Once a Barrier, Now a Bridge

Investigating the cause of disruption by Brandon Boston, Associate Design Director at FITCH

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Our world moves quickly. In this fast-paced environment it’s easy to settle on surviving the next quarter — never mind the next decade. This mindset is dangerous. Accenture’s Disruptability Index shows that 93% of executives believe their industry will be disrupted at some point in the next five years. Why are some brands making a difference and others missing the mark? What causes disruption and what can we learn from it?

“Disruptive innovation” is a term coined by Clayton Christensen, referring to a process in which an underrated product or service starts to become popular enough to replace, or displace, a conventional product or service. The defining trait of disruptive innovators are lower gross margins, smaller target markets, and products and services that are often simpler than their contemporaries.

To put it more bluntly — disruptors use common sense. Their product and business strategy is simple. Disruptors move quickly. They focus on who their customer is and what they appreciate. Ogilvy’s Alberto Brea said that, “technology by itself is not the real disruptor. Being non-customer centric is the biggest threat to any business.”

In Netflix’s docuseries Abstract — Architect Bjarke Ingles poetically describes a lake bordering his childhood home. He describes the lake as an end to land in the summer, but in the winter, the lake is an ice rink. A community area for kids to gather and skate. Once a barrier, now a bridge — a place to gather. This line of thinking must be applied to business strategies moving forward. It is critical to identify and understand the pain points along existing customer journeys. Opportunities arise when we turn those pain points into meeting points and when we take the time to completely rethink what a customer journey could be. Empathy and fundamental human truths can be used to disrupt any industry. Ask a simple question, “Would I want to do this?” and if the is answer is no — then why make customers do it?

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Does anyone like waiting in lines? No. So why make customer’s do it? Amazon Go revolutionized the retail industry by answering a simple question honestly. Check-in instead of checking out — a design lead by the brand that remains consistently customer centric. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Amazon is considering opening as many as 3,000 cashierless stores by 2021. Convenience and QSR brands are taking notice. Amazon is using convenience over selection to win business.

My father’s favorite idiom is, “You can be a penny-wise but a dollar foolish.” Looking at the spilled beverages and ruined lunch caused by the sudden snap of a cheap cooler handle — the words “dollar foolish” rang in my ears. Welcome, another disruptor. YETI Coolers was founded with a simple mission: build the cooler we’d use every day if it existed. Their product was built for the serious outdoor enthusiast rather than mass-discount retailers. Brothers Roy and Ryan Seiders decided early on that product innovation would come from necessity and firsthand experience — not from market research and data analysis. That is how you turn a $300 cooler into a $450 million cult brand.

As a millennial and avid contributor to today’s Gig Economy — the need for experiencing something great, and working for yourself is trumping the desire to buy new “things” and chase the next rung of the corporate ladder. Using this universal insight, Airbnb, the online home sharing marketplace, introduced Airbnb experiences in 2016.

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The platform allows people to earn money by leading others on activities that they both love. Led by “inspiring locals” Experiences is growing 13 times faster than its home sharing business at the same age. Which is saying something considering Airbnb is now active in 81,000 cities in 191 countries and has over 4.5 million listings on its site.

Amazon, YETI, and Airbnb are answering their customer’s demands and more. All are using basic human insights to transform entire industries. Any brand can do the same if it remains honest with itself and pursues the right answer, not the easy one. Disruption occurs when a universal problem is solved, when we use common sense, when we know what customers want before they want it, and when we transform barriers into bridges. Brands that understand the cause of disruption will be responsible for the next wave of industry change.

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