“The customer is always right”. This is the principle that drives the disruptors, those innovative brands that are transforming industries with a highly customer-centric approach to product development, marketing and sales. 

The best known disruptors need no introduction. Innovators such as Airbnb and Uber famously identified gaps in the market left by larger organisations who had lost sight of what customers really want – and have enjoyed extraordinary success as a result.

Likewise, when Salesforce began, our aim was simple but revolutionary. We wanted to make the buying and using of enterprise software to be as easy as finding and purchasing a book on Amazon.com - or what is now simply known as cloud computing

Seventeen years on, we’re still listening to what customers want and continuously reinventing our services to meet those needs. And we’re huge admirers of other brands that risk it all to deliver something that will transform the lives of their customers. 

Marketing Week’s 100 Disruptive Brands

So we were especially excited to be partnering with Marketing Week for the 100 Disruptive Brands initiative, which is showcasing the strategy and thinking behind some of the world’s most exciting and innovative brands. 

A key vehicle to spread the incredible work of these 100 brands (and to share a few insider secrets along the way!) will be a series of videos addressing their key drivers and challenges.

In the first of these videos, seven brands describe what it means to be disruptive and what makes for a disruptive idea. 

Here are some of the key themes that emerge from their stories. 

What is disruption, exactly?

It’s easy to create a gimmick. But continuously innovating to stay ahead of the competition requires greater foresight. 

Disruption isn’t just doing things in a different way which doesn’t resonate or go any further – it’s about changing the game.” – James Kirkham, CFO, Copa90

The traditional ways of doing things are not always the best. Many of these methods have lost their focus on the customer over time, placing the company’s own convenience first. 

Stephen Rapoport, founder of online coffee site Pact, says disruption turns those processes on their heads: “Being disruptive means taking a look at an industry or a way of doing things which is set in stone and finding a way to do it differently, which gives you an advantage over the incumbents.” 

A disruptive idea will either offer a new service or re-invent an existing process to make it significantly better. This is what creates disruptive innovation, ultimately leading to value creation for the customer. 

With customers and innovation at the heart of their thinking, many disruptors set new agendas in their market, leading to permanent changes being adopted, and industries being disrupted, for good. 

Consumer technology enables disruption

Cheap, reliable technology is now widely available to consumers, making their everyday relationships with brands much more interactive and discerning. These technologies can provide solutions to existing requirements, but also the means to experiment with new ideas, producing products that address gaps in the market. 

For Pact, disruption means taking a look at existing coffee brands, existing retail and consumer needs and seeing if we can meet those needs better than incumbents in the market.” – Stephen Rapoport, founder, Pact

Disruptors are set up to move fast

Most companies know they need to innovate. It is the disruptors, however, who have the ability to place innovation at the heart of their operations. This is the advantage they hold over established brands, whose complex organisational structures are often a barrier to effecting rapid change. 

Entrenching themselves into customers’ lives, rather than just being a merchant, gives disruptive brands the foundations on which they can use social, mobile and cloud technologies to provide a better service for the customer. 

Most markets have two or three big entrenched players in them and a disruptive brand goes in – it can either deliver distinctive value or do something that’s already being done but do it so much better to create disruption in that market.” – Justin Basini, co-founder and CEO, ClearScore

Who dares wins

As I mention in the video, to be a disruptor in today’s ever-evolving world, you really need to be prepared to take a risk. The big names who are famous for taking risks (and winning) all believed that something about customer experience needed to change – and it was up to them to drive this change to exploit the benefits. 

But amid all this risk-taking, it’s important not to lose sight of your original objective – this is fundamental to a disruptor’s philosophy. 

Look for fresh and unconventional perspectives

A lot of the time in business, if you want to solve an issue you need to look at the problem from a different (sometimes unconventional) perspective. 

Kirsty Emery, co-founder of online made-to-order knitwear brand Unmade, talks in the video about how her company hired engineers, physicists, fashion designers and other creatives to address the issues Unmade saw in the traditional knitwear industry.

Being disruptive means looking at a problem with a new perspective and finding a different solution through that new perspective.” – Kirsty Emery, co-founder, Unmade

Disruption for the greater good

We all know about Uber and Airbnb. But the truth is, most disruptive organisations will never receive global media coverage or feature in your smartphone’s app list. Not all of the brands featured in Marketing Week’s list will be hailed as superstar “game-changers”, but each one is playing its part in changing the way companies interact and connect with their customers. 

That doesn’t make them any less radical – they’re investing significant amounts of time and resources to create new opportunities, changing markets for the benefit of customers and organisations themselves. 

While disruptive organisations may be seen as competitors by established businesses - and rightly so - they should be embraced by the wider community as positive drivers of progress, enabling better ways of living and working for us all. 

So please do take the time to have a look through the list, and perhaps you, or your company, could be in contention next time round. 

For more tips and advice to help you grow and establish your business, download a copy of this Small Business, Big Impact e-book which will set you on the path to disruption.