How to be a genuinely disruptive brand

Disruptive-Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay2

The idea of brands being disruptive has become something of a strategic buzzword.

It’s a goal many brands aspire to, but only a select few actually achieve.

But what does being truly disruptive actually mean these days?

We caught up with Tom Hoare, Brand Copywriter at ico Design, for some answers…

Tom Hoare_ico
Tom Hoare, Brand Copywriter, ico Design

True disruptors tend to completely redefine the rulebook in their given sectors, or in some cases, create an entirely new sector for themselves to occupy. 

Being a disruptor goes beyond simply doing things a bit different; it involves challenging a societal norm that has the potential to reshape consumer habits completely. 

Think about how Netflix reshaped how people watch TV. Or how Uber revolutionised the way you take a taxi. These brands set agendas that were fundamentally game-changing, forcing their competitors to either evolve or fold. 

In the banking world, Monzo and Revolut left the big high-street banks scrambling to modernise their online banking experiences and approach to customer service, and they still haven’t caught up.  

Image by Alexa from Pixabay
Challenge and change: True disruptors are not afraid to rock the boat of established ways.

True disruptors are relatively rare, and that’s because being disruptive comes with a whole host of potential challenges.

As a brand and design studio, we often encounter brands that have scaled too quickly and, during this process, have either diluted or completely destroyed the essence of what made their brand unique in the first place. 

Fulfilling obligations

Another key issue disruptors face is fulfilling their obligations across a much wider scale. Jet Blue, the US airline, suffered from both these problems. 

As it scaled, its policy of “never canceling a flight” started to wear thin as the inevitable reality of operating a larger fleet began to hit home. 

This was compounded by operational issues such as a rise in fuel prices and increased airport duties, which quickly ate into profits.

The brand survives, but its reputation as a potentially game-changing airline was severely tarnished.

Yet in the wake of many potential pitfalls, disruptors exist because they’re able to exploit opportunities in markets that have become stagnant. 

An example of this in action – we recently worked with a disruptive brand in the pet care space called Grub Club. 

Dominated largely by a few select corporations and big-box retailers, the sector has experienced little innovation over the last few decades. 

Yet during this time, a new generation of pet parents has emerged. Aged between 25-40 years old, they are much more inclined to treat their pets like children, taking an active interest in their health and wellbeing. 

Disruptive dogs: Brands like Grub Club are challenging consumer mindsets.

This is a trend that the more established brands in the sector are still proving sluggish to react to. 

In a sector primed for disruption, Grub Club’s insect-based pet food clearly has all the key ingredients needed to be a gamechanger for the industry. 

It’s radically sustainable, highly nutritious and naturally hypoallergenic – everything that traditional ‘mystery meat’ pet food isn’t. As such it’s tapping into two areas of increasing consumer interest – the pet wellbeing trend I already mentioned AND sustainability concerns.

The barrier Grub Club faced was how to educate consumers on the benefits of insect-based protein. Certainly, in the west the idea of insects as a potential food source has not yet been adopted into mainstream culture. 

This is a pitfall most potential disruptor brands will come up against. How do you get people to take action on an issue they might not know exists? 

Consumer education

In these instances, it’s critical to use your brand to educate consumers. For Grub Club, this education came in the form of highlighting the astronomic impact that the traditional pet food industry has on the planet, contrasting it with the highly sustainable footprint of insect protein. 

This comes down to succinctly highlighting the problem you’re solving. Give the consumer a cause to rally against and show them the potential solution – a solution that aligns directly with your proposition as a brand. 


Importantly, don’t get too hung up on what your competitors are doing. Being disruptive comes with inherent risk – embrace it. 

Image by ar130405 from Pixabay
Competitive edge: Hoare says don’t get too hung up on the competition to stay ahead.

One particular hurdle was had to solve was the idea that consumers simply might find the idea of insect-based food off putting. 

Testing and focus groups didn’t reveal a conclusive answer. So rather than play it safe, we heroed the fact the food was insect-based. 

This made the brand seem all the more radical – and it worked. The important thing is to lean into what makes you unique – to do anything less increases the likelihood that you’ll simply blend into a sea of similarity.

Communicating uniqueness

Your brand has a critical role to play in communicating what makes you unique, and if you’re a disruptive brand that’s struggling to make an impact, your first point of call needs to be a brand audit. 

Scrutinise your visual and verbal identity – does it resonate with your target audience? Does it communicate your proposition and difference? 

And most importantly, does it reflect the ambitions you’ve set? The idea of disruption begins with a disruptive entrepreneurial mindset – embrace this and everything else will follow.

Check out ico Design’s Lost in Founderland podcast where they discuss this and other topics with start-up founders and entrepreneurs.