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How to be a Disruptive Brand: A Focus on Disruption

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Brands have an ever-present need to change and adapt to be able to compete, grow and stay relevant in the eyes of consumers. Pressures from the outside environment, new, more agile market entrants, and consumers shifting their preferences mean that disruption is a part of strategy for every business today.

Euromonitor International’s Renovation, Innovation and Disruption framework helps businesses understand how to respond and execute change, with varying impacts on their markets. Here we focus on disruption and how companies have fundamentally changed the way consumers live.

How to be a disruptive brandDisruptors create, scale and often replace the competition for long-term success

In times of crisis and change, we often see the largest disruptors – companies which create new experiences with products and services – thrive. Some of the largest disruptors in recent times solved real problems for consumers in light of economic hardships, and actually replaced some long-standing giants in their respective industries.

Companies like Netflix, Uber and Airbnb stepped in to provide solutions around convenience and cost savings, using streaming and shared economy models that created new and better experiences for consumers, and the opportunity for financial gain. This is exactly what consumers needed at the time, and helped these companies to create entirely new markets.

These disruptors have also been able to sustain their business as they replaced competitors slowly over time by offering a better alternative that consumers did not realise they needed at the time. These disruptors continue to impact the growth of traditional industries they replaced, such as home movies, taxis and hotels/hospitality, which are having to reinvent themselves and look for alternative revenue streams.

While true disruption is rare and can be hard to achieve, when it addresses and solves real consumer problems we see the birth of huge market leaders. Below, we analyse some outstanding examples of how brands were able to have a significant impact on consumers and achieve a level of disruption that has lasted for years, as well as looking at the disruptive spirit that smaller start-ups continue to exemplify.

Airbnb continues to innovate

Market disruptor Airbnb continues to innovate with physical and digital experiences, in response to declines in travel and the pandemic, with over 50,000 listings. In light of the travel restrictions and economic concerns caused by COVID-19, Airbnb faced a decline in its property bookings in the last few years, which it countered by offering experiences through which hosts could generate revenue.

The diverse experiences hosts offer give travellers opportunities for activities close to home and digitally, keeping people engaged even when they could not travel or struggled to do so owing to financial constraints. This disruptive offer beyond bookings helped the company rebound after the pandemic. In the first quarter of 2022, Airbnb reported 102.1 million nights and experiences booked, surpassing pre-pandemic levels and breaking its own record for the most bookings ever on the site.

In 2023, Airbnb continues to disrupt by combining experiences and stays, offering users stays in celebrity homes, such as properties where Jimi Hendrix, and Sonny and Cher lived, and Daddy Yankee’s home in Puerto Rico.

Along with famous owners, Airbnb has partnered with celebrities to build stays around experiences. In January 2023, users could rent a home in the US outfitted by Seth Rogan’s Houseplant marijuana company. The property includes a ceramic studio with Rogen’s self-made pottery, a display of Houseplant’s unique house goods, mid-century furnishings, etc.

Unreal Estate start-up disrupts the historically slow and costly physical real estate market

Unreal Estate is disrupting the real estate market in the US by digitising the entire home selling, searching and buying process. It is serving over 36,000 sellers in the US and saving clients an average of over USD2,140 at closing. Where popular apps such as Zillow.com and Realtor.com provide online listings and real estate information, Unreal Estate takes digitisation to a whole new level, providing an online one-stop shop for buyers that includes property inspections, appraisals and closings, making residential real estate accessible and easy for anyone. For younger potential home buyers who are digitally savvy, this type of service is particularly appealing, as it involves less physical paperwork, interactions and time.

The service has streamlined a difficult process for home buyers and sellers, eliminating the burden for buyers to find and work with multiple physical real estate stakeholders (brokers, title companies, inspectors, etc).

As of 2023, real estate transactions performed on the platform billion in the US totalled USD24.5, with properties selling three times faster than via traditional brokers. Unreal Estate’s success could change the real estate purchasing process for future buyers and sellers dramatically, truly disrupting the industry.

Identify problems, replace competitors and continually plan for the future

Disruptors are often thought of as being ahead of their time and their competitors. Utilising the three lanes of thinking outlined below, companies can plan a path to consider truly being an innovative disruptor.

  • Look for consumer pain points in the current market due to real world context (inflation, jobs, diseases, climate change, migration, etc). What are the areas in which individuals need to cut back spending but cannot because there are no alternatives?
  • Identify where companies are underserving consumers today. What categories/industries provide necessities people have to buy, but the sentiment around the companies currently offering them is poor?
  • Plan for future scenarios. How can you diversify your portfolio, adapting or developing new products and services to respond quickly to world events in the future? Can you be ahead of the next big event?

Follow this blog series to see how brands follow the Renovation, Innovation, Disruption framework and are successfully innovating within or disrupting their industries.


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