Disruptive Branding In A Disrupted World

I was on a Zoom call with some clients a couple of weeks ago when my three-year-old daughter burst into the room — wearing a glittery unicorn costume.

After a flash of self-consciousness, I surrendered to the moment. My clients made it easier: Having had similar moments themselves under lockdown, they were all smiles.

The times we’re living through, though difficult, also create opportunities for connection. In such a highly disrupted world, brands that want to make a positive difference may need to think and act differently, to surrender to the new moment emerging before them. 

This isn’t a passive “give in” moment; it’s about seeing challenges and restrictions as opportunities for innovation, growth and connection. 

At the same time, when so much change is afoot, consumers also value the stability associated with familiar, trusted products and brands.



So how can brands walk the talk in ways that resonate with consumers?

Adapt to your audience in real time. When you see a need and can do something about it, have the flexibility to act in a meaningful way. 

For example, the startup restaurant chain &Pizza is giving employees paid time off to engage in activism. When Covid19 hit, &Pizza quickly started feeding medical workers on the frontlines, giving out more than 44,000 free pizzas as well as compensating its own employees with higher salaries and better benefits. During the government shutdown in 2019, &Pizza also gave free food to out-of-work federal employees.

From the beginning, the company has been committed to social responsibility. That core value translates into a sense of authenticity as &Pizza continues to respond to change.

Be humble — and brave. After the killing of George Floyd, Nike was one of the first brands to speak out.

Delivered in a simple, text-only format, Nike’s “Don’t Do It” campaign included messages such as: “For once, Don’t Do It. Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America. Don’t turn your back on racism.” A majority of those surveyed approved of the campaign.

As brands continue to be confronted with moments that call for thoughtful responses, they could do worse than to emulate this kind of humility.

Disrupt yourself. The way companies operate internally can also have significant effects on their brands. 

By experimenting with your organizational structure, you can bring expertise and creativity into the picture in new ways. Would a Ph.D. give a passing grade to your company’s approach to research, or is your “tried and true” methodology unscientific and out of date? Do you know all the best practices associated with working and collaborating from home?

Choosing to engage in “positive disruption” could mean braving criticism, sacrificing some revenue for a higher purpose or reshuffling your org chart in ways that challenge traditional hierarchies. But skillful adaptation yields valuable rewards, such as feeling better about what you do and forging closer connections to your consumers, stakeholders and brands, which will ultimately boost the bottom line. 

The first step? Surrender to your inner unicorn.

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