Brands and the ability to disrupt

Brand and the ability to devastatingly disrupt

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Thomson Dawson wrote a provocative and challenging article about “devastating innovation”. Brands that weren’t prepared to innovate far beyond their comfort zone, he suggested, would be devastated in the blink of an eye. What’s more, the fallout from such innovation would reach far beyond immediate competitors to wither those who never would have imagined they were at risk.

That fallout, Thomson suggests, can even be unplanned by the companies themselves. “Goggle Maps wasn’t originally created to help people find their way – it was about gathering more information about users to sell more search based advertising,” Thomson reminds us. “I don’t think the innovators of Twitter had any idea their innovation would become the de facto method for breaking news, leaving powerful and influential media companies flatfooted.”

I’ve always been of the view that the most powerful industry change happens with, or makes, a powerful brand. And I found an article from some years back that posed some fascinating and timely questions. Written at the height of Apple’s brand popularity, the article asked whether readers would like the iPhone as much if it had come from Redmond instead of Cupertino?

Take a current Microsoft product, writer John Dvorak suggested in the piece, and ask yourself how you would feel about it if it came from a small start-up with a trendy name? Now, take the same product and ask yourself how you would feel about it if it were done by Apple? Now take a product that is successful for another brand, and ask how would you feel about it if it had come from Microsoft?

The impact of a radical change is governed as much by the brand as by the idea itself

The clear implication is that the impact of a radical change is governed as much by the brand as by the idea itself (although Microsoft’s image has changed considerably in recent years). Innovation for an ill-positioned company will simply not deliver what’s expected in the vast majority of cases because there is no market affinity – and without market affinity, without the goodwill of consumers wanting to see a brand succeed, chances are the innovation, no matter how brilliant, has a greater likelihood of being lost in the crowd or simply failing to gain traction.

It’s interesting that companies like Apple have seldom been first to market with what they do – but they have always made sure that when they do hit the shelves they are best to market, and their approach works because the market expects that from them. Arguably, enough consumers are inclined to believe that an Apple product will be amazing for that to become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

What devastating innovation can your customers expect to see from you next? And what, if anything, do you need to do to change their inclination before it’s released? Because without a strong brand to drive it, your groundbreaking change could start out already blunted.

Note: A version of this post has been published elsewhere under the same title.

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