Symptoms of disruption

A quick glance around the room you are in, and note first ten products you interact with, or think about the next few services you use, and consider everyone (at businesses both big and small) working hard to make them better for you. You’ll find a continuous disruption and innovation being created around.

Value creation and preservation will be the defining asset for many of these companies – those that do this will continue to surf the wave of disruptive innovations and stay atop their markets.

Unilever and P&G are masters at traditional marketing, mostly offline, but their struggle with the direct-to-consumer brand-building is evident from the some innovative startups eating into their core market shares with disruptive customer engagement strategy.(More about it in my next update) Again, the failure of large consumer and retail players to innovate is clear in the Walmart vs. Amazon battle.One category after another is being transformed by new brands as consumers demand more personalized offering.


Business Managers are oft seen struggling to keep customers, by dropping prices or offering comparable product features.This short term strategy won’t work since they might lack the the intrinsic advantage of the disrupting competitor.

Innovation is often the product of mistakes made, of caution thrown to the wind,and yet, the ability to be disruptive and quietly meticulous might just be the difference between a bubble-fueled fad and a business built to last.

Several businesses have exhibited this in recent past. And for a change today I am not going to speak a lot about e-commerce.

Living Spaces, a California based company started with a simple goal to provide a whole range of furniture under one roof at the same or better quality than some of the leading furniture brands at a fraction of the price. They blended in unique advantages ready stock and assured delivery within 24 hours, even special orders with furnishing of choice within 2 weeks. This was unheard of in the $100 Bn+ US furniture markets. In 16 years the company has expanded to 19 stores in California and aspires to be the leading lifestyle brand of the country.

During a time of one of the most profound shifts in America’s population, due to the silicon valley growth, Trader Joe’s has proven how cultural awareness can cultivate business growth, and a grass-roots marketing niche that draws viral consumer activity. Their non-conventional culturally-tailored approach and attitude is one that is deeply embedded in the roots of their business model:  from their packaging, product selection, store layout and graphics, to their vendors, employees and management.  Trader Joe’s knows its audience. Trader Joe’s is focused on product innovation and selling groceries and wine at a cheap price. Because customers know they can get high-quality stuff at a low price, they pack Trader Joe’s stores. Eighty percent of Trader Joe’s products are in-house, meaning that customers can’t get them anywhere else and the grocer can sell them at lower prices.

Warby Parker, the innovative eye ware company started by four Wharton B-school students,  is, overall, a daunting model to emulate, growing from 0 to 30 stores in six years.From Customer in store experience to the pricing the entire retail strategy, the company has disrupted local traditional optometrists who had been serving their local communities at much higher cost.By designing and manufacturing their own frames and selling directly to consumers over the Internet, they’re able to charge as little as $95 per frame, a fraction of what a similarly nice pair of glasses would cost at a typical optical shop. That price also includes prescription lenses, shipping, and a donation to a not-for-profit such as Vision Spring.

The learning here is to focus on what Clayton Christensen  would advise – to understand “what jobs does do customers want the product to perform ?” Successful entrepreneurs naturally look at opportunities in terms of the jobs they can do for customers to make the product work at a cost advantage.

Customers now expect to be welcome and respected participants in the brands they love. They don’t want to be persuaded that something is worth buying; they want to contribute to making that brand better.



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