Disruptor brands – an industry challenge or an opportunity?

Grace French
Written by Grace French

Tags: challenger PRWeek

Recently an article by Ian Griggs in PR Week caught my eye. It was about challenger brands being considered the biggest potential ‘crises’ in the eyes of established players. I, and several of those quoted in the article, thought it was a bit strong to label market disruption a crisis. Jim Hawker’s comments resonated the strongest with me, saying that “the best way to respond is to innovate today rather than scramble to respond tomorrow”.

In my opinion, whoever you are in the market, if you believe in continuous innovation and building a better industry, the presence of disruptors should be seen as an opportunity, rather than something to fear. Here at Stand Agency we believe in challenging, both with regards to the clients we work with, and how we work. We’re one of those companies looking to be disruptive and make people think differently about our industry.

In the article, Chris Hides made a valid point that the worst thing a market incumbent can do is to have a knee-jerk reaction and make sudden changes to its business. Instead, if they do feel they need to change, incumbents should try to incorporate genuine innovation into their business on an ongoing basis. This needs be underpinned by a solid comms strategy that will keep them relevant and top of mind for consumers – sometimes a challenge in itself!

Although communications plays an important role in keeping market leaders at the top, you can argue that in fact challenger brands need a stronger comms strategy to break into a new market and stay there.

Disruptive brands do have some communications advantages in the market, but there are also potential pitfalls facing them. On the plus side, challenger brands are often the media’s darlings, generating an abundance of coverage when they first break onto the scene. Consumers and industry figures also like to align themselves with the ‘next big thing’ and be seen by association as innovative and daring. So when they start, it seems like challenger brands hold all the cards.

However, there is an abundance of new companies out there who want to be seen as the latest ‘challenger brand’. This means that in some industries, for example finance, there is a lot of noise to break through. That’s the first challenge as a ‘challenger’ – stand out and make yourself heard.

Then, they need to convert that first media flurry into something that lasts. It’s very easy to be flash in the pan; what’s more difficult is creating a sustainable brand that will stand the test of time and evolve – once it’s no longer the new kid on the block. On top of that, some industries will fight back aggressively against newcomers (Uber is a prime example here) and the company’s brand and business model need to be resilient enough to withstand this.

My view is there needs to be a strategic PR approach right from the very beginning that will see the company through from its grand entrance to becoming an established player.

Here at Stand we speak from experience. Having launched Shawbrook Bank in 2011 (now one of the UK’s set of ‘challenger banks’), we played our part in the evolution and growth of the company, using PR to help it punch above its weight. Of course, the PR strategy developed over the years, but we like to think we helped create a brand and an approach stood up to the test of time.

In short – if you fancy yourself a challenger brand, the golden rule is to think long-term and make the initial wave of popularity work hard for you, don’t just ride it.

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