• Transform magazine
  • July 29, 2021


Opinion: Is disruptive the new steady?

Duncan Shaw - Living Group.jpg

Our colleagues in our North America, Asia and European offices all agree that we seem to inhabit a new kind of business world where disruptive seems to be the new normal. Challenger brands are snapping at everyone’s heels. Brands like Uber appear on the scene and grow quickly. These brands benefit from not being tied to outdated legacy technology and from having access to rapid investment so they can build a highly successful business in a few months. Traditional taxi companies can’t move fast enough to catch up and suddenly there is a whole new way to get a taxi.

While Uber might seem to be the epitome of a new disruptive business tearing up the rule books – it actually follows a traditional brand approach that guarantees notice: being famous for one thing. Strip away Uber’s apps and the magic of seeing your car edging closer on a map and you realize that it just focuses on a single concept: making getting something easier. 

Being remembered for one thing is a great strategy when the marketplace is crowded, or in the case of the European market in a period of uncertainty around Brexit. Car brands have survived on this strategy for decades. By selling competing and largely identical products car manufacturers have been forced to own a distinctive part of the market – Audi with its focus on technology, Volvo with its commitment to safety and Porsche selling performance excellence – are examples of them all pushing one major differentiator and maintaining a clear space between their brands.

Uber’s simple and broad concept of ease and convenience makes it easy for it to extend this idea into other arenas. UberEats now makes ordering local takeaway and getting it delivered easier too. Just where Uber will go next is anyone’s guess, but it will certainly be an extension of its overall brand focus on making something you want easier to get.

The good news is that to compete in this new business environment, you don’t have to be an agile challenger brand with a breakthrough business model. But you certainly do need to know and consistently communicate what makes you different.

Every business in any sector or geography needs to think hard about what it does really well and clearly express it. To ensure they stand out, businesses need to be able to answer yes to these questions: Does your brand capture and express that one thing that you do better than anyone else? Is that different to your competitors? Does your staff understand what makes you different and can they express it? Do all your marketing touchpoints reinforce this difference? Are your customers’ ambassadors for the brand?

Expressing the one thing that makes your famous is key to maintaining brand awareness and competing. Your clients will be looking for clarity and reassurance when confronted by a sea of noise. They will look for businesses that stand out and are clear about what they do.

If you can’t think of the one thing that your brand does better than any other, then the chances are that no one else can either. When those people are your potential customers, you will likely be left behind by both challenger and traditional brands alike.


Duncan Shaw is the executive creative director at Living Group