How Brands Disrupt

By Andreea Hanko

The goal of marketers is to acquire and retain customers. To do this, we constantly ask ourselves what triggers a customer’s needs and wants? What motivates customers to buy  a product? And what goes through their minds while making a purchase? Often we turn to market research for these answers. Then suddenly we encounter products and services that create a new market and value network by disrupting an existing market, forcing consumers to act differently and break their habits. It happens all the time: we change our food, travel and lifestyle preferences. Disruption today can be characterized by some of the following trends:

  1. Advancements in technology: Every company, large or small, finds itself embarking on a “digital transformation” journey to maintain strong market share. Technology plays an important role for companies and brands that strive to create memorable customer experiences. Customers look for convenience, reliability and memorable experiences. With the deluge of new and emerging technologies, apps and e-commerce platforms, close to 80% of the global population are now comfortable with the digital shift in their buying habits. The biggest disruptor in consumer behaviour is thus digital media.
  2. Experience: Think about the last time you purchased a coffee at Starbucks or Tim Hortons. You don’t go there just to drink coffee; maybe you want to hang out with friends.  When I go to Starbucks, I’m always happy to find a lively atmosphere with people enjoying themselves and spending time among friends. More people view shopping as an experience. According to a recent Euromonitor International survey, 60% of respondents viewed improving the customer journey and user experience to be the most important initiative in 2019. Brands that offer customer experiences instead of just shopping venues include the Rec Room, a multi-purpose entertainment facility where guests enjoy playing highly interactive virtual reality games like Ghostbusters. Disney also offers experiences for the whole family through parks, cruises, movies and many other offerings.
  3. Rise of Influencers: Youth are fascinated by “Influencers” on social networks. We are so immersed in following these influencers, we can’t wait for their next Instagram post to pop up. This happens because consumers nowadays find influencers relatable. Some popular influencers include makeup gurus like Nikkie De Jagger, Zach King, a Vine and Youtube star, and other icons like Huda Kattan, Cameron Dallas, Michelle Lewin and Nash Grier. Youth often look for new things to learn and be inspired by, and they like easily accessible social media influencers.
  4. Ethical shopping is one of the fastest growing sectors in retail today. According to, in 2017, spending on sustainable food and drink grew by 9.7%. Brands today have a huge opportunity to showcase their ethical and sustainable credentials in the marketplace of increasingly conscious consumers. People prefer purchasing cruelty-free organic products even if they are pricey. Some consumers even become vegetarians, because they care a lot about animals. Beyond Meat is a Los Angeles based start-up that cooks plant-based burgers. Their philosophy is that choosing vegan promotes sustainability and a healthier lifestyle. Even Kentucky Fried Chicken caught on to the trend and began offering plant-made burgers to keep up. The cosmetics and beauty product categories are filled with brands that appeal to the cause-driven consumer.  
  5. Video streaming has changed how we consume media. Services like Netflix or Hulu are platforms that have revolutionized the video market. Netflix reached 137.1 million streaming members in Q3 2018 and is forecast to reach 146.5 million in Q4 2018. When Hulu launched in 2007, they dramatically disrupted the TV landscape with a “new and better way to watch TV”.  They have been able to appeal to customers by offering high quality, on-demand, low-prices and a wide variety of movies. In fact, these digital streaming services have prompted many brick-and-mortar stores to file for bankruptcy. Consumers today demand intuitive experiences, on-demand services and rapid responses.

As emerging technologies and consumer behaviour evolve, changes in the marketplace are inevitable. Our response to change is what will decide our “shelf-life” as brands. Amazon has always responded extremely well to disruption because it is always looking for improvements by engaging customer feedback to understand how it can serve its users better and  grow. Amazon’s shopping app is a perfect example of allowing users to shop, compare prices, write reviews and track orders easily on a single app and closing the feedback loop quickly. How does your brand understand and deal with disruption?

Andreea Hanko, an active video-gamer, moved to Canada from Bucharest, Romania, and has a Bachelor’s degree in Management from York University in Toronto.

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