Embrace Disruption to Drive Growth
By Celia Jones
Friday, 5th April 2024

Brands that challenge the status quo follow five C’s to establish a different way.

Business disruption increased by 200% from 2017 to 2022, according to Accenture’s Global Disruption Index. This index covers a variety of potential disruptors, from economic to geopolitical, from social to technological, from climate to consumer disruptions. “The world has changed—and every company now faces a permanent state of accelerated disruption.”

For most large companies, the word disruption is a sinister force pushing against established ways of doing business. It’s a looming threat resulting from the constant barrage of game-changing technologies, new business models, and heightened consumer expectations.

But there’s another perspective on disruption that sheds light on why the ground is constantly shifting in corporate America, and why no company or industry is safe from becoming obsolete. Rather than inciting fear, even terror into the hearts of business leaders, the word “disruption” for this group is a verb, not a noun; it’s a rallying cry; a blunt object (a là the hammer in Apple’s “1984” ad) to be swung until all vestiges of the old, slow, inefficient ways of doing things are destroyed.


Sound dramatic? It is…but it’s also very real. Founders and entrepreneurs share a different DNA—a common mentality, a mission, a hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic. A penchant for action over words. And a dogged desire to bust through existing norms with a better way forward.

Studying today’s most innovative disruptors—from Apple, Airbnb, and Chobani, to Method and Sweetgreen—a clear pattern emerges. They approach every aspect of business differently because they have to. Sure, they may have a superior product or service that fills a genuine need in the marketplace.

And with no legacy baggage to weigh them down, speed is a competitive advantage. But they also have less money, awareness, and distribution. It’s a street fight for mindshare and shelf space. It’s not just a matter of growth, but survival.


Successful challenger brands typically follow a five C’s framework to drive growth.


When founders tell their origin story, it’s usually close to their heart. I was looking for (fill in the blank) and I couldn’t find anything in the market to meet that need. I noticed that all the (fill in the blank) suffered from the same issue. Most disruptive products arise out of a problem that has yet to be solved or an unmet need waiting to be fulfilled.

Unlike existing brands that make small, incremental tweaks to the same old products, disruptors reimagine, reinvent, and interrogate the consumer experience because they’ve felt the pain personally. They’ve set out to create a better way—be it more utility, more features, higher quality, or more enjoyment.


The challenger mindset is unique. On the one hand, bringing a new, disruptive brand to market requires passion, conviction, and an unwavering belief in what you’re selling. But, while refusing to compromise on core values such as quality or sourcing, that are critical to maintaining integrity, you must also be willing to flex if the feedback or data from trusted sources—namely your core customers—tells you to pivot.

Early on, you will get advice from investors, mentors, your agency, other founders, friends, retailers, and most importantly your consumers. Listen, look for patterns, and be “passionately dispassionate” when it comes to making changes that may ultimately make or break your brand.


It’s never been more complicated to be a marketer. The fragmented consumer landscape and explosion of media channels can create a false sense of #FOMO and the mistaken belief that you must blanket every channel with your message. But spreading yourself too thin is a surefire way to waste money and dilute your impact. On a limited budget, is it possible to go big while mitigating risk? Yes, but the key to success is relentless focus.


From AI to TikTok, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Instead, embrace quality over quantity. Experiment with test and learn strategies like going all in with a limited number of channels in a key market to prove your hypotheses, drive velocities, then replicate to scale . . . or adapt in response to critical learnings.


Recently there’s been a lot of buzz about the industry’s return to creativity—a reaction to the pendulum swinging too far toward data and analytics at the expense of big ideas that grab consumers’ attention, stir emotion, drive an avalanche of action. Growing your brand requires the courage to not only see the white space, but to seize it.To look at what everybody else is doing…and run feet-first in the opposite direction.


Stay the course. Nike’s “Just Do It” has run for 35 years and counting. Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty,” 19 years. The longest running ad campaigns are enduring brand platforms: same message, multiple tentacles, over and over again. Does it look exactly the same or sound the same across different media? Of course not. The core message is tweaked to optimally perform in each channel. Does the creative expression evolve based on changes with your consumer and cultural context? Yes. But the essence, the brand truth, what you stand for—should remain consistent.


It’s been eye-opening to hear the word “disruption” bandied about in countless client meetings . . . and then to feel what it actually means in the presence of true entrepreneurs. When you’re David battling Goliath, you can’t just dip your toe into disruption. You have to suit up for battle every day. It may be an uphill battle out of the gate, but the path to profitability, and ultimately exit if that’s your goal, will make it all worthwhile in the end.

Celia Jones is global chief marketing officer of FINN Partners.

This article first appeared at FastCompany

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