The impact of disruption on marketing and branding

We all know that there’s been a major shift in the technology that marketers and branding professionals need to use — but so has several of the foundational assumptions that these industries are based on.

Understanding these changes and the disruptions that caused them will help you see future trends for your industry, and how to take advantage of them.

How marketing and branding has changed because of disruption

1. The unvalue of advertising

People don’t like advertisements? That’s nothing new.

What’s new are the many companies that turned this into a huge part of their business model. Netflix and Spotify both use the lack of advertisements as the prime way to get paying customers, so did HBO… and the internet before it became invaded by ads.

The freemium model of many SaaS (Software as a service) tech companies like Hootsuite and MailChimp also trained business customers to get products for free. Apple’s game-changing launch of the App Store caused a major shift in consumer behaviour that is still being felt today when we consider that one of the biggest factors in tech companies generating revenue is whether people like the free product after 30 days.

Advertising and marketing used to be the primary way to convince consumers to buy, today it’s the primary way to get them to try. The product experience itself, the emotional connection, the community around it, and other conditions like the lack of ads, actually dictate whether they are ready to pay.

Branding has equally changed. Vodka and beer companies used to brand their products with aspiration; often ridiculous and exaggerated stories of pool parties filled with models. With the increasing distrust of advertising and increasing need to be feel part of a tribe, branding is now more than ever about creating authenticity and community instead.

As customers are getting greater control over advertising viewing, you have a bigger choice to make: your company can be a mosquito of the internet, disrupting people’s activities every couple of minutes with ads, or become part of the new generation of advertisers who become a part of people’s activities, creating happiness, value and community to showcase your products.

2. The value of data

Up until very recently most of us were blissfully ignorant that email lists were the most valuable customer data a company had.

But this has very quickly and drastically changed:

There’s no doubt, the internet honeymoon phase is over and for any of working in marketing and branding we must actively decide which side of the debate our campaigns rest: on the side of needingincreased customer data to provide more personalized products/experiences or building a community built on trust and respectful use of data.

To any marketer who has grown up in the Salesforce and AdWords era, respectful use of customer data seems like a paradox. However, for those in the world of branding many companies are betting their reputation on it. WhatsApp, Apple, Signal all have policies that truly separate them from their industry peers.

On the other side of the conversation SnapChat completely disrupted the conversation about data and privacy. By giving people easy ways to make content expire they have made their users more comfortable being raw and unedited. So far marketers have really only explored this as a social tool — but the really interesting opportunity lies in how companies can use this raw, unedited content creation approach to break down traditional barriers for understanding customer intentions and commerce.

3. Upending demographics

Throw the idea of demographics out the window, please. Most of what we consider customer target profiling are outdated practices at best. Disruptions to how we live and what we are all capable of means that until you change your idea of uniqueness you will fail.

Most people no longer have a home phone number; many people choose to block cookies and scripts,a growing number of people are nomadic and working in non-traditional jobs. These are just a few ways people severely limit an organization’s ability to get accurate customer and lead records.

Bigger changes are on the horizon. Most notably that demographics encourages us to think of people in terms of generalizations. The closer we get to high-quality predictive analytics, AI, and machine learning being readily available to all companies of all sizes, the sooner we’ll all see that race and income is a much lower determinant of intention than who they’re friends with and their social graph activity. Until you have clear data about their lifestyle, tribe, or personality, every marketer and branding strategist is basically just gambling.

Lifestyles are changing. People’s attitudes towards religion, love, life are all changing. And each person’s unique pursuit of that thing we call happiness is changing. That’s why all your data on Facebook, Google, and Amazon is so valuable and why companies like Microsoft, Salesforce, and IBM are so feverishly interested in acquiring more social data about you (ahem, Microsoft’s $26.2B acquisition of LinkedIn) — it’s the only true indicator today of who you are and who you want to be.

We don’t have to work 9–5. We can access banking systems and the internet anywhere. We can effectively buy products and services that used to be limited to the ultra-elite. And most importantly the tools and the education are cheap enough now that anyone can learn to create anything.

To succeed, your company must embrace the concept of Experience Design. It’s a new methodology that aims to make the entire experience your company offers (sales, marketing, product, community) as unique as your customers. Become aligned with their aspirations. Join them on their pursuit of creating tribe. Respect their personal data and turn it into special and powerful experiences. Challenge them with your products and initiatives to strive further.


Thankfully for all of us the greatest disruption that has happened is that we aren’t alone anymore. Your company now has the ability to spot trends before they become challenges and learn methodologies to ensure your company can continue innovating.

Our speciality is helping companies in both of these areas and on September 8th we are hosting a Disruptive Design Masterclass at RED Academy in Vancouver. Buy tickets here: https://www.picatic.com/event14679955814597

Arpy Dragffy is a customer experience strategist and UX architect who has spent 15 years innovating the strategies of startups and global brands. Over the past year he has led design thinking and experience strategy workshops around the world, including in Rio De Janeiro, Bogota, Sao Paulo, Miami.

This article first appeared on PH1 Media’s blog.