Home Business Insights & Advice How to become a market disruptor and shake up an industry

How to become a market disruptor and shake up an industry

by Sarah Dunsby
18th Feb 22 3:07 pm

Say what you want about the current market — it’s anything but boring. Breakthroughs in technology, fresh values, and a newfound start-up mentality are all pushing businesses to reconsider everything about their niche. It’s no longer ‘how can we profit from this industry as it is’ but rather ‘what can we do to shake it up?’. So, whatever it is you sell, it’s more crucial than ever to think innovatively about where you stand and how you want to change the field. It may sound daunting, but we’ve got you covered with five ways you can revamp your business offer.

1. Prioritise transformational leadership

There are few elements that can reshape a business in quite the same way as its management. “At a time of great disruption and ever-increasing demands from shareholders, consumer companies need transformational leadership,” explain the experts at leading management consultancy firm Egon Zehnder. Those leaders have to have their eye on the money when it comes to innovation, “whether in response to shareholder activism, online competition, business transformation, or changing consumer tastes”.

A smart and agile leadership team will set the tone for the rest of the company, putting modernisation first. It’s not just about the experience a manager has (although it helps), but rather being open to and encouraging challenge, feedback and new ideas. Another aspect of excellent leadership in the context of disruptive innovation is the ability to recognise which employee is best suited for a role, and which team members are exceptionally creative and can pave the way for the company’s success. Without capable management, you’re going to lose direction and practical ideas.

2. Don’t constrain yourself

Most industries have done things in a similar way for decades, centuries or, in some cases, even longer. In order to disrupt these legacy fields, you can’t simply digitise them and call it a day. You have to think outside of the box, fully breaking with tradition. Your starting point shouldn’t be how it’s always been done — but how it should be done. To do that, you need to consider your target audience and what you want to provide them with.

The stock exchange, for example, has existed since the 1600s, but had traditionally been used almost exclusively by financial experts and the rich. Disruptors like Trade Nation did not think ‘how can we make trading better’. Instead, they identified a problem with the current industry — ordinary people are pushed away from trading because of complicated jargon and misinformation — and went on to pioneer a completely new approach allowing beginners to participate. This is the key to their success.

3. Think about existing pain points

To figure out what you want to achieve, you must consider the main disadvantages, issues, or hardships in your industry. If your sector works perfectly fine, there’s no point in disrupting it for the sake of disruption. You want to identify an element that is problematic; that can be challenged in a way that will make the field shake. If you’re struggling to think of something, consider how you can simplify the complexities of your industry, how you can reduce the costs for consumers, and how you can reinvigorate outdated notions or systems.

Research your target audience. Do they use products or services that fall within your chosen industry? If they don’t, why is that? What can you do to change this? If they do, on the other hand, you can start investigating what’s frustrating them. Take Monzo, for example. The innovative banking disruptor identified that traditional banks continuously score low on customer satisfaction, especially among the young and tech-savvy.

With high fees and the inconvenience of having to physically visit a bank for certain services, customers were exasperated. Monzo took a digital-only approach that offered faster actions, more transparency, and phone notifications about every transaction. They quickly grew and it’s become almost impossible to go a day without seeing one of their bright coral cards being used. Now, most traditional banks have had to build apps that can compete to maintain their market share.

4. Be tech-led

In the 21st century, nothing can work if it doesn’t have robust tech at the core of it. Whether it’s an actual product you’re selling that can be ‘smartened’ up, or a service you can digitise or move online, it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse with innovative technology. If it is traditional for your work to be done in-person or with a human, could you improve the process with an app? Or maybe some tech is normally utilised, but can you make it better, more efficient, cheaper or quicker? Whatever it is, hire a serious team of engineers and product designers so that you’re not left behind.

The music industry is a great point of reference here. The way ordinary people have been listening to music has changed massively in the last 150-odd years since the record player was invented in 1877. Cassettes, tapes, floppy discs, compact discs and MP3 players all completely transformed the music industry, making listening to songs more affordable, easier to carry, and less fiddly.

But streaming services like YouTube and particularly Spotify changed the game completely — not only are we able to access millions of tracks from the comfort of any device that is connected to the internet, but even the way artists are paid has been turned on its head by these services. It only shows how technology can play an unparalleled role in disrupting an industry.

5. Pay attention to timing

So, you’ve got a great idea, the capability to make it tangible, and all you need to do is launch it. But the question of when to do that is just as important as having a fantastic offering. The most striking example is Netflix, which turned over $25bn in 2020 and constitutes 15% of all the world’s bandwidth. However, before it became the successful streaming service we all know and love, it started by posting DVDs to its customers as an online alternative to the then-giant Blockbuster. Streaming videos with good quality just wasn’t an option at the time, so even if the idea was there, it’s crucial that they waited until they could guarantee perfect execution to grow to the heights they have today.

Not only is this true in terms of whether your idea is feasible or not, but It’s also about the state of the market. For example, a VR-led banking system business might need to wait a few years so that the devices become more ubiquitous. If you rely on an industry that is doing well with little complaints, unless you have a truly revolutionary idea, you might want to wait for when the market is ripe for innovation. Without the right context for your product or service, even if it’s the best concept in the world, it would be doomed to fail (or at least not do as well as it should do if you were a little more patient).

Becoming a disruptor may not be easy — it requires creativity, innovation and a little bit of courage — but it can pay off massively. If you follow these steps, we believe you can create something truly amazing.

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