To be a disruptor, steer clear of 'the same old crap'

Most brands are trying to disrupt the market, but what does disruption actually mean?

The Mount Rushmore of disruptors: Peter McGuinness, David Hantman, Bonin Bough
The Mount Rushmore of disruptors: Peter McGuinness, David Hantman, Bonin Bough

Most brands are trying to disrupt the market, but what does disruption actually mean? Panelists at the Council of PR Firms’ Critical Issues Forum debated this topic on Thursday.

Weber Shandwick president Gail Heimann opened the discussion with a definition from Razorfish: "Disruptive communications changes the way consumers talk about a category, a product, or media. It alters consumer perceptions for better or for worse, and it affects fundamental emotions of the audience.

Let’s just sum it up with: it’s not the same old crap," the definition concluded.

When Heimann asked the panelists what disruption means to them, Chobani CMO Peter McGuinness responded, "Disruption is incremental innovation for exponential growth."

He added that disruption in its basic form is about offering something better than the category convention or what consumers are accustomed to.  

Bonin Bough, VP of global media and consumer engagement at Mondelez International, echoed McGuinness’ sentiments on the topic, adding that younger brands have been able to create wealth in short amounts of time because of their disruptive mentalities. Older organizations, he said, tend to get stuck and complain about category disruptors rather than rebuilding their own internal cultures to fit with the changing times.

"People still want the approach to fit in a mold they know, and when it doesn’t fit, they don’t know how to handle it," said Bough.

Take a brand like Disney, which used to make most of its money from cartoons. The company has succeeded because of its willingness to change and focus on different industries such as parks, said David Hantman, head of global public policy at Airbnb.

Hantman said he sees "no downside to disruption," because eventually it wins. The one major challenge with disruption is pushback from internal executives, other companies, or the government, he explained. For example, Airbnb faces tough opposition from the hotel industry and city authorities worldwide, but Hantman claimed hotels continue to flourish and Airbnb customers use the site for the social interaction it offers.

Also from the panel:
Each panelist revealed his personal "disruption hero."

McGuinness: Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group

Hantman: Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple

Bough:  Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX, CEO and chief product architect of Tesla Motors, and chairman of SolarCity

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