How to design your brand for disruption

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Achieving the clear articulation of a simple purpose is anything but simple, says Mono's CMO.

Over the years, we’ve watched brands like Warby Parker, Harry’s, Casper and others fundamentally disrupt sleepy categories and change how consumers shop and buy. There’s a lot to learn from these companies about new modes of manufacturing and approaches to pricing and distribution, but we have more to learn from their disruptive approaches to brand building. 

Driven by a simple purpose
Seeing the word "purpose" might lead you to think that these disruptive brands have a strong foundation built on social responsibility or serving a cause, but that’s not exactly what I mean here. In each case, these disruptive brands have simply and clearly articulated what it is they are fixing or championing on behalf of the customer. For example, Harry’s states on its web site and in its advertising, "We created Harry’s because good razors cost too much." As a consumer, I probably didn’t think that before being introduced to Harry’s, but I can easily wrap my head around that fact. They go on to explain that they decided to buy the razor manufacturing plant in Germany to produce high quality blades at a low cost and ship them direct. The simple promise of it-was-broken-so-we-fixed-it immediately builds affinity and trust, helping propel the brand to business success.

Casper took a slightly different approach. Rather than fixing an antiquated industry, they set out to help people be their best: "We created Casper because better sleep makes for better living." It’s a narrow enough purpose to quickly understand, yet broad enough to allow the brand to expand beyond just mattresses into any adjacent category related to getting a good night’s sleep.

Achieving this kind of clear articulation of a simple purpose is anything but simple, especially in established and complex organizations. However, having the discipline to identify and define that purpose can drive marketing effectiveness by creating stronger brand affinity.

Deeply human
I’m a fan of award-winning author, Brené Brown. Sure, you can say that’s so 2014, but there is a deep wisdom in her observation that in order to be happy as humans we need to be seen for who we are, rather than to project a false image of perfection. This is a lesson that disruptive brands seem to have embraced while established brands are still trying to do everything right and please everyone. The result is often marketing that is "relatable," but often neither entertaining nor inspiring.

Disruptive brands share some common threads of honesty, humanity and just plain fun. When Casper launched in New York City, the brand took over subways with colorful illustrated ads positioning the mattress as perfect for everyone from paleos, to futurologists, to furries. No claims. No RTBs. No real people talking about how much they love their Casper mattress. Just unexpected, pure fun. Exactly the opposite of what you’d expect from a mattress company.

Boomchickapop (a brand our agency helped create) demonstrates this point. In its inception, the aim was to create a guilt-free, low calorie snack. And while the category conventionally positioned such products as "skinny-this" and "diet-that" with all sorts of promises of reduced-guilt, Boomchickapop was positioned to celebrate healthy snacking with an air of positivity. From the bright neon yellow packaging with bold pink type to the name itself, Boomchickapop has always been a brand that has been confident in forging its own path, bucking conventional CPG wisdom at every turn.

Moments engineered to inspire sharing
As marketers, we often focus on the customer journey and being relevant at each and every point, right up to the point of purchase. And that’s where we stop. Growing up in the digital and social age, these disruptive brands are adept at creating experiences that get shared, and often those experiences happen during or after the sale. Opening a Casper mattress is an experience in itself, but the company adds a few extra surprising touches that are often shared in social media. For example, each mattress is accompanied by a handwritten note. That may be expected, but what’s not expected is that the note is chock full of ’80’s rock ballad puns. Customers also receive a sleep kit filled with calm-inducing elements like eye pillows and sleepy time tea.

People love Warby Parker because of the ability to be shipped several different frame styles to try on at home before ordering glasses. The company brilliantly engineered a tool on its website that allows customers to take photos wearing each of their potential new frames and then tile them so with a click they can be shared via Facebook where friends can vote on which style frame is most flattering. This feature not only helps the customer decide with confidence, but it also authentically exposes the product and brand to new prospects.

Though it may not seem intuitive to marketers today, with empathy and understanding of the user experience beyond the purchase funnel, there are opportunities to drive social conversation and sharing that can amplify brand awareness.

Erin Keeley is CMO at mono.