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How To Avoid Disruption In Business And In Life

Market research has historically done a poor job of helping companies avoid disruption. We are good at tweaking the known but not so good at spotting the next chapter. Companies like National Sugar, Detroit Steel and Studebaker all disrupted out of existence.




By David Rabjohns

Disruption isn’t just reserved for old companies like Studebaker.  Companies and categories continue to disappear everyday.  Goodbye Borders, Goodbye Blockbuster.  Our analysis showed that it takes an average of 16 years from the arrival of a new idea to disruption.  Kodak, for example, went bankrupt 16 years after the arrival of the first affordable digital camera and Borders disappeared 16 years after the arrival of Amazon.  Because of this often the people being disrupted don’t even realize it is happening until it is too late, like the story of the poor frog slowing boiling to death in his pot.

The exceptions to the rule

There are some companies that seem to avoid this problem. Take Nike for example. They have managed to grow despite intense competition and the perpetual development of new technology. What did they do differently? Did they make better shoes? Did they hire smarter shoemakers?

We have been researching what causes companies to be disrupted and what survivors do differently. The results have brought us back to the fundamental drivers of humanity.

Nike understood that they wanted to build an emotional experience for their customer. They focused on building a coaching brand that helped people find athletic success. The company embraces new technology, such as the iPhone, as a means of furthering their goal of helping their customers succeed. They put the ‘who’ before the ‘how’.

Kodak, on the other hand, was focused on the product. They advertised a product and brand that focused around innovation and testing new film concepts. The company understood too late the value of helping people create memories.

What everyone wants

People generally share simple, universal, common, motivational needs. People want:

  • to feel successful
  • to feel connected
  • to feel creative
  • etc

These motivational needs exist because of our DNA. These traits have driven us forward as a human race. They allowed us to fight opponents from the wooly mammoth to modern smog.

Studies have identified 12 fundamental human drivers.

In this new world of research, we can now understand the causes of disruption and how to avoid it. Online consumer conversations can be the key we need to gain a clear window into the lives and unmet needs of our customers.

Using these needs

There are many ways to look at these needs. We have developed a software tool called MotiveScape, which scans thousands of conversations and automatically categorizes certain linguistics that related to the 12 fundamental human drivers.

Using this kind of System 1 style of analysis we find that people do not buy the things a company sells; they buy how the brand makes them feel. The company’s core personality, the ‘who’, is what helps consumers work out how they feel.

These major brands that have failed have all made the mistake of focusing too much on what they sold and forgot about their ‘who’. They missed their motivational need and found themselves disrupted.

The companies that succeed are the ones that take the motivational message to heart. These companies have avoided disruption and continue to grow strongly.

New research methods can help us better explore the core motivational drivers, understand them, categorize them, and use them to develop the archetypal story that each brand tells.


For more on this topic, explore this Ted talk by David Rabjohns, Founder of MotiveQuest.

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