Consumer Insights Data

How Brand Marketers Can Win the War Against Industry Disruptors


This article originally appeared in Forbes.

It almost seems cliché when today’s entrepreneurs claim to be creating disruptive forces in our everyday lives. But as much as we would like to collectively thumb our noses at the notion of “changing the game,” there’s no denying that success stories such as AirbnbLending Club and Task Rabbit are doing just that in front of our eyes. These companies have quickly established thriving business opportunities for ordinar y individuals and gained the trust of millions of consumers worldwide. And while a good deal of the news surrounding these “sharing” startups is negative, traditional brand marketers who have been affected by these recent trends can’t dismiss the reality that these business models should be considered a serious and long-term threat to truly disrupting their business.

So what to do? While big brands such as Apple, Google and Facebook have the financial means to wave the acquisition wand at smaller startups and simply absorb them into their next product offering, the recent valuations of today’s disruptors make this strategy unfeasible for most of us. Fear not, brands, you still have much to offer. There are many opportunities to bring to light your unique brand attributes and assets through smart digital strategies.

Be Mobile. Think about what Uber, Sidecar and Poshmark have in common: All were built mobile-first. Brands that think of mobile as an afterthought will be left in the dust. Mobile search trends will soon surpass those of desktop search, and to make matters more complicated, mobile app usage is cutting into more traditional mobile search behavior. Don’t be afraid to invest in app discovery. Brands must fish where the fish are and that fertile ground is increasingly via our mobile devices.

Be Seen. Consumers have seemingly unlimited entry points into these offerings in our new sharing economy. These connection points should be seen as opportunities to shift share back into your favor. Traditional brands affected must leverage digital media to tip the scales to both drive consideration as consumers begin their research phases (using targeted display, branded content partnerships, social networks, review sites, etc.) and capture consumers at their peak interest points with tried-and-true direct-response channels, such as search, mobile, apps, email and data-driven media. Don’t wait to be found by chance, be aggressive and invest accordingly.

Pay to Play. For retail and travel marketers, as an example, leveraging Google is both a blessing and a curse. As Google pivots from its original promise of “organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful” to instead insert itself as a shopping/booking engine, brands have a choice to sit on the sidelines in protest or get in the game. Google is quickly becoming more of a pay-to-play proposition with products such as Product Listings Ads (PLA) on Google Shopping within the world of retail, as well as invading the travel sector with Hotel Price Ads (HPA) on Google Flights and Hotel Finder. The dwindling amount of organic real-estate listings on a typical shopping and/or travel-related search should be a clear indication that “free” traffic is not a given and not enough in an ever-changing marketplace.

Differentiate. Sharing-economy brands such as Airbnb position themselves as offering “authentic experiences,” but can’t always compete with the many traditional brand attributes that have been established for generations. Now is the chance to set your brand apart from those new to the scene by communicating the many values we may take for granted: consistency, trustworthiness, safety, loyalty benefits, comfort, convenience — to name just a few. Regardless of the industry, don’t forget one of your most valued assets and your best brand ambassadors: your associates, your people and your representatives. Sometimes good old-fashioned personal relationships can prove that not all traditions are vulnerable to disruption.

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Scott Sterner

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