Digital disruption becomes business as usual

What does it take to be a successful disruptor? A look at the businesses that are changing markets – and creating new markets



In today’s connected world, there’s scarcely a sector untouched by disruptors using digital to challenge established ways of doing business.

Turbo-charged businesses like Airbnb and Uber spring to mind, but there are thousands of hugely successful examples across almost every business sector ( is a useful list of businesses with the most potential to influence, change or create new global markets). In a blog post entitled The Cost of Culture, a 50% Turnover of the Fortune 500, Toby Elwin, founder of Agile Experence Design and Advisory, wrote that “Of the Fortune 500 list of companies at the start of this century, more than half of those companies no longer currently exist on that list.” 

(Main image: Workshopping Bostik’s web estate / Photo: Bostik)

Big is the next big thing

In 2014, global professional services company Accenture predicted the next 10 years would see traditional companies become digital giants, backed by deep resources, scale, and process discipline. This also involves addressing factors that limit pace and innovation in large organisations:

Departmental silos restrict audience centricity. Customer behaviour cuts across departments and internal team structures, so it’s likely you’re only seeing part of the picture.

Legacy structures mean technology infrastructure, team skills, experience, attitude and aptitude are out of step with a world fundamentally changed by digital.

Bureaucracy has to be re-imagined and re-modeled, to speed up the pace of decision making, to allow the switch from internal to external focus.

Popular UK television newspresenter Jon Snow helped RSComponents spread the word

Transformation through business as usual

In our experience with large corporate clients, approaching the day to day work (launching products, updating websites and running campaigns) with a disruptive mindset, does drive transformative results.

The three following client examples, with varied objectives and outcomes, show how using the principles of successfully disruptive businesses can drive transformational change.

1. Common purpose

Bostik’s global web estate isn’t built to sell industrial adhesive products. Bostik share knowledge and expertise on how to use ‘smart adhesives’ to save time, money and deliver a better product. An attractive proposition if you’re wrestling with the challenge of building a light-weight supercar. The result is trusted relationship with customers, who then buy industrial adhesive. 

RS Components global awareness campaign isn’t designed to promote RS as a supplier of electrical components. RS are an active participant in the electrical design community, offering ideas, expertise and new technology to help electrical designers create innovative products. The designers who participate in the RS community and take advantage of RS design tools, buy 25 per cent more RS product.

SaxoPrint’s UK market launch isn’t about promoting cost-efficient online print production. The mission is to bring together independent print designers and small businesses inside their ProStudio community. Providing tools, advice and expertise builds a trusted community, which in turn drives print orders.

2. Audience insight

Customer research is investment in ‘getting under the skin’ of what motivates the audience, finding the sweet spot where your knowledge and expertise intersects with their concerns.

Bostik ran three customer experience workshops across Asia, USA and Europe, SaxoPrint involved quick and dirty telephone interviews, and RS somewhere in between. Across all three, the focus is the same:

  • Who are my most important audiences?
  • What are their problems, challenges and turn-ons?
  • How can our expertise connect with emotional and practical needs in a useful and genuine way?

Immersion days involve spending time as an integrated agency/in-house team, ‘walking the business’, mapping what the customer experiences end to end. Identifying pain points and moments of truth provides invaluable audience insight.

Hack days are about acting like a start-up, failing fast and learning in an accelerated way. Bringing together cross discipline experts to brainstorm lots of ideas. Prototyping in real time, testing and improving until you end up with actionable ideas in a very short space of time.

“It’s important to note that very few disruptors offer anything new or innovative at the core of their service.”

 3. Disruptive results

Bostik’s smart web estate (see header image): Content is focused on customer benefits, customised for different sectors, published across 36 country sites and social media, all managed from a single technology platform. There’s an entirely new governance process, bringing together country and corporate teams to share insights, optimise site performance, and create several new roles, including digital director and digital content manager.

RS Components, Gift of Invention campaign: Inspiring the electrical design community to do what they love most of all... invent and show off! Using RS’s own design software (fully integrated with the ecommerce site), downloadable for free (The Gift!) from their DesignSpark community and promoted through participation in a Design Challenge event. Bringing the most influential electrical designers to lead teams on a 48 hour challenge to create a product to transform lives in the third world. The event was broadcast live over the internet and was opened up to the entire Electrical Design community to submit their own ideas. Partnering with a leading charity (Practical Action) and recruiting mass media influencers like UK television Channel 4’s Jon Snow to spread the word (see image on second page).

It resulted in a serious activation of the RS community, that put DesignSpark at the centre of the global marketing strategy, in a way it never was before.

SaxoPrint, ProStudio design community: A print design community space for designers, business customers and SaxoPrint to meet, do business, learn and help each other out.

Tracking SaxoPrints’ audience

Three-way reviews are at the heart of Prostudio and only designers and clients with good reviews rise to the top. SaxoPrints print production services come equally under scrutiny and there’s no obligation to use them to produce print. The result is a valuable, authentic, community space, which reinforces SaxoPrint’s human touch philosophy, but with direct integration with the SaxoPrint online print shop, also drives print orders from a loyal and trusted community.

7 golden rules of successful disrupters

  • Across disruptive companies we see some consistent success factors:
  • Audience centricity. At the centre of disruption is a focus on people and common purpose.
  • Successful disruptors understand how to use the interactive nature of technology to bring people together around a shared experience.
  • Build the business from the customers’ perspective. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. It’s important to note that very few disruptors offer anything new or innovative at the core of their service.
  • Focus on understanding how to improve or simplify people’s lives. This applies equally at work, the place where we spend at least 80 per cent of our time.
  • Put digital tools at the centre of the business.
  • Use digital tools to drive a higher degree of audience interaction, building trust through shared experiences about common concerns.
  • Use digital tools to drive transparency, through open dialogue.
  • Allow two-way reviews, to build trusted relationships.

Images: Freestyle Interactive

Andy Wood

Andy Wood has been Freestyle Interactive’s strategy director since 2005, responsible for the development of digital strategy for their clients. Starting his career in 1994 with Ford, followed by roles in agencies in UK and Europe, Andy regularly runs workshops for international organisations bringing together digital planning, search and content marketing, social media, CRM and technology to solve digital challenges.