How to become a disruptive brand

5 minutes with Jacob Benbunan

5 minutes with Jacob Benbunan, Saffron CEO and co-author of
‘Disruptive Branding: How to win in times of change.’

Why is disruptive branding relevant today?
Disruption is one of those words that ends up being so overused that it loses its meaning.
A similar thing happened with words like Strategy, Innovation, Digital or even Branding. But when you look past the current fashion for the term, you find that Disruption is nothing new. It has been with us for thousands of years. What would we call the first wheel, calligraphy, the zero, money or the steam engine, if not disruptive?

At Saffron, what we find especially relevant (and interesting) is the combination of the words disruptive and branding. The world is changing at breakneck speed, with a constantly shifting technological and social landscape. This opens up infinite new possibilities for brands – but also new threats. Adopting a disruptive mindset in brand is therefore essential to weather these turbulent times.

How have the pressures on brands changed over time?

Organisations, that is, brands, have moved from being black boxes to glass boxes. The internet and especially social media have created a broad visibility of the difference between what companies say they do and what they actually do. This comes at the same time as the rise of "fake news" and the erosion of trust in high profile institutions, meaning that users, consumers, investors and employees have become skeptics to an unprecedented degree. As a result, brands need to work harder than ever to win them over, to earn their trust. Combine this with the abundance of choice and you have a perfect storm.

Which brands are reference points when it comes to harnessing disruptive thinking?

Start-ups and tech unicorns are the obvious examples. But it is also interesting to see how well-established companies are changing and adapting to the new landscape. IBM is refreshing and sends a message of hope to the business community at large, while Nintendo has taken video games out of living rooms and onto the streets. Disruptive thinking is an ethos that any brand can live by, no matter its nature or size.

Which industries do you think could benefit from taking a disruptive approach to brand?

Well, every brand in any industry has the potential to either disrupt or be disrupted. Having said that, some industries are more prone than others, given their own particular circumstances. For example, Banking and Energy are used by everyone but appreciated by almost no one, while Telcos are constantly under pressure from new technologies. But beyond those, one must not ignore place brands - cities and countries - and how they compete to attract visitors, investment, exports and attract attention on a world stage. Working for the world's most livable city, Vienna, has been a privilege for Saffron in that it taught us valuable lessons on how even a 2000 year old city can disrupt in ways that really matter to its citizens.

What do you think will be the next big challenges facing brands?
I think it is all about us, people. It is all about understanding that technology and "digital" are just tools, nothing else. Brand is the effect on us all. Understanding this is, to me, the key.

‘Disruptive Branding: How to win in times of change’ is co-written by Jacob Benbunan, Gabor Schreier and Benjamin Knapp and available from Kogan Page.