How to turn companies into disruptive brands

When it comes to disruptive brands we aren’t talking about brands that interrupt the class. We are talking about brands that make a difference in customer lives in a way that didn’t happen that way until then.

What are disruptive brands?

Disruptive brands are brands that come onto the scene or change the market so much that their impact is felt positively by customers. Customers can’t live without them, love their products, the experience and most everything about them. Disruptive brands can be new brands but also established ones that keep evolving and – dare I say – innovating?

“I rarely use the word ‘innovation’ because there’s just too much brain damage around it,” David Kidder, CEO of Bionic, during an interview with Voxpopme Vice President of Marketing Jenn Vogel during the 2021 Virtual Insight Summit. “It’s really about building that machine that allows you to go on offense – every single year.”

Visual notes created on 04/21/2021 titled Making Disruption Happen for Big Brands.

What’s hard about being a disruptive brand?

Larger organizations have largely eradicated the skill to grow.Traits of disruptive brands include being highly useful to customers. These brands make their place and evolve it in a market by filling a customer need that hadn’t been filled. Sometimes consumers didn’t even know they had that need. For example, take the story of Ring, the consumer security camera company. They disrupted the market around 2014 after appearing on “Shark Tank” and today many consumers use the cameras.

But yet, it can be hard for brands to innovate. That’s especially interesting of a dilemma as other business tasks have become easier. Thirty years ago, operating globally was much harder than it is today, for example.

“We can do that like clockwork,” David said. “Why can’t we do that for growth?”

Read next: What business growth strategies are best for my business?

For larger brands it can be especially hard to be disruptive because they optimize for efficiency, David said.

“That’s planning and it is really important,” David said. “But it’s gotten so overbuilt that trying to do new things in that big-to-bigger engine is really at war with its purpose. It’s there to defeat risk.”

Companies that are innovative and disruptive have the right systems and mindsets.

“Large organizations can restore this muscle,” said David, adding that it needs to be restored at the top of organizations. “In a way these companies are almost re-founding themselves.”

Larger organizations often look for short-term wins. That can seem like they are willing to move nimbly but they actually aren’t.

“Large organizations are designed to win the quarter and not the future,” David said. “And these other ecosystems out there where growth mindset and systems live… they are actually designed to defeat those companies.”


Being disruptive is also about timing. Think about the disruptive student. It’s only disruption when they are interrupting something else – the teacher, usually! The same is true for brands that are trying to disrupt the market in a customer-centric way. They have to get the timing right.

backdropLet’s take the COVID-19 pandemic. All kinds of things changed. Consumer behaviors changed overnight. An Amazon delivery gets made to my house daily. I needed to update my home office. Many others were in similar situations.

It prompted me to rethink my office and the brands that were able to help me had good timing in solving my problem. I’m guessing others bought more home office items, too,  in addition to more sweat pants. If your company’s sweat pants brand was ready for the disruption in the market, I was ready to buy!

How do companies hit the timing right?

“You have to experiment,” David said. “You want to launch a large volume of ideas.”

Read next: Customer-led product development through design thinking

How to move toward being disruptive

To truly be disruptive, companies have to build that culture and that muscle to do things that actually disrupt the market. That can’t always be achieved through acquisition either, he said.

“Two mediocre companies don’t make a great company,” he said. “The company itself has to become great.”

It all starts at the top, David said. The leadership team needs to believe in it, move it forward and give teams permission to fail and to fail fast. That’s one way to find disruptive ideas.

“If the permission doesn’t exist they aren’t going to do it,” he said. “Our job is to install the systems and raise the permissions so they can go on the offense – not as an initiative or a campaign, but permanently.”

To start, companies need to realize how their systems are set up. Big brands have systems that are setup to run a business well.

“We have systems that are designed to create efficiency,” he said. “But do we have a system that creates growth? And the answer is shockingly ‘no.'”

The interesting part about that is that many brands think they are doing a ton of innovative things. But usually they are just one-offs or specific projects. It’s not a systemic change.

The mindsets

In some companies the cost of failing is so high that people are intellectually dishonest and don’t see the path and opportunity to even try. Also keep in mind that pushing for growth usually doesn’t mean universal agreement.

“If you have consensus and you are going for growth you are basically screwed,” he said.

It’s very true and I see that often. Strategies evolve. Consumer behavior changes. And when everyone agrees with me that’s usually not a good start for collaborative growth. ???? There needs to be healthy debate and people need to be able to bring their ideas to the table.

Read next: Building teams that work to understand your customers better

The best perspectives can be the ones that are based on customer feedback.

“The answer is outside, not inside,” he said. “We need to start with the need in the world and work backwards.”

In addition, some people have a tendency to always wanting to be right – and as disruptive as that can be on a team it won’t help you become a disruptive brand.

“We have to break the addiction of always trying to be right,” David said. “Cognitive bias destroys learning. We need to become question-driven leaders and the first question is ‘what questions do we ask?'”

Who needs to buy-in?

It’s often not the teams, but the leadership level.

“We don’t have an employee problem,” David said is what he often hears from team. “The problem is up top. The reality is that’s the biggest problem.”

Also keep in mind that many companies have the pieces in place, but they are not integrated.

Buy-in from the top also needs to make sure employees feel that they can fail quickly and move forward.

Lower the cost of failure

At Voxpopme, we make that easy by framing ideas as “Here’s my crappy idea.” That gives me the chance to share ideas wildly and if nobody likes it that’s okay, I already called it “crappy.”

Once teams have a lot of ideas and whittle them down, speed also matters. Implement ideas quickly to see what works and what doesn’t.

“You need to lower the cost of failure,” David said. “You need to have a lot more experiments.”

Care about your customers’ problems and find a way to solve them.

To be disruptive

“There’s something about sharing – not selling – in your ecosystem,” David said. “Companies need to figure out ‘why us?'”

What can’t others replicate? David mentioned that one strategy is to not do more things, but do a few things really well! That concept can also be applied in your career and building teams.

At the end of the day to be disruptive you need to understand your customers. And it’s hard – maybe impossible – to know somebody without speaking to them and hearing from them on how your product or service can help them.

Of course, things can change, new trends evolve and customer preference evolves. Staying connected to customers helps companies be disruptive – and in a way more positive way than the disruptive kid in class.

What’s a question you’d like to ask consumers?