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Disrupt yourself: time to survive the status quo in digital

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Every couple of years an article, slide or video makes its way out of the techie or marketing conference scene and onto the laptop of the CEO. A few years ago it was the ‘Right Here, Right Now’ social stats video that had Boards across the country asking ‘What are we doing about the Facebook?’

Nathan Fulwood, innovation director at Tayburn

At the moment it seems to be the quote from Tom Goodwin’s TechCrunch article - 'Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content…' - that has led to Marketing Directors the length and breadth of the country being asked: ‘What are we doing about Disruption?’.

When framed in this way, or in the ‘How can we be the Uber of [insert industry here]’, it’s a genuinely terrifying question. All change is daunting, but imagining change on this scale can paralyse companies with fear, resulting in inaction or at best a programme of safe iteration and improvement of what has always been done, in an attempt to be ‘innovative’, rather than just staying fit for purpose.

However, when you start to break down what’s actually needed to prepare for disruption then the task starts to feel more achievable:

Customer-centricity

Are you in constant contact with your customers?

Do you know why they are buying you and why they’re not?

What else they are buying and how they are buying it?

Are you feeding this insight back into your business, and are you designing your products and services around what’s best for them, not what works best for you?

Technical curiosity

Are you aware of what’s available to support your business, both operationally and marketing? This includes both hardware and software - both move at the speed of light and the tools that got you this far may not be the right ones to support you in going further.

External advice and collaboration

Are you connected to those bringing fresh ideas into your sector?

At the very least are you following them?

Ideally could you partner, collaborate and learn from them?

Service design

Are you critically and objectively assessing every touchpoint that your customer has with your brand?

Do you understand how they feel at each point, where the opportunity to elevate, simplify or even remove certain steps exist?

Business model assessment

When was the last time you sat down as a team (and not just the founding team, but those fresh in the door), to really question and explore your business model and the fundamental assumptions that model was built on. Given what’s happening in other industries, are those assumptions still valid?

This is not a comprehensive list, but when you list the tasks like that, ‘preparing for disruption’ looks very much like ‘best practice for modern business as usual’. If you’re not already doing at least some of the above, then it’s not disruption you need to worry about, it’s surviving in the status quo.

What sets apart the companies with a truly meaningful approach to preparing for disruption is not just going through the motions, but acting purposefully on the outputs. The companies that thrive are those who invest real time and money in experimentation to test the ideas and assumptions that inevitably emerge from these exercises.

We are lucky enough to work with innovative start-ups in food and drink, fintech and other sectors. These companies have a clean slate, are free of legacy – be that legacy customers, people, processes or expectations of their brand. To be disruptive is at the core of their being - it’s how they will find their niche and grow it.

But we also work with a large number established companies who are brave enough to ask ‘How can I put myself out of business?’.

These are successful businesses with strong brands. Their owners should rightfully be proud of their achievements. Yet in the face of disruption in theirs and adjacent sectors, they are brave enough to set fire to their own platform. They aren’t clinging to the way they have always done things (rightfully considered one of the most dangerous phrases in business). They are setting up new companies to fight for their existing customer’s hearts, minds and wallets. Companies that deliver the same or improved value in new ways, and that can open up new markets at a scale that the old models can’t support.

So, there’s a lot to learn from looking at the models of Uber, AirBnB and Amazon. But, like charity, disruption starts at home.

Disrupt yourself, before someone does it for you.

How to prepare for disruption will be taking place in Edinburgh on Wednesday 25th November 6pm-8pm. If you would like to sign up for this event or have any questions, click here or contact naomi.taylor@thedrum.com.