Introduction to 100 disruptive brands

Russell Parsons

Russell Parsons, Editor, Marketing Week

The definition of disruption reads as a “disturbance or problems which interrupt an event, activity or process”. But what does this mean in the context of business and why do we spend so much time talking and thinking about disruptors? For as long as there have been people charging for products and services, others have been looking ahead to identify answers to problems. However, we devote more time than ever before to what makes the new breed of innovators tick.

At conferences worldwide, a lot of time is handed over to analysis of what these businesses are, why they are and how they have become as successful as they are. We are enthralled by the shock of what seems completely new. The story of the nimble outsider shaking things up is very alluring. For those frustrated by the time, effort and entrenched thinking that stops them bringing new products and services to market, the story of those that are able to be effortlessly adroit is very appealing.

The ability of many disruptors to put the customer at the heart of their proposition also raises eyebrows among those that have lost their way and allowed operational and logistical challenges to cloud what they set out to do
– serve their customers. It’s also about technology, which is at the core of many of the chief disruptors. The 100 brands that you are about to read about are as different in their outputs as is possible. They are all innovators, however, that are defining the future of the sectors in which they operate and the wider world of business. We looked far and wide to curate the final 100, across the world and business sectors.

We did not just stop and start at the companies that are seen as the epitome of disruption, the tech startups with their nimble agility and funky solutions. They are represented but we looked at disruption with a wider angle. You will find companies with operating models and structures that break convention and point to a different way of doing business. Elsewhere, there are plenty of examples of those that are speaking directly to the needs of marketers.In some cases, offering solutions to needs that you didn’t know you had.

The 100 Disruptive Brands is not meant to be a definitive list. I would encourage anyone reading to suggest any brands that are missing. You might also note that it doesn’t include some of the better known disruptors. Their story is already well told.

By selecting a list of relatively new and unknown brands from a wide pool we aim to do two things. First, provide you with intelligence about brands that could well be about to shake up your sector. Second, off er you inspiration from those making waves.

The barriers to those entering new markets have never been so low. Technology has proven a great enabler, democratising the world of business in a way unseen since the dawn of capitalism. Consumers are also more demanding of businesses, more aware of their power and are therefore now more central to new business models, products and services.

The disruptors on this list embody these new realities. From drone manufacturers to online football fan networks, sustainable retailing to data innovators and wearable technology, there is plenty of intelligence, inspiration and information you can learn from.

Disruptive Brands are Changing the Game

Emma Chalwin

Emma Chalwin, Marketing leader, UK & Ireland, Salesforce

Sedate, unadventurous, old-fashioned marketing is out. Inspiring, stimulating and intuitive marketing is the name of the game for businesses who plan to win in the new digital economy. This new future will be delivered, in part, by some of the companies you are about to read about. That’s why we are so excited to be a partner in delivering this list of the 100 most interesting disruptive brands around. In this fast-changing world it has never been more fascinating to watch both those who are driving change and those who are poised to exploit it – and to see some rise above the rest. These brands are changing sales, marketing and customer relationship management every single day. That matters to us – because our job is to enable and empower the world’s most successful high-growth businesses.

What does disruptive mean? Disruptive brands certainly aren’t just those who make a big splash in the media. They aren’t necessarily the ones who get noticed because of explosive growth, either. Although both these things have happened to some of the most celebrated disruptors, such as Uber or Airbnb, it isn’t true of all. Richard Branson once said that “disruption is about risk-taking” and we agree. Successful disruptors may spend a long, quiet time preparing their ground – and place all their bets on a single roll of the dice, when they appear on the scene to try and overturn the status quo. Their impact may not be immediately apparent and may not hit the headlines – but they all create opportunities for new ways of thinking, doing, or being in business. That’s why that this list is so important: organisations must know about these brands, because each one is playing a role in changing marketing for good. Disruptive brands don’t all put ‘game-changing’ at the front of their own positioning – but they are all involved in doing so, nonetheless.

Disruptive brands are commonly those that embrace every advantage technology can deliver – either directly as providers or as a means to bring revolutionary ideas to life. Marketing has long been a function which moved at the speed of technology; usually the early adopter when compared to many of its peers. That appetite for technology-enabled solutions shows absolutely no sign of receding. Increasingly business marketers are looking to innovate around the customer at every stage of their journey, create new relationship models and move the customer to the heart of every process and decision. They desire to take advantage of big data, social networks and new engagement platforms, to reach customers in new places and ways. It is placing disruptive social, mobile and cloud technologies at the very heart of a marketing world in which the customer is a participant, not just a player.

It can be tough for companies to drive innovation. Innovation is deeply ingrained in our company – it’s part of Salesforce’s DNA. But that isn’t true of all businesses. So, even as business leaders increasingly recognise the strategic imperative of innovation in order to survive and thrive, it still can be challenging. While they struggle with deep digital process transformation, change often takes place fastest and least painfully at the marketing edge. Innovating around the customer is the name of this game – to build better relationships, sustain them for longer, make them more profitable, and become part of customers lives, not merely a supplier. Smart, disruptive brands can win here as they empower marketers and communicators to move faster, execute on new ideas, and take advantage of reams of data that can be captured, visualised, and turned into insight to drive smart decisions.

Many businesses have recognised the value of innovation, but struggle to make innovation happen internally. Well-established companies are generally excellent at execution, but less so at embracing change. No wonder that they look to absorb new ideas from outside. Acquiring innovation is one route, but another is to leverage innovative third-party services and concepts that can accelerate and mobilise change through empowering people and teams to unleash ideas. This represents not only a vast and ongoing opportunity for brands such as those outlined here, but puts them in a key position. They will help change cultures, not just the processes and capabilities of organisations – a huge responsibility.

These 100 brands represent the tip of a very exciting iceberg. There are many more lining up to challenge them in turn. As the original technology startup success story Salesforce shares its optimism. After 15 years, we now help amazing brands succeed everywhere. We will probably assist many of these disruptors. We can’t wait to see what they do next, how they will do it, how they will ask us to help, and how marketers will take advantage of their ideas. We will help them succeed as they overturn marketing norms, transform customer journeys, create new platforms and alter the future of marketing.