Surviving Disruption As A Non-disruptor Brand

We’re now living in a world accustomed to disruption. Companies which eschew traditional ways of doing business are fast becoming the new norm, upending static sectors like travel and transport, and setting new customer expectations as they do so.

But what if you’re not a technological disruptor? What if you’re one of the incumbents, a big brand on its way to digital transformation — how do you stay relevant?


“You can’t just do it by wishing it to be true,” says Brian Fetherstonhaugh, Chairman and CEO of OgilvyOne Worldwide. “You do it by making your brand more valuable to your customers, and by making your customers more valuable to your brand.” Speaking at the Disrupt Or Be Disrupted conference in Singapore, Fetherstonhaugh offers three examples of big businesses who came relatively late to digital transformation.


Seven years, ago, less than five per cent of Nestlé’s communications were digital, and the brand’s eCommerce offering was non-existent. But they knew that consumer behaviour was changing, and that they would have to change with it if they didn’t want to be left behind.

The first step was to launch a digital acceleration team, comprising “rising stars” from across the business globally. The second step was framing digital transformation as integral to the business, rather than just a pet project; doing this changed how the company perceived and prioritised it.

Nestlé then worked to cultivate an enlightened, customer-centric view of how male and female consumers buy, shop, consume and advocate brands in different product categories, in order to offer more personalised experiences. At the same time, the company began to experiment with eCommerce and digital content, devising a basic playbook for digital marketing on a local level.

Most importantly, Fetherstonhaugh notes, commerce and CRM are now actively collaborating, as are local and global teams; “It’s very hard to do digital transformation if local and global aren’t on the same agenda,” he says.


Audi was in a tricky position when it came to start its digital transformation, says Fetherstonhaugh. It was a strong international brand, but it was built on a dealership model. The challenge, namely creating more sales without having to build more dealerships, motivated Audi to want to build its brand and reach out to an emerging demographic; affluent Chinese consumers.

This began with a high impact eCommerce experiment with the goal of driving traffic to dealers online. The company entered a brand partnership with Disney, and released five custom designed Audi TTs, each of which represented a major character in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Each model was made available to buy for $140,000.

All five units sold in twenty seconds (Captain America sold in just one), answering the question of whether it is possible to sell a car online. Audi TT became the hottest search term in the auto category, and dealers saw a significant rise in traffic. Now, Audi offers a continuous commerce service, selling cars, parts, services, warranties and finance programmes online — all of which came to pass in 18 months.


Historically, IBM’s sales model has been almost completely face-to-face, with less than five per cent of leads driven digitally. But logic (and a sense of pride) dictated that if IBM was going to talk about the on-demand world, then it needed to live that. This led to the famous appearance of Watson on Jeopardy, showcasing its digital capability.

Following that, IBM then built this capability into the Westfield Mall in San Francisco in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Customers could answer some basic questions and then receive suggestions on what kind of gifts to buy for friends and family members.

IBM also began to put together strategic content newsrooms, enabling business units to use digital performance marketing as a means of lead generation, and fostering a real culture of performance marketing that encompassed all areas of the business; not just data librarians, but investors too.

“This, to me, is how you fight back,” says Fetherstonhaugh. “If you’re a big brand in a world of disruption, you apply a disciplined process, with a spine of business, led by marketing, and enabled by technology.” For many businesses, this will be a daunting, multi-year proposition, but Fetherstonhaugh insists that it is worth it. “I urge you. Take this year, take next year, and fight back. Fight for these incredible businesses and brands you’ve created.”

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