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Disrupt the status quo to sustain brand growth

Emma Roberts
Head of Knowledge & Best Practice (Brand & Comms)
Kantar TNS - Kantar Millward Brown

Disrupt the status quo to sustain brand growth

An analysis of over 2,000 brands measured via BrandZ between 2014 and 2017 showed that fewer than one in 10 brands grew significantly. The key to success for those that did grow? One word: disruption.

The ultimate example of a disruptive brand, Amazon has focused on making people’s lives simpler, less expensive and more convenient, and in doing so has grown its brand value by 2,228 percent, far outpacing the BrandZ™ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands, which grew, on average, by a creditable 152 percent.

Why do more established brands tend not to be very disruptive? The short answer is: risk aversion. Knowing what works now to generate business success tends to be where most brands place their bets. But this “business as usual” mentality can also prevent them from allocating sufficient resources to the creativity and innovation needed for sustained growth.

The good news is that any brand can be disruptive provided it does something different from the norm that creates new value for customers or unlocks existing potential. To illustrate this further, we need to look at three topline measures of brand equity that Kantar Millward Brown has found relate to financial value growth. 


This is the foundation of any brand. Unless a brand is seen to meets people’s needs, and is liked, it is unlikely to be bought.


This is the brand’s competitive edge that also helps it to justify a premium. Brands need to be different, look different, or behave differently if they are to achieve their full potential. 


Growth is unlikely unless a brand can increase its salience. The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute has long championed salience as the only important growth driver, but when we integrated data from BrandZ with behavioral data from Kantar Worldpanel, we found that growing salience on its own did not help grow market share. Meaningful difference was necessary for an increase in salience to successfully deliver growth​.

And when we compared 2,419 brands measured over five years, we found that brands with strong meaningful difference grew three times faster than the weak ones when salience increased. ​

The conclusion is clear: to benefit from growing salience a brand needs to start by being seen as different in some way, provided that difference has the potential to be meaningful to a wider audience. So how do you ensure Meaningful Difference?

A better product designed to meet existing or new functional needs will always be a powerful lever, provided it is marketed effectively. Tesla is reinventing the automotive category and Dyson’s vacuum cleaners and fans command a huge premium because of the brand’s commitment to efficacy and design. 

Related to a better product is a better experience. Brands create a better experience when they make life simpler and more convenient for their customers: Airbnb has offered an easier way for people to book stays away from home; Uber has revolutionized the world of taxi hire. 

But category innovation isn’t just for the “new kids on the block”, and established brands should never stop trying to identify ways to keep ahead of the competition. Take the examples of Nike, Starbucks and Hilton, which have all created apps that either enhance people’s lives or make the brand experience more convenient.

And not all meaningful difference is related to a tangible difference in product, service or experience. Remember, it is the perception of difference that matters, and so we come to making a brand more attractive by appearing to be different.

Simply changing the way a brand communicates with potential customers can allow them to see the brand with fresh eyes and unlock new growth potential. Communication can help to present the brand’s purpose in a way that is seen as more connective for the target audience, that better aligns with their own values and behaviors, or can better associate a brand with a relevant trend.  

Leffe beer reinforced Meaningful Difference by associating the brand with the “aperitif” drinking occasion, launching new variants, and improving recognition by updating packaging and launching iconic drinking glasses. This ensured increased salience for the brand in relation to that consumer occasion.

Over eight years, Leffe grew perceptions that it was different from other beers and, as a result, grew its value market share, whilst managing to successfully justify increased prices at a time when consumers were having to economize.

Now more than ever, competitors are actively seeking to disrupt the status quo, and woe-betide the brand that doesn’t stay in touch with the latest consumer needs, trends and ambitions. Yes, disruption is risky, but ask the former senior marketers of brands like Blockbuster or Kodak, and I’m sure they’ll tell you the risk of not disrupting can be far more dangerous.