Opinion: Can brands disrupt disruption?

From this year’s Transform Awards North America, Matt Walsh from Salt Branding discusses the impact disruption has on brands and customer behavior

Few words in business are loaded with a more exhilarating promise, or alarm, than ‘disruption.’ Most of the business world now has an acute case of Uber-phobia.

Transformation is often just a nice word for chaos. The way we drive, what we eat, how we work, where we shop, how we communicate – every behaviour and business model is up for reinvention.

What’s an enlightened CEO to do? How do they drive meaningful internal change, build better connections with innovator communities and stay ahead of new rivals and aggressive challengers?

Over half of the names of companies on the Fortune 500 have disappeared since the year 2000. It’s a Wild West of new opportunity and even disrupters keep looking over their shoulders. The internet lit the fire, social fuelled it and mobile threw on a hundred more gallons of gasoline.

The next digital technologies will create new forms of engagement, experience, personalisation and choice. The question, in all this disruption, is how does your brand survive and prosper?

At a time when brands live fast and die faster, we think it’s essential to distinguish tactics from strategy. A technology, a platform, a device or channel – these are tactics. Yes, brands have to be cutting edge, experiential and cool but strategy is the illumination that guides the way.

Brands need to understand their points of parity and points of differentiation. Clients require an understanding of where their competitors are at, the current state of the landscape and the established or expected customer behaviours.

Defining parity gets you the table stakes; finding differentiation requires insight and behavioural change. Often, the answer already exists within a business, but uncovering that truth and developing it into a unique proposition requires a reframing of the conversation. It’s an inside-out and outside-in perspective that helps organisations push forward and reinvent.

When there’s strategic clarity, you know exactly who you are, what makes you essential and what story to tell. Then this new vision must be integrated throughout the company to build understanding, alignment and engagement. This is how you shift behaviour – how a company thinks and acts. (Brands and strategies that only live in the marketing department quickly die.) Now you can turn disruption to your advantage, drive internal change, boost innovation and out-think your competitors.

In this world of relentless new technology, strategy also reveals which of these dynamic tools and platforms will best express your brand. You can be intelligent and intentional about your message – whether that’s creating a VR experience, a geo-location shopping app or just playing nice with Alexa.

Accenture predicts that by 2020 digital will account for 25% of the world’s economy. The revolution is all accelerator, no brakes. The message in all this is brands should approach transformation with a clear strategic purpose. The alternative is to become tactical and reactive, a digital tail wagging a digital dog.

Disruption is happening to brands large and small. The good news is, you’re in charge of the ride quality – rocky or smooth.

Matt Walsh is the associate creative director at Salt Branding