Define a Path to Disruption: How to Move Your Business Beyond Industry Norms

September 16, 2015

in Plan Your Expansion

Authored by Brad Bortone

Define a Path to Disruption: How to Move Your Business Beyond Industry Norms

One glance at a news feed reveals there are all sorts of examples of companies launched on the strength of their disruptive thinking. Even existing brands and companies are finding new ways to disrupt industry standards.

As a company looking to penetrate the U.S. market, you have the chance to not only enter this diverse marketplace, but also to turn it upside down by turning over longstanding practices.

Don’t believe us? Just look at Uber, the U.S.-based ride service start-up that came out of nowhere in 2012, and is now valued at $41 billion USD. Just three years ago, Uber had zero market share, no revenue and—come to think of it—no drivers. Today, it has signed up more than 160,000 active drivers who have collected $656.8 million in fares.

Established cab companies in major markets haven’t been too fond of Uber, but in a very short span, the company has changed the way Americans hail a ride. And now they’re doing it globally.

So, what was the problem that Uber addressed? Well, there wasn’t one, per se. But that’s exactly the point. Most businesses are trained to focus only on existing  pain points. But, what Uber—and countless other companies—have learned is that it’s more effective to identify something in your industry that’s not necessarily a problem, but rather something that could benefit from a new approach, and then make a bold move for change.

Maybe it sounds like a case of building a better mousetrap. But there’s nothing wrong with $41 billion worth of mice, is there? If you follow these steps, you might just have a winning disruption on your hands.

Step 1: Define what you want to disrupt

The first step is to define the situation in the industry, segment, or category that you want to challenge. This should be an area of your industry that has stagnated for some time. For example, look at Netflix.

When Netflix first launched, it was disruptive enough, in that it played on the fact that people no longer enjoyed purchasing movies, and would pay a fee for convenience without stringent return times. Blockbuster’s model was tired, and didn’t appeal to more immediate needs.

How can you achieve this for your own company? Once you have a situation to focus on, describe it in one sentence. The important thing is that the high-level situation you choose is just that: high-level. It’s possible that you could end up with a completely new solution to a very specific problem, but at this stage, such a narrow focus will greatly limit your options later.

Once this is defined, you can move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Define your key differentiators

Now that you’ve defined what you want to disrupt, the next step is to identify the assumptions that seem to influence the way insiders (and often outsiders) think about your situation. In other words, what are the “norms”— the widespread practices that dictate the way people think about and do business in a particular space.

If you pay attention, you’ll notice that tired norms are everywhere. And, because they’ve become norms, they’ve lost their ability to impact buyers.

Looking back at Netflix, it made a much more disruptive move away from these norms when it brought streaming video to its table of offerings. By allowing existing customers to gain more value from their subscriptions, while simultaneously meeting their convenience needs, Netflix not only improved its value proposition but also reached a new customer base.

In fact, Netflix achieved a special level of unique value for customers—it saw its brand become a verb. Much like Xerox did for photocopiers, and Google did for search engines, Netflix became a ubiquitous term for home video entertainment—one that still resonates today, despite myriad competitors.

You can achieve this by getting online and identifying a handful of direct competitors in the industry, segment, or category you’re focused on. Do a little research on each competitor and make a list of the norms that keep every company in that space doing the same thing, competing the same way, or operating with the same set of assumptions.

The quickest and most efficient way to do this is to explore company websites, examine their advertising, and read what people are saying about the companies and their products on blogs and other social media platforms.

Identifying these norms will help your company best create a path to disruption, and will allow you to craft a relevant plan to do so.

Step 3: Define a course of action

Now that you have a list of the clichés that are influencing the business situation you’re focused on, your next goal is to start provoking the status quo by generating disruptive plans.

In the video business, “What would happen if we delivered to the mailbox and didn’t charge late fees?” You guessed it: Netflix.

You’ll have to take those norms and look at them from all directions. Specifically, you’re looking for something  you could move in the opposite direction, or completely do without.

Let’s close by revisiting our Uber example. What would happen if you no longer needed to hail a cab on the street? What if you had a price determination from the outset of the transaction, rather than watching a meter with nervous anticipation? What if you could do this all with a few minor clicks on your phone?

Just a few years ago, cab companies would have laughed at the possibility, and reiterated that its system wasn’t in need of change or growth. And they’re the same ones lobbying to have Uber banned from their city streets.

After going through these steps, you should be able to generate several unique, forward-thinking plans that will challenge your established way of looking at an industry, segment or category. The general rule is that bolder “what ifs” will offer a fresher perspective.

So, don’t worry if your plans seem completely unreachable. As these examples illustrate, inverting or changing the way companies approach industry norms can often lead to significant business breakthroughs.

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