When a disruptor invades a market, a predictable ritual ensues. The invader makes threatening, exaggerated claims. This is the chest-thumping, attention-seeking stage. And the attention it seeks is media attention. Which duly follows. The prey will either publicly shrug it off, pointing out to the same media the strategic changes they’d made recently to address the very shortcoming being exploited (guaranteeing more media attention), or they’ll play the insouciance card, pretending to ignore the interloper, while working desperately undercover to determine if the problem is real.
Markets being what they are, the situation sorts itself. The would-be disruptor departs bloodied, or moves from outsider to insider, becoming themselves subject to future disruption. The result: a more efficient market. Such is the cleverness of our free enterprise system.
But what if the disruptor is not a new market entrant, but an entire existing demographic? What if the renegade in question happens to be the most powerful, trans-national, consumer market in history – and growing? What if the disruption takes the form of total disdain for the old marketing rule book? What if their rejection of traditional marketing messages and methods is not analytical, but emotional, visceral – completely instinctive? What if the successes that marketers enjoy with this demographic are a matter of chance, of hitting values they weren’t even targeting? What if the subsequent repeat of their “successful” approaches is akin to what psychologists would deem “superstitious behaviour”?
If all competitors are in the same boat, it’s “move along folks, nothing to see here”, the status quo prevails (subject to other circumstances). But what if the penny drops for one competitor? Then that disruptee becomes a mammoth disruptor for the others, because they not only inherit a competitive advantage but are able to forge further ahead with the knowledge and experience they gain – while others are flailing.
Sure you can detect similarities. The well-known sense of entitlement had started to show through with the later X-ers. But the educational, social, cultural and technological dynamics that shaped Gen Y were a tsunami (outlined in depth in the B&T Feb/Mar 2016 article “What really created the Gen Y Consumer”.) The result was a genuine paradigm shift. They don’t just march-to-the-beat-of-a-different-drum, they won’t march at all.
We spent 20 years in the FMCG industry working with top international companies at senior sales and marketing levels, across widely diverse categories and brand portfolios. No one disputed the fact that, whatever the embroidery, the key to sales was customer needs.
Through some kind of social alchemy, with this generation the motivation shifted from needs to values.
Through the superiority of their own organic evaluative processes, the best companies have twigged to this. They are the few.
Gen Y are not going away, nor changing. Coming to grips with a values-driven consumer is disruptive enough, but the values themselves extend the disruption. Though aspirational and self-defining in nature, they are also confrontational, contradictory, and insular – the last one creating an authenticity hurdle that can bring down the smartest operators.