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Disrupt the status quo

bills-hero-packaging-150mmx100mm-300dpiDonald Trump is now the President elect and will take the oath of office of the President of the United States in January 2017 … how did this happen?

Even though most media pundits, political analysts, and big business all believed his overbearing, aggressive and controversial campaign to be destined to fail, Donald Trump’s campaign strategy completely disrupted the current US political status quo ending up with him in the power seat.

Unhappy customers

Essentially disruption occurs when voters, consumers, customers etc. are unhappy with the current situation and they realise they can do something to change it. This is why it’s no coincidence that Uber is the world’s fastest growing company. Why? Because Uber put the customer experience first. Essentially the customer experience was placed front and centre in terms of Uber’s business model, the technology was merely an efficient delivery mechanism. Uber’s incredulous upward growth trajectory has come from applying it’s easy to use technology to make transport seamless, efficient and cost effective for the consumer. In just seven short years Uber has become the world’s most highly valued company.


Disruption is the big BUZZ word striking fear into the hearts of many at the corporate leadership table. Disruption to executives means being taken down by a small team of hungry entrepreneurs working out of a basement somewhere to come up with a better, more efficient mouse trap (often something they themselves can’t do).

Disruption doesn’t only happen at a macroeconomic level with the Ubers, Airbnb’s and Donald Trumps of the world. Market disruption also happens at a micro level. Disruption also happens on our supermarket shelves every day. Take the example of Bill’s Bread.

In 2015, bread had become a heated consumer topic. Bread was considered to be at the root of many of today’s health problems. This age-old household staple was copping a pretty bad anti-health rap. This was mainly due to processed grains not being easy for the body to digest. This consumer alienation became a trend causing big shifts in the supermarket bread marketplace. The consumer’s perception of “bread is bad” showed up as three primary concerns:

  1. Allergy concerns (due to preservatives, gluten or dairy)
  2. Genetically modified (GMO) wheat crops
  3. Fear of eating, or giving children food that wasn’t wholesome and nutritious.

So, the supermarket bread space was ripe and ready for disruption. There was a real consumer pain being felt in the system.

Enter Bill’s Bread stage left

Bill’s Bread had been available on the supermarket shelf in the East Coast of Australia, encased in the same lifeless packaging, for over 10 years. The brand had become a staple of a few loyal supporters who had specifically gone searching the bread market for a wholesome, nutritious and healthy, non-allergenic bread to feed themselves and their families.

Bill’s Bread, a Certified Organic health baker, based in Newcastle NSW, had the foresight to spot the supermarket bread space was ripe for the plucking. This in “disruption” terms means that where there is a market of broken trust (false claims), limited access or complex experiences (hard for the consumer to find quality nutritious bread), that arena is ready to be pounced upon.

For Bill’s to disrupt the cluttered bread shelf, dominated by private label and the big brands, they needed to both refresh the brand and position themselves as the obvious and number one choice for the health-conscious consumer.

Bill’s tapped their rich brand heritage and developed a whole new colour palette to drive an emotional connection with consumers. The designers tapped into the consumer fear that bread is bad and demonstrated the positive health benefits of eating Bills Bread by using benefit based names for additional product variants.

The disruption on shelf moved Bill’s Bread to #1 hierarchy on shelf causing highly awarded competitors into a discounting frenzy. In just two short years, shelf sales have jumped four-fold and counting.

How to disrupt

Harvard Business Review describes “Disruption” as a process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses.

In January this year INC Magazine published an article on the 3 easy steps to disrupt any industry. These same three steps can easily be applied to disrupt a category/market/retail shelf.

  1. Find a pain in a system –  There is usually one glaring issue, and concern that customers are experiencing that is not being addressed.
  2. Get feedback on the pain – This means clearly understanding the consumer grievances.
  3. Implement the solution and iterate – Having clearly understood the major consumer pain points, then single mindedly develop a simple product/service solution that addresses that grievance. Then keep listening and keep iterating, listening, iterating, listening iterating.

How will you disrupt your category?

Ian Segail is the General Manager – Operations at Sydney-based branding, packaging and design agency Jam&Co.

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