide sabbaticals and unlimited PTO to education stipends and student loan repayments.
Innovative policies like these are a simple way to make a big impact. When you value your employees as much as you value your customers, the results can be far reaching—potentially disrupting the status quo for entire industries.
There’s (obviously) no formula to being a disruptive brand.
True brand disruption takes creativity, objectivity, and curiosity. There are no step-by-step instructions. But the best advice we can give you is this: stop trying to get noticed. Do the work. Listen. Learn. Alleviate pain points. Invest in your brand or your audience or your employees. The rest will follow suit.