The disruption of traditional industries by upcoming digital businesses has become a regular fixture of the digital era. Whether it be the classic examples of Uber and Deliveroo or lesser known businesses such as fintech brand Bud, digital disruptors are changing the face of society. But such businesses are not exempt from being disrupted themselves and there are several forces in play they should be prepared to face:

People Problems

As digital offerings swamp the market place and seemingly less human interaction within consumer environments takes place, the value placed on being able to converse with another human is heightened by consumers. Businesses can ill afford to be either online or offline – a hybrid mix is what is needed to succeed, evidenced by the fact that digital giants such as Funky Pigeon and Amazon have now started to open high street branches. Digital disruptors need to remember this when establishing customer service channels as it reinforces the safety of their offering and helps make their business seem more personable.

Crystal Clear Complications

One of the defining assets of digital society is that it has meant the consumer landscape is more transparent than it ever has been before. What this does mean however is that disruptive brands who do not deliver on their promise are likely to be openly criticised. This means that when digital brands activate their offering they must be prepared to create a brand promise they can fully deliver on – otherwise negative sentiment will easily be generated. That said, a transparent society also means that attempts to rebuild bridges with consumers is also in the public sphere – generating positive sentiment. As such, negativity can present itself as an opportunity.

Retro Revolution

As connectivity and digitisation begin to dominate society, a digital backlash is occurring. As consumers look to disconnect and allow themselves brief moments of digital divorce, movements such as the rise of dumb phones and restaurants and pubs which have banned the use of phones are coming to the fore. This means that disruptors no longer have the safety net of having the potential to connect with all consumers all the time. The fact that Microsoft and Samsung are still actively manufacturing unconnected devices shows the dangerous potential this movement has for digital disruptors.

Hygiene Hardships

At the start of the digital revolution, disruption could be successful by simply digitising an existing offering in a way that was cheaper, and in many cases, faster. However, faster and cheaper is no longer currency in the disruptive era – they are merely hygiene factors. Therefore, new digitised offerings have to be able to deliver a tangible value add above and beyond these areas.

Trust Troubles

The trust economy is becoming a harder place for disruptors to operate. Edelman reports that 2/3 of consumers do not trust brands they are not familiar with – this automatically creates an aura of unease for disruptive businesses. On top of this, there is scepticism around how digital brands pay tax – largely caused by the negative press generated by Uber’s tax dealings. The NET of this is that consumers are now concerned about the social good (or lack of) that disruptive start-ups generate. The relevance of this is that millennials – whom digital disruptors regularly target their offering at – are more often than not now looking for businesses to give more back to society and frown greatly upon those at the opposite end of the scale.

What can be learned from all of this? As more and more brands disrupt traditional markets, genuine future disruption becomes harder to achieve. Furthermore, new and potential disruptive brands are often at the mercy of the undoings their predecessors may have made – whether it be via negative press, creation of digital anxieties or the removable of leveragable attributes. Therefore, to some extent, disruption has disrupted itself.

Jack Miles

Jack Miles


Jack Miles, Research Director, Northstar Research Partners.